Journalism requires freedom and responsibility. Newspaper publishers and editors, broadcasting and television managers, as well as journalists have particular responsibility for maintaining the freedom of the mass media, which is a vitally important element of democratic life.
This is a special challenge for the heads of editorial offices, who have to ensure the consistent respect of the principles that should guide the work of journalists under their authority.
The Austrian Press Council (Österreichischer Presserat) is the platform for all those who support the idea that the use of the freedom of the press should be guided by the principles of truthfulness and accuracy, and who are willing to submit their products, in concrete cases, to the scrutiny of the Press Council. Voluntary self-regulation on a permanent basis is an appropriate means to ensure that the press meets its responsibility.
For these reasons, the Austrian Press Council has laid down the following catalogue of principles (Code of Ethics for the Austrian Press) for all those who are engaged on behalf of newspaper in the gathering, dissemination and commenting of the news. This catalogue can be supplemented or interpreted by guidelines as and when needed. The principles stated below shall hold for all those parts of a publication, which are under the editors' responsibility.
Newspaper and magazines that commit themselves to compliance with the principles of this Code of Ethics undertake to publish every and any finding of the Austrian Press Council directed against said newspaper or magazine and the publication of which the Council has required (signet in their imprint).
- The Freedom of news reporting and commenting, be it in words or in pictures, forms an integral part of the freedom of press. There shall be no restrictions regarding the collection and dissemination of news and comment.
- For the Press Council and its activities, the limits to this freedom are set by the journalists' voluntary self-regulation based on the provision of this Code of Ethics.
- It is the prime duty of journalists to aim at a maximum of conscientiousness and accuracy in their investigations, the presentation of news items, and comments in them.
- Quotes between quotation marks shall reflect the tenor as detailed as possible, and no quotation marks shall be used for passages, which merely render the generic sense of a statement. Quoting from anonymous sources should be avoided unless anonymity is required in the interest of the safety of the person quoted or in order to protect such person from some other serious disadvantage.
- No charges shall be made against any person(s) or institution(s) unless proof can be furnished that an attempt has been made to obtain a statement on said charges form the person(s) or institution(s) so charged. If the charge in question has been made in public, this circumstance shall be clearly indicated, and the source of said charge shall be named.
- As soon as an editorial office is advised of the fact that it has published a wrong statement, professional ethics and common decency demand that a correction of a said statement be published voluntarily.
- Any justified statement on the part of a reader or readers calling for correction of a report shall be published as soon as possible and as extensive as required.
- Adequate coverage shall be given to any important court decision or finding of another public authority regarding a subject on which the newspaper or magazine has reported or to any essential new findings concerning said subject that have emerged in some other way.
3. Distinctive Character of Reports
- Readers shall be left in no doubts as to whether a newspaper item is a factual report, the reproduction of the views of a third party or third parties, or comment.
- In case of serious doubts about the correctness of a quotation, the validity of third-party statements shall be checked before said statements are reproduced.
- Photomontages and picture material that has been modified shall be clearly marked as such if a cursory reading might otherwise lead the reader to believe them to be documentary in nature.
- Form and content of contributions to the editorial sections of a newspaper or magazine shall on no account be influenced by outside interests.
- Such improper influence shall be deemed to comprise not only interventions or pressure that is brought to bear on a journalist but also the granting of personal advantages relative to matters that lie outside the immediate realm of the journalist's professional work.
- Any person who accepts, in the context of his/her work as a journalist, presents or any other personal advantages likely to influence the journalistic product shall be deemed to have breached this Code of Ethics.
- The publishers' economic interests shall not affect editorial content in any way that might result in wrong information or the suppression of important information.
- If a journalist publishes a report on a journey, which has been paid for by a third party, this fact shall be mentioned in the report in a suitable way.
5. Protection of Personality
- Every person is entitled to the protection and respect of his/her dignity and personality.
- Libellous or disparaging statements about a person or persons violate the Code of Ethics.
- Persons whose life is in jeopardy shall not be identified in media reports if such identification is likely to expose them to even greater danger.
- Particular attention must be paid to the anonymity interests of victims of accidents or crimes. The identity of a victim may be disclosed if there is an official reason to do so, if the victim is a well-known person, or if the victim or close relatives have consented to the disclosure.
- The privacy of all individuals shall in principle be protected.
- In the case of children, protection of the individual's privacy shall take precedence over the news value.
- Before pictures and reports about juveniles are published, special critical consideration shall be given to the question of whether such publication is in the public interest.
- Reports about criminal offences or misconduct on the part of juveniles shall not render more difficult or completely prevent their eventual re-integration into society. In such cases, the individual's full name shall not be published.
- Journalists shall exercise particular caution in interviewing and photographing children and in reporting about matters which might have a detrimental influence on their future.
7. Protection from Sweeping Statements and Discrimination
- Sweeping statements which disparage or incite suspicion against a person or group of persons shall be strictly avoided.
- Any discrimination for reasons of age, disability, sex, race, religion, nationality, sexuality, ideology or for any other reason shall be inadmissible.
- Any disparagement or derision of religious teachings or recognized churches and religious communities liable to give justified offence shall be inadmissible.
8. Procurement of Material
- No unfair or improper methods shall be used in obtaining oral or procuring written evidence.
- Unfair or improper methods shall include misrepresentation, pressure, intimidation, exploitation of emotional or stressful situations and, as a rule, the use of wiretapping or bugging equipment.
- In some cases undercover investigations and the associated actions deemed necessary are permitted, provided that the method of the recherché is appropriate and the gathered information is in the public interest.
- The use of private photographs for publication shall be conditional upon the previous consent of the person(s) affected or, in the case of minors, their parents or guardians, unless publication of the picture is justified as being in the public interest.
9. Special Editorial Areas
- Travelogues and reports of a touristic nature shall include, in suitable form, information about the social and political background and conditions prevailing in the country or region in question (such as serious human rights violations).
- Environmental, transport and energy policy matters shall, amongst other things, be given adequate consideration in the paper's motor section.
- Reports about tourist areas, catering establishments and motor cars as well as all evaluative reports on consumer goods and services shall meet generally accepted criteria and be written by persons with professional journalistic qualifications.
10. Public Interest
- In concrete cases, and in particular in the case of public figures, it may be necessary to weigh carefully the justified interest of that individual in not having a report or a photograph published against the public interest in having said material published.
- The term 'public interest' within the meaning of this Code of Ethics for the Austrian Press shall in particular refer to situations in which publications of the facts in question might help to bring a criminal to justice, or might be desirable in the interest of protecting public security or health or preventing the general public from being misled.
- The publication of photographs of (a) person(s) which have been taken without respect to their privacy (e.g. in case of waylaying) is only permitted if a great public interest is clearly perceptible and not only voyeurism is prevailing.
11. Interests of Media Employees
The press is just able to fulfil the special responsibility towards the public, if private as well as commercial interests of media employees have no bearing on the editorial content. Media employees use information, which is not publicly accessible and which they ascertain in the course of their professional career. This information shall just be used for journalistic purposes and not for personal advantage or the advantage of a third party.
12. Suicide Coverage
Media coverage on suicides and self-inflicted injury as well as on suicide attempts and attempts of self-inflicted injury has to be treated with much reserve. Especially because of the danger of imitation, responsible-minded journalists weigh up if the information is in the public interest and abstain from exaggerated reporting.