A journalist is primarily responsible to the readers, listeners and viewers, who have the right to know what is happening in society. Decisions concerning the content of media must be made in accordance with journalistic principles. The power to make such decisions must not under any circumstances be surrendered to any party outside the editorial office. The journalist has the right and obligation to resist pressure or persuasion that attempts to steer, prevent or limit communications.
According to IFJ’s rules, journalists should decline a bribe that is offered in any form, whether it be aimed at publishing or preventing publication. Forbidding bribery is thus accepted worldwide by journalist associations.
The wider realisation of independence is more reliant on culture. The media is often bound to something relating either to finance or politics. IFJ rules do not mention, for example, independence from the state government.
According to the Finnish guidelines, resolutions regarding content must be made on journalistic grounds. The decisions regarding publication, article topics and perspectives should, in other words, be made within the journalistic body. Conversely, journalistic bodies should make the decision themselves not to publish a story. All forms of pressure and attempts at restraining must be rejected.
Complete independence is impossible: media is always owned by somebody, and the ownership of media is ever more centralised these days. A media corporation can own both a chain of movie theatres and a newspaper. If the newspaper publishes a story on the chain of movie theatres, ownership relations may affect how critically the journalist handles such in-house issues.
We pay our own way. We accept no gifts from news sources. We accept no free trips. We neither seek nor accept preferential treatment that might be rendered because of the positions we hold. Exceptions to the no-gift rule are few and obvious – invitations to meals, for example. Free admissions to any event that is not free to the public are prohibited. The only exception is for seats not sold to the public, as in a press box. Whenever possible, arrangements will be made to pay for such seats.
Affiliations should be known by the reader, regardless of whether the ownership has affected the tone or content of the story. That is why, for example, the Finnish guidelines for journalists state that “while handling issues that are significant to the media in question, the corporation or its ownership, a journalist should make the context clear to the reader, listener and the viewer.” In practice, this can be done, for example by adding a note to the end of the article that the corporation mentioned in the article belongs to the same conglomerate as the newspaper.
Receiving bribes can also be viewed more broadly: the reporter should not try to make personal gain from their occupation or abuse their position. They must not handle issues that may result in an opportunity for personal gain, nor receive benefits that can undermine independence.
The freedom to express and comment is a natural counterpart to the previous chapter’s rule that outside influence and pressure should be rejected. Perfect freedom of expression is impossible to achieve under pressure from an outside party. Freedom of expression is not only about the right to express, but even more importantly about people’s right to know.
The journalist must not misuse his/her position. The journalist may not deal with issues that may lead to potential personal gain nor demand or receive benefits that might compromise his/her personal independence or professional ethics. The journalist is entitled to refuse assignments that conflict with the law, his/her personal convictions or good journalistic practice.
In some cases, the journalist has the right to decline to work. Cases like this include news concerning their close relatives. When a journalist reports, for example, the political actions of their kin, it is easy to see why their credibility might be undermined. The audience will probably assume that the journalist is biased, even if this is not the case.
The journalist cannot likewise be obliged to break the law. Occasionally their methods of information-gathering can be viewed as a grey area by the law, but such assignments require voluntariness.
A journalist must respect the copyright law and practices of their country. At their most blatant, copyright violations are copying parts of an article from somewhere else, something that should be avoided at all costs.