The following code is intended as a guide for everyone working for Business Bhutan and is based on the premise that all journalists have a duty to maintain the highest professional and ethical standards. It is founded on the individual’s fundamental right to be informed and to freely receive and disseminate information.
Accuracy and fairness
- A journalist must report fairly, accurately and without bias on matters of public interest. All sides of a story should be reported. It is important to obtain comments from anyone mentioned in an unfavorable context.
- Whenever it is recognized that an inaccurate, misleading or distorted report has been published, it should be corrected promptly. Corrections should report the correct information.
Opportunity to reply
A fair opportunity to reply to inaccuracies should be given to individuals or organizations when reasonably called for. If the request to correct inaccuracies in a story is in the form of a letter, the editor has the discretion to publish it in full or its abridged and edited version, particularly when it is too long. However, the editor should not omit or refuse to publish important portions of the reply/rejoinder, which effectively deal with the accuracy of the offending story. If the editor doubts the truth of the reply/ rejoinder, even then, it is his/her duty to publish it with liberty to append an editorial comment doubting its veracity. Note that this should be done only when this doubt is founded on impeccable evidence in the editor’s possession.
Letters to the editor
The editor who decides to open his columns on a controversial subject is not obliged to publish all the letters received in regard to that subject. He/she may select and publish only some of them either in their entirety or the gist thereof. However, in exercising this right, he/she must make an honest attempt to ensure that what is published is not one-sided, but presents a fair balance between the pros and cons of the principal issue. The editor has the discretion to decide at which point to end the debate.
Unnamed sources should not be used unless the pursuit of truth will best be served by not naming the source or in the event the source requests his/her anonymity to be respected. When material is used in a report from sources other than the reporter’s, these sources should be indicated in the story. If unnamed sources are quoted, the article should indicate the reason why the source did not want to be disclosed.
In circumstances where complete confidentiality is assumed as a condition of obtaining the story, that situation needs to be respected and considered according to the existing legal framework. In general, journalists have a moral obligation to protect confidential sources of information.
- Journalists should generally identify themselves and not obtain or seek to obtain information or pictures through misrepresentation or subterfuge.
- Unless in the public interest, documents or photographs should be used only with the express consent of the owner.
- Subterfuge can be justified only in the public interest and only when material cannot be obtained by any other means.
Obscenity, taste and tone in reporting
The media should not publish anything that is obscene, vulgar or offensive to public good taste. A story, photograph or drawing/cartoon of questionable taste should have significant news value to justify its usage.
Paying for news and articles
When money is paid for information, questions can be raised about the credibility of that information and the motives of the buyer and seller. Therefore, in principle, journalists should avoid paying for information.
Using someone else’s work without attribution – whether deliberately or thoughtlessly – is a serious ethical breach. However, borrowing ideas from elsewhere is considered fair journalistic practice so long as the source is acknowledged. Words directly quoted from sources other than the writer’s own reporting should be attributed.
In general, the media should avoid prejudicial or pejorative references to a person’s race, tribe, clan, religion, sex or sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness, handicap or political orientation. These details should be eschewed unless they are absolutely essential to the story.
Recording interviews and telephone conversations
Except in rare and justifiable cases, journalists should not tape anyone in the course of an interview without that person’s knowledge and agreement. An exception may be made only if the recording is necessary to protect the journalist in a legal action or for some other compelling reason such as coverage of public meetings and if other approaches don’t work. On the other hand, the use of recorders for interviews, speeches or at press conferences with the knowledge of the subject is encouraged to protect against error and to protect against possible charges of misquotation.
The public’s right to know often needs to be weighed vis-à-vis the privacy rights of people in the news. Intrusion and inquiries into an individual’s private life without the person’s consent are not generally acceptable unless public interest is indisputably involved. Public interest must itself be legitimate and not merely based upon prurient or morbid curiosity.
Intrusion into grief or shock
In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries should be carried out and approaches made with sympathy, empathy and discretion.
Even where the law does not prohibit it, journalists should not use for their own profit financial information they receive in advance of its general publication nor should they pass that information to others. They should not write about shares or securities in whose performance they know that they, their close families or associates have a significant financial interest, without disclosing the interest to the editor.
Conflict of interest and unfair advantage
Business Bhutan practices a policy of zero-tolerance of corrupt practices. In this regard, its journalists and editors must be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know the truth. Gifts, bribes, brown envelopes, favors, free travel, free meals or drinks, special treatment or privileges can compromise the integrity of journalists, editors and their employers. Journalists, editors and their employers should conduct themselves in a manner that protects them from conflicts of interest, real or apparent. In addition, journalists and editors must not allow their political or religious affiliations; views or morals and ethics influence their editorial judgment.
Innocent relatives and friends
The media should generally avoid identifying relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime, or otherwise unfavorably featured in news stories, unless the reference to them is necessary for the full, fair and accurate reporting of the crime, legal or other proceedings.
Acts of violence
The media should avoid presenting acts of violence, armed robberies, banditry and terrorist activities in a manner that glorifies such anti-social conduct. Also, newspapers should not allow their columns to be used for writings which have a tendency to encourage or glorify social evils, warlike activities, ethnic, racial or religious hostilities.
News, views or comments relating to ethnic or religious disputes/clashes should be published after proper verification of facts and presented with due caution, balance and restraint in a manner which is conducive to the creation of an atmosphere congenial to national harmony, reconciliation, amity and peace. Sensational, provocative and alarming headlines are to be avoided.
The media/journalists should, as a matter of caution, avoid innuendo that attributes an oblique or extraneous motive to a judge or any judicial officer for performing an act in the course of his/her official duties even if such criticism does not in law amount to contempt of court.
The editor shall assume responsibility for all matter, including advertisements, published in the paper.
Comment, conjecture and fact
Journalists should distinguish clearly in their reports between comments, conjecture and facts. More importantly, they should write in such a manner that the reader is able to distinguish between comments, conjecture and facts.
Protection of children
Children should not be identified in cases concerning sexual offences, whether as victims, witnesses or defendants. Except in matters of public interest, like in cases of child abuse or abandonment, journalists should not normally interview or photograph children on subjects involving their personal welfare in the absence of or without the consent of a parent or other adult who is responsible for the children.
Victims of sex crimes
The media should not identify victims of sexual assault or publish material likely to contribute to such identification. Such exposure does not serve any legitimate journalistic or public interest and may bring social opprobrium to the victims or their relations, family, friends, community or religious order to which they belong.
Use of pictures and names
As a general rule, the media should apply caution in the use of pictures and names and avoid publication or distribution where there is a possibility of harming the person(s) concerned unless there is a substantial public interest served by such use. There should be no identification of a person or persons in a photograph unless their identity is absolutely certain.
Pre-publication verification of reports
Whenever editors receive a report, photograph, radio or television programme or video containing defamatory or derogatory imputations or comments touching on the public conduct or character of an individual or organization, they should, before using the information, check, with due care and attention, its factual accuracy with the person or organization concerned to elicit comments or reaction and publish the same.
The media will not allow any advertisement or commercial that is contrary to these ethical principles.