SPJ Board OKs Ethics Code p. 31

By: ROBERT BUCKMAN THE SOCIETY OF Professional Journalists board has endorsed a new code of ethics hammered out by the group's ethics committee.
The 16-member committee, which convened in Philadelphia, hoped its proposed guidelines will overcome the persistent opposition of SPJ's national membership.
The committee threw out a proposed code, drafted in 1994 and tabled for one year at the society's convention in St. Paul last October.
Delegates to this year's convention, to be held in Washington in September, will vote to accept or reject the newly proposed code.
SPJ's existing ethical guidelines were adopted in 1926 and revised in 1973, 1984 and 1987.
The Philadelphia committee approved the new code 13-1. Two participants left the meeting before the final vote and five members did not attend.
The lone dissenting vote came from Casey Bukro of the Chicago Tribune, who had drawn up an alternate code.
The committee rejected the Bukro version, as well as one offered by Northern California's professional chapter, in favor of a skeleton code taken from the text Doing Ethics, co-authored by committee chairman Kevin Smith of Miami University in Ohio and vice chairman Jay Black of the University of South Florida.
The nagging issue that has hampered the two-year effort to devise a code reflecting the changing technology and social realities of journalism is enforcement: How should the profession sanction violators, if at all?
Bukro argued that SPJ had "wimped out" in removing the enforcement clause from the current code and had lost members as a result. A new code, he said, would have to be able to "sing" in the newsrooms.
In explaining his vote, Bukro told his colleagues: "It's not singable. It's too damn long, and it doesn't require SPJ to do anything, to take a stand."
Actually, the new code is about 740 words, less than the 790 of the existing code.
Reflecting the mood of the committee ? and reportedly of the membership ? Rebecca Tallent, representing SPJ factions in Texas and Oklahoma, told the committee she'd spoken with four chapter presidents who told her, "Whatever you do, don't vote for an enforcement clause."
The Denver Post's Fred Brown said he wanted a code that didn't appear to be "zero-based moralizing."
Guidelines not contained in the current code but included in the updated version admonish journalists and news organizations to:
u Keep promises to confidential sources once the conditions are established.
u Resist pressures from advertisers and deny them favored treatment.
u Show "particular sensitivity" when interviewing or photographing children and "other inexperienced people" or people affected by grief.
u Consider carefully whether it is necessary to report the names of juvenile suspects or victims of sex crimes or of adult suspects before formal charges are filed.
u Avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, physical appearance or social status and not impose one's own cultural values on others.
u Distinguish news reporting from advocacy and advertising.
u Use clandestine news-gathering methods only when "traditional methods will not yield information vital to the public" and explain the methods in the story.
Reflecting the controversy over pretrial media coverage of the O.J. Simpson double-murder case, the new code also states that journalists should "balance a criminal suspect's fair trial rights with the public's right to be informed."
Recognition of changing technology is evident in a clause that forbids distorting photos or videos "through digital manipulation of content beyond image enhancement for clarity."
The outline of the new code is also different. It consists of a preamble and four sections with the titles "Seek the Truth and Report It," "Minimize Harm," "Act Independently" and "Be Accountable." The committee also voted to drop the pledge at the end of the existing code.
Like the existing guide, the new code stresses the importance of accuracy and admitting errors; offers proscriptions on plagiarism, deliberate distortion, and misleading headlines and photos; acknowledges the right to privacy and the need to give persons accused of wrongdoing an opportunity to respond; and encourages journalists to avoid joining associations or participating in activities that might undermine credibility or create conflicts of interest.
The ethics committee consisted of eight professors, five daily newspaper journalists, a broadcast journalist, an industry newsletter publisher and a public relations specialist.
"This is obviously a document that was done by committee," said SPJ president G. Kelly Hawes of Muncie, Ind. "I had hoped for a unanimous vote, and we almost got it."
Another committee member, Peter Sussman of the Northern California Professional Chapter, said he was "proud of the amalgamation process. This is a consensual document. It's been a long process but one that had to take place. This is a good moment for us."
?(Buckman is a University of Southwestern Louisiana journalism professor and SPJ ethics committee member. ) [Caption]


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