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Journalists and fact-checkers talk about the ethical implications of technology on their work

Universitat Ramon Llull in Blanquerna carried out research on developing ethical standards for fact-checking organisations and new forms of journalism. While the findings show that these new forms of journalism are broadly accepted by the interviewees, there is a lack of systems in place to adapt the ethical conduct of journalists to these new profiles.

The emergence of technology in newsrooms and in the gathering, production, and distribution of news has given rise to new hybrid professional profiles that combine technological knowledge or skills with traditional journalistic expertise. In media organisations and fact-checking organisations, journalists, computer engineers, and telecommunications engineers work side by side. This study aimed to foster a discussion between journalists and fact-checkers to understand whether the ethical codes of journalism are sufficient enough to address the realities that technology brings to the profession. The researchers conducted over 50 interviews with professionals from 13 countries.

Recommendations were developed for press councils, professional organisations of journalists and media owners to ensure that ethical standards adapt to the opportunities and challenges that technology brings with it. Some of these include:

  • Foster a debate within professional organisations of journalists that includes fact-checkers on the acceleration of the news process to appeal to online audiences. The suggested solution is that fact-checkers can offer their services of verification to ensure that information is published in a timely, yet accurate, manner.
  • Foster a debate between media owners and professionals to seek a balance between the metric interests of audience engagement and public interest journalism.
  • Encourage media managers to ensure that additional tasks for journalists, including having knowledge of SEO and audience metrics, do not take time away from journalists’ traditional role of seeking and verifying information.
  • Include in code of ethics the obligation for the media to indicate when a text, audio or image has been created through Artificial Intelligence tools.
  • Include in code of ethics the obligation of transparency (explainability) in the algorithms used by a media outlet. Explain which algorithms are used and for what purpose they are used.

This report was published as part of the Media Councils in the Digital Age #3, co-financed by the European Commission. The overall objective of the project is to ensure that press and media councils play a significant role in Europe in addressing the new challenges of the digital age.

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