General ethical principals
Ethics is a personal and professional responsibility for all journalists, not simply a theoretical debate. And from these short discussions, we can see that ethical decision-making is undepinned by four broad principles:
Or, more accurately, truths, since situations are often complex and many-sided. This is our mission as journalists; when we stop doing it, we cease to deserve the name.
If we said “Do no harm” we might be advocating writing no stories, since all actions have consequences. But by balancing truthtelling and doing the least possible harm, we have constructed a framework that allows us to do our job while always being mindful of consequences.
Don’t be bullied, bought, or even muted by the weight of conventional opinion. It’s legitimate to have views, and to write stories motivated by your convictions, but your views should never lead to your changing the truths you discover.
This means always thinking about how you would justify a story, or aspect of a story, if challenged. In many newsrooms, it means setting up a formal or informal process for ethical decision-making: having an ethics committee to debate tricky stories, or a ‘press ombudsman’ to arbitrate on complaints about stories.