In their everyday work, the journalist is mostly guided by self-regulation.
Self-regulation refers to the ethical instructions of the professional journalistic community. The self-regulation system with its guidelines is independent from the state and legislation, aiming to secure the truthfulness and accuracy of journalism as well as the rights of reporters and interviewees, to name a few examples.
The self-regulation system of media is an attempt by the editorial office professionals to create, adhere to and oversee voluntary editing instructions and to open the learning process that relates to them to the public.
The system makes the press independent: media carries its responsibility of the quality of public discussion but still maintain perfect editorial independence.
The principles of self-regulation have been written down in the ethical codes of journalism. An ethical code is often a set of guidelines more accurate than the law. It defines the reader’s, the journalist’s, and the interviewee’s rights. It also defines the basic principles guiding journalistic work, such as truthfulness and objectivity.
The self-regulation system makes the press independent.
Ethical codes are also nation-specific because of differences in cultures and legislations. For example, in Finland practically all media have agreed to adhere to the Finnish Journalist Union’s Instructions for a Journalist.
Also the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS) has published their ethical instructions on their website.
An individual media corporation can also have their own ethical guidelines. Well known examples include guides from BBC and Associated Press (AP), which has also separate guidelines for photojournalism.
Additionally different mediums can have their own codes: for example, separate ones for the press, television and online media. Basic principles remain the same, however, despite the country and the medium.
If the government intervenes in the writing of the government, the whole idea of self-regulation falls apart.
Some other professional communities also have their own ethical instructions. The ethical code of journalists can be compared to the physician’s Hippocratic Oath: new physicians are required to swear to uphold specific ethical standards.
It is essential that journalists have themselves created an ethical code, and it is not dictated by the owner of the media or the state. If the government intervenes in the writing of the guidelines, the whole idea of self-regulation falls apart.
It is also important, that the code is updated when needed. For example, the quick development of online journalism has made necessary the modification of codes to meet today’s standards.
It is worth remembering that the existence of professional ethics does not by itself guarantee high quality and independent journalism. The professional community can also misuse the ethical instructions and reinforce their own position with it. Even questionable practices can be easily justified by the ethical code.
This is why professional ethics should also remain the object of critical observation made by independent parties such as a public council for mass media.