Media code drafted for Middle East stories

Published June 1, 2002

New York A new Code of Fair Practices was developed at a conference in April on what constitutes full and fair media coverage of Israeli-Palestinian issues. The conference, called Megaphones and Muffled Voices held in New York City, was sponsored by the World Association for Christian Communication, its North American Regional Association, and the Communication Commission of the National Council of Churches, U.S.A. Conference participants included public and religious communicators and professors from several noted journalism schools. The participants included media professionals from Israel, Palestine and Jordan as well as from Europe, the United States and Canada. They developed the Code of Fair Practices under the leadership of John Zakarian, editor of the editorial page of The Hartford Courant. In the code, the term journalist refers to any non-government person engaged in the gathering and dissemination of information and opinion through electronic or print media and includes reporters, opinion writers, editors, publishers, general managers and producers. The code’s preamble states, “the primary mission of journalists is to offer readers, viewers and listeners a rough first draft of history as it is being made. By definition, this draft is not always complete, often presenting facts without adequate context, filing reports in a hurry and sending pictures that emphasize immediate action and consequences.” The new guidelines include the principle that journalists dig beneath the surface to get a story and strive to “get the other side or sides of the story and rely on diverse sources.” As well, the code notes that balanced coverage doesn’t come just from giving each side equal space. The new code also articulates routine journalistic principles, such as: headlines should reflect the content of the story and photos should give a fair and accurate image of an event, news should be free of bias and columnists should stake their positions by verifiable facts rather than secondary sources or reports. Op-ed articles by advocacy groups should be clearly labeled as such and contrary opinions should be invited as op-ed pieces. The importance of understanding local history and culture was stressed, and pledges of confidentiality should be made “sparingly – and only when the journalist deems it to serve the public’s need for information.” It also insists that journalists should expect access from governments at all levels, “especially from those that profess to honor democracy. So-called closed military zones and blanket orders prohibiting coverage in combat zones ill-serve democracy.”


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