Do the journalist need an ethic code?

Disasters and journalism in the digital age was the topic of the XVII Journalism Laboratory hosted by The Press Association in Madrid on May 7. I was inviting as iRescate director and as @vostSPAIN spokesperson to debate with my colleagues on the issue where some conclusions where reached. You may listen the whole lab here (in Spanish)

@LuisSerranoR, director of the Communication Crisis de Llorente y Cuenca, estimated that the communicatinons' scenario "has radically changed" and "Twitter has become the backbone os mass media". "Social networking will democratize the conversation," he said.

I spoke of the whole new landscape we face with social media since communication is not anymore a one way process and since the so called citizen journalism is making us dealing with rumors, also emerging for the lack of reliable sources of information. It was also my concern the double victimization of those whose faces were broadcast once and again, especially in the case of women of children, since their exposure prevents gender’s equality.

Alipio Gutiérrez, Nemesio Rodríguez, María Luisa Moreo y Pablo Herráiz. 
Foto: Elena Hidalgo / APM

Alipio Gutiérrez, President of the National Association of Health (ANIS), said that social media are a "huge opportunity, but also a great danger." Therefore, he asked journalists to report with "their most ethical commitment and responsibility." He also urged the authorities to require transparency when conveying information; otherwise, "you are doing a disservice to democracy".

Paul Herráiz, crime reporter from El Mundo point out the need of "not rushing to make a scoops on Twitter or Vine since one thing is the need to deliver information immediately and a different one to write a piece of news in a hurry, whose consequences are usually a mistake. "

Javier Barroso, crime reporter for El País, pointed out how much journalism has changed since we have social media. “Before (social media appeared, you worked, to some extent, with tranquility; today, information is delivered with two or three paragraphs to check out urgent search engine ". In the "maelstrom of immediacy," he urged caution and not to publish news before the official sources confirmed.

Carlos FernandezGuerra, journalist and community manager of the National Police, emphasized the importance of knowing how to distinguish the reliable sources of information.  He also emphasized social media as an information tool to helps authorities. Finally, he warned of the need to focus on the victims when talking of a disaster.

F Javier Barroso, Carlos Fernández Guerra y Luis Serrano. Photo: Elena Hidalgo / APM

From the conclusions drawn in this Laboratory of Journalism, which was moderated by Nemesio Rodriguez, deputy secretary and spokesperson for the APM, the following recommendations were developed to report on tragedies such as the recent rail accident in Santiago de Compostela, the Ebola crisis, the attacks of "Charlie Hebdo", the Germanwings aircraft crash and the Nepal earthquake.

You also have a Storify here (in Spanish)

Decalogue Madrid’s Press Association on disaster and journalism in the digital age.

1.- It's essential to focus attention to the traditional rules of journalism, due to the new communication scenario produced by the introduction of social networks and new technologies.
2.-Mistakes and hoax comes from the lack of verification, rigor and precision, despite the requirements of immediacy (related basically to Twitter). Contrasting the sources of information is an essential requirement. Before the overloading of information, it is a must to distinguish a reliable source.
3.- The Prudence should underlie before the rush inherent to digital media for reporting immediately. The rumor and speculation in disasters should not become news until confirmed by official sources
4 .- The Journalists should exercise extreme ethical commitment to reliably distinguish what to say, when and how. We are responsible for what we say.
5.-The Journalists must respect the pain and privacy of the victims and their families. We only should contact them under their previous assent. We should show our empathy when interviewing them and informing the public about them. We must always bear in mind that victims are the most affected.
6.- Striking images are suitable only in the case they provide an added value to the information. It is not acceptable to repeatedly broadcast victims' images, taken into account that after these images there is human beings’ suffering.
7.- The gender issue should be taken into consideration when seeking for victims’ images to illustrate news. Women and children usually appear as victims, while men take a different role in the aftermath of a disaster. This emphasizes the cliché of feminine weakness and does no contribute to gender equality.
8.-In case of terrorist attack, the journalists should exercise extreme caution and think twice whether to publish sensitive information on social networks.
9.-They journalist should keep in mind that this information can be valuable to terrorists. The journalist should also avoid turning the terrorist into the protagonist of the event, since there are victims suffering from their terrorist action.
10.- Coordination between PIOs and the press is essential to avoid and clear hoaxes in social media
11.- The authorities should be demanded maximum transparency when giving information related to disastera, since the absence of trusted and updated information foster the use of non-trusted information´ sources.
12.-The official Press offices must lead the information process in order to deal with the uncertainty of the lack of informationabout the tragedy.
13.-the Media must report "invisible tragedies", for example, diseases virtually unknown until they become an epidemic.
14- There is a need for a greater self-criticism among journalists. Although websites mistakes can be corrected, they are likely to harm any citizen during the time they are published.
15.-The Journalists covering tragedies and disasters can suffer emotional "shocks" or traumas. Therefore, it is necessary that these professional may receive psychological help in situ and in the aftermath of a disaster, as some other professional do.

All this said, do we need an ethic’s code? What do you think?

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