WHAT STANDARDS should journalists set ourselves in our work? The National Union of Journalists' Code of Conduct has since 1936 provided clear guidelines for our trade. It is referenced as an exemplar worldwide. It has been wielded in many a debate between journalists and those who regard the entire profession as less honourable than estate agents.
But it has, like Topsy, growed since then, as the union democratically decided to deal with new concerns. Last year's Annual Delegate Meeting (ADM) voted to review and rephrase it. The new draft Code will be debated at this year's ADM: you can read it in the draft agenda available online at www.nuj.org.uk/inner.php?docid=1072
The draft has 9 points summarising most of the 14 disparate clauses accumulated in the current version. But brevity has its price. What will be the effect on the public perception of journalism of dropping explicit references to resisting pressure from advertisers? Or to journalists ensuring that errors are corrected - can we rely on editors' codes to achieve that?
Or of no longer specifically prohibiting misleading manipulated photographs, or journalists endorsing products other than their publications and broadcasts?
One clause is new, and has provoked widespread debate among photographers. The draft Code insists that a journalist "seeks the permission of an appropriate adult when interviewing or photographing children." So how are you supposed to take pictures of, say, a demonstration? Are there cases where taking a picture of a child, when no "appropriate adult" is present, is "overwhelmingly in the public interest" - the (necessarily imprecise) grounds on which such actions as "intruding into grief," or obtaining information other than by open means, are justifiable? Another debate has broken out on the clause on "moonlighting" in the associated Principles and Practices draft, also in the draft agenda, which says that staff journalists are "expected not to undertake freelance work outside their regular employment". This also states that "Freelance members are expected to support staff members taking industrial action by not undertaking work that would undermine the strength of that industrial action." London Freelance Branch will be debating all these points - and others that you may raise - at its meeting on Monday 12 March. See here for details.