The publication of all Editorial articles, be they the actual daily Editorial, opinion pages (including letters to the Editor), articles submitted by Freelance Reporters and Contributors and all other news stories in general, carries with them an awesome and potentially costly responsibility. As one of the leading media houses, Jamaica Observer Limited (JOL) takes pride and care in doing its due diligence to ensure that all published material is accurate, unbiased, fair and free from defamation . The company insists that all its daily publications reflect Reynolds' Ten Guiding Principles for Responsible Journalism and that responsible reporters and editors are employed who share this vision and who are intrinsically motivated to adhere to a high standard of journalism.
This policy applies to all Editorial employees, be they reporters, editors, senior editors and executive editors. As independent contractors, freelance contributors should be encouraged to adhere to the code of conduct, however, it is the duty of the supervising editors to judge freelance work based on the standards contained in this code.
The Executive Editors must ensure general compliance with the Editorial Code of Conduct and hold responsible all editors, reporters and contributors for the quality of material that is submitted for publication.
Due care shall be taken not to publish or broadcast untrue, inaccurate, misleading or distorted material or information. Special care should be made to avoid distortions made possible by the new information and communication technologies.
With the explosion of the internet journalists have more access to more information than ever. These sources should not be used without attribution and should be checked for accuracy before the information is used in broadcast or print.
JOL is committed to remedying, in a timely manner, all errors of fact once we become aware, with a clarification, correction or apology. If a staff member becomes aware of an error in his own or other's published work, the staff member has a responsibility to notify an editor as soon as possible.
The editors should field complaints from members of the public unless they come directly to the Legal Officer's office. These complaints should be examined and referred to the Executive Editor-publications within one (1) week. Where necessary, the complaint may be referred to the Legal Officer.
It will be the duty of the supervising editor to obtain a statement from the reporter to ascertain whether the information published was accurate or not, as well as any supporting documentation or materials used in writing the story.
Where there is any doubt whether the material presented is sufficient to establish the accuracy of the information, it must be submitted to the legal officer along with the article .
If it is established that a correction is required, where necessary, the offended party will be contacted by the legal officer to discuss the terms of the correction and the correction will be made as quickly as possible.
The correction should, as far as possible, appear in the same section as the offending article or column and be given the same prominence.
All reporters and editors must be aware of the defamation laws and ensure that they attend all legal seminars on defamation so that they are kept up to date on changes in the law.
The senior editors and editors who supervise reporters must also ensure that the following guiding principles for responsible journalism, as supported by Reynolds are considered prior to publication:
No story should be run which alleges that a named individual is being investigated for a criminal offence unless a comment has been obtained from the individual and included in the story.
There is a distinction between “being investigated” and actually having been charged with an offence. Saying a person is “being investigated” for an offence is akin to saying that the person is suspected of committing an offence. Either way, at that point it is mere suspicion and it is not known whether there are reasonable grounds for that suspicion. There is a danger that the public may not be able to appreciate that distinction.
A story reporting on an investigation where no charge has been made must be handled with great care to avoid defamation. If it is likely to be controversial, the Editor must ensure that it is approved in advance by the legal officer.
In any such story, if it is run following a public statement, e.g. from the police information arm, every attempt must be made to contact the person being investigated to obtain his/her side of the story.
The story should only contain the facts set out in the public statement or from reliable sources and should not contain rumours, innuendoes, speculation or unconfirmable background material.
Criminal suspects should only be identified as such after arrest warrants have been issued, they have been arrested or they have been formally charged. When writing about accused persons, we MUST provide them with an opportunity to respond.
This may involve speaking to them directly or to their attorney-at-law representing them on that particular matter. Efforts made to contact them or their representative must be included in the article submitted for publication. Such phrases as “unavailable for comment” or “could not be reached” are to be used sparingly. They should be used only after we have worked hard to reach suspects or their attorneys. Keep written records of such efforts made and mention them in the story.
Juvenile suspects are not to be named, except suspects 17 years of age or older who are charged with committing crimes serious enough to warrant their prosecution as adults.
Using the word “allegedly” does not protect from defamation.
Care should be taken to report fully and promptly the outcome of an investigation or court case on which it has reported especially where the accused has been exonerated.
All facts taken from an online site must be verified unless the reporter is confident of its source e,g. government website etc.
If using a source via Internet or email, ensure that the source is verified.
Generally, credit photos and graphics downloaded from the Internet unless they are generic images
Internet derived information should be attributed just as any information from any book, magazine or other printed source.
The use of photographs may be defamatory, depending on certain factors such as the juxtaposition of the photo and text on the page.
The use of file photos and caption text must be approved by an editor.
Real or perceived conflicts of interest should be avoided at all costs.
Editorial employees should not work for a political candidate or office-holder on a paid or voluntary basis. Participation in public demonstrations for political causes is forbidden unless approved by the Executive Editor - publications.
Taking a public stand on controversial social, religious or political issues should first be discussed with the Executive Editor in charge of publications.
Holding public office or accepting political appointment is prohibited, unless specifically approved by the Executive Editor in charge publications or the Managing Director.
If a staff member has a close relative or friend working in a political campaign or organization, the employee should refrain from covering or making news judgments about that campaign or organization. A loved one's activities can create a real or potential conflict for an editorial staff member. In such cases, a supervising editor should be informed and steps taken to avoid the conflict.
Intrusion and enquiries into an individual's private life without his or her consent including the use of long-lens photography to take pictures of people on private property without their consent, are not generally acceptable and publication can only be justified by clear and overriding public interest.
N.B. Private property is defined as any private residence or place of business, together with its garden and outbuildings but excluding any adjacent open fields, public parks or other public property. In addition, hotel bedrooms (but not other areas in a hotel) and those parts of a hospital or nursing home where patients are received, treated or accommodated are considered private property.
Journalists shall not:-
The exposed bodies, or body parts of victims of fatal injury from criminal activity, accident or tragedy should not be photographed or displayed on television except where visual portrayal is essential to public information about the scale of the disaster.
The media should take care to avoid sensational reporting of violent crime.
The media should not identify victims of sexual assault or publish material likely to contribute to such identification.
Unless it is clearly in the public interest, the media should generally avoid identifying relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime.
It is the responsibility of all reporters and editors to read this policy carefully and fully apprise themselves of its provisions. New editorial employees will receive a copy of this policy when completing new employee paperwork. Supervisors will review the policy with team members as part of the annual assessment process. Each editorial employee will attest in writing that they have read and understood the policy in the preceding twelve (12) months.
Intentional or flagrant violations of the policy may result in disciplinary action to include, reprimand, suspension or, in the most serious cases, termination.
It is therefore imperative that in the daily execution of their duties, all reporters and editorial staff act with the highest degree of care, responsibility and professionalism to minimize the possibility of lawsuits and to ensure the company's success as the leading newspaper of choice whose integrity and reliability are unquestionable.