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Journalists' professional Code of Ethics (SNJ)

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SNJ, 1918/38/2011

This relates to the latest version of the Code of Ethics, the foundation stone of the profession, adopted by the National Committee in March 2011 for the 93rd anniversary of the SNJ (French National Union of Journalists).

The public right to high-quality, complete, free, independent and pluralistic information of which we are reminded in the Declaration of Human Rights and the French Constitution, guides journalists in the performance of their jobs. This responsibility to the citizen takes precedence over any other.

These principles and the ethical rules set out below are binding on every journalist, whatever their job, responsibility within the editorial chain or the form of press in which they work.

The responsibility of a journalist cannot, however, be confused with that of an editor, nor exempt the latter from his own obligations.

The activity of journalism consists of researching, verifying, putting in context, prioritising, shaping, commentating on and publishing high-quality information; it must not be confused with communication. Journalism demands time and resources, whatever the medium. It is not possible for ethical rules to be observed without implementation of the conditions that this requires.

The concept of urgency in the dissemination of information, or of exclusivity, must not take away from the serious nature of the enquiry and the verification of sources.

Physical and moral security is the basis for journalistic independence. It must be guaranteed, whatever the contract of employment with the company.

Working in a freelance capacity must benefit from the same guarantees as those which salaried journalists enjoy.

No journalist must be forced to carry out an action or express an opinion contrary to his own convictions or professional conscience, nor to the principles and rules of this charter.

A journalist must accomplish all the activities of his profession (enquiry, investigations, taking photos and recording sounds etc.) freely, have access to all sources of information with regard to the facts which condition public life, and have the guarantee that his sources' confidentiality will be protected.

It is under these conditions that a journalist worthy of the name:

  • Takes responsibility for all his professional productions, even if anonymous;
  • Respects people's dignity and the presumption of innocence;
  • Upholds critical thinking, veracity, accuracy, integrity, fairness and impartiality as the pillars of journalistic activity; considers accusation without evidence, intention to harm, alteration of documents, distortion of the facts, misuse of images, lies, manipulation, censorship and self-censorship or failure to verify the facts as constituting the most serious professional abuses;
  • Exercises the greatest vigilance before disseminating information, from wherever it originates;
  • Has author copyright, which is also a duty, on information which he disseminates, and strives to rectify as soon as possible any information disseminated which proves to be inaccurate;
  • In matters of ethical conduct and professional honour, accepts only the judgment of his peers; answers to the courts for crimes defined by law;
  • Defends freedom of expression, opinion, information, commentary and criticism;
  • Outlaws any unfair or corrupt method of obtaining information. In the event that his own safety, that of his sources or the seriousness of the facts obliges him to conceal his role as a journalist, he must inform his line management accordingly and provide the public with an explanation as soon as possible;
  • Does not accept money from a public service, institution or private company in which his role as a journalist, his influence or his relationships may be exploited;
  • Does not use the freedom of the press with the intention of serving his own interests;
  • Refuses and combats as contrary to his professional ethics any confusion between journalism and communication;
  • Names fellow workers whose work he uses, does not commit plagiarism;
  • Does not solicit a fellow worker job by offering to work under inferior conditions;
  • Maintains professional confidentiality and protects the sources of his information;
  • Does not confuse his role with that of policeman or judge.

Declaration of the rights of man and of citizens (article XI): 'Free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious rights of Man: any Citizen may therefore speak, write and print freely, subject to responsibility for the abuse of this freedom in the cases determined by Law.'

Constitution of France (article 34): 'The Law fixes the rules on civic rights and fundamental guarantees granted to citizens for the exercise of public freedoms; the freedom, pluralism and independence of the media.'

Declaration of the rights and duties of journalists (Munich, 1971): the SNJ, which was behind the initiative to create the International Federation of Journalists in Paris in 1926, is also one of the inspirations behind this Declaration which brings together all unions of journalists at European level.