Go back to Class Resources.

COMM 431: Mass Media Ethics
Instructor: Ross Collins

Professional Codes of Ethics

American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE)

ASNE Statement of Principles

ASNE's Statement of Principles was originally adopted in 1922 as the "Canons of Journalism." The document was revised and renamed "Statement of Principles" in 1975.

PREAMBLE. The First Amendment, protecting freedom of expression from abridgment by any law, guarantees to the people through their press a constitutional right, and thereby places on newspaper people a particular responsibility. Thus journalism demands of its practitioners not only industry and knowledge but also the pursuit of a standard of integrity proportionate to the journalist's singular obligation. To this end the American Society of Newspaper Editors sets forth this Statement of Principles as a standard encouraging the highest ethical and professional performance.

ARTICLE I - Responsibility. The primary purpose of gathering and distributing news and opinion is to serve the general welfare by informing the people and enabling them to make judgments on the issues of the time. Newspapermen and women who abuse the power of their professional role for selfish motives or unworthy purposes are faithless to that public trust. The American press was made free not just to inform or just to serve as a forum for debate but also to bring an independent scrutiny to bear on the forces of power in the society, including the conduct of official power at all levels of government.

ARTICLE II - Freedom of the Press. Freedom of the press belongs to the people. It must be defended against encroachment or assault from any quarter, public or private. Journalists must be constantly alert to see that the public's business is conducted in public. They must be vigilant against all who would exploit the press for selfish purposes.

ARTICLE III - Independence. Journalists must avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety as well as any conflict of interest or the appearance of conflict. They should neither accept anything nor pursue any activity that might compromise or seem to compromise their integrity.

ARTICLE IV - Truth and Accuracy. Good faith with the reader is the foundation of good journalism. Every effort must be made to assure that the news content is accurate, free from bias and in context, and that all sides are presented fairly. Editorials, analytical articles and commentary should be held to the same standards of accuracy with respect to facts as news reports. Significant errors of fact, as well as errors of omission, should be corrected promptly and prominently.

ARTICLE V - Impartiality. To be impartial does not require the press to be unquestioning or to refrain from editorial expression. Sound practice, however, demands a clear distinction for the reader between news reports and opinion. Articles that contain opinion or personal interpretation should be clearly identified.

ARTICLE VI - Fair Play. Journalists should respect the rights of people involved in the news, observe the common standards of decency and stand accountable to the public for the fairness and accuracy of their news reports. Persons publicly accused should be given the earliest opportunity to respond. Pledges of confidentiality to news sources must be honored at all costs, and therefore should not be given lightly. Unless there is clear and pressing need to maintain confidences, sources of information should be identified.
These principles are intended to preserve, protect and strengthen the bond of trust and respect between American journalists and the American people, a bond that is essential to sustain the grant of freedom entrusted to both by the nation's founders.

© Copyright 2002 The American Society of Newspaper Editors
11690B Sunrise Valley Drive | Reston, VA 20191-1409 | Phone 703-453-1122


National Press Photographers Association

Note from Ross: Photojournalists try to avoid manipulating photographs using Photoshop software because the integrity of a professionally produced photo gives news photography its credibility. But many people think it's easy to spot a photograph that's been manipulated. Well, here's your chance to test your ability to spot false news photographs courtesy of Life, the greatest photojournalism magazine ever produced.


The National Press Photographers Association, a professional society that promotes the highest standards in visual journalism, acknowledges concern for every person's need both to be fully informed about public events and to be recognized as part of the world in which we live.

Visual journalists operate as trustees of the public. Our primary role is to report visually on the significant events and varied viewpoints in our common world. Our primary goal is the faithful and comprehensive depiction of the subject at hand. As visual journalists, we have the responsibility to document society and to preserve its history through images.

Photographic and video images can reveal great truths, expose wrongdoing and neglect, inspire hope and understanding and connect people around the globe through the language of visual understanding. Photographs can also cause great harm if they are callously intrusive or are manipulated.

This code is intended to promote the highest quality in all forms of visual journalism and to strengthen public confidence in the profession. It is also meant to serve as an educational tool both for those who practice and for those who appreciate photojournalism. To that end, The National Press Photographers Association sets forth the following.

Code of Ethics

Visual journalists and those who manage visual news productions are accountable for upholding the following standards in their daily work:

1. Be accurate and comprehensive in the representation of subjects.
2. Resist being manipulated by staged photo opportunities.
3. Be complete and provide context when photographing or recording subjects. Avoid stereotyping individuals and groups. Recognize and work to avoid presenting one's own biases in the work.
4. Treat all subjects with respect and dignity. Give special consideration to vulnerable subjects and compassion to victims of crime or tragedy. Intrude on private moments of grief only when the public has an overriding and justifiable need to see.
5. While photographing subjects do not intentionally contribute to, alter, or seek to alter or influence events.
6. Editing should maintain the integrity of the photographic images' content and context. Do not manipulate images or add or alter sound in any way that can mislead viewers or misrepresent subjects.
7. Do not pay sources or subjects or reward them materially for information or participation.
8. Do not accept gifts, favors, or compensation from those who might seek to influence coverage.
9. Do not intentionally sabotage the efforts of other journalists.

Ideally, visual journalists should:

1. Strive to ensure that the public's business is conducted in public. Defend the rights of access for all journalists.
2. Think proactively, as a student of psychology, sociology, politics and art to develop a unique vision and presentation. Work with a voracious appetite for current events and contemporary visual media.
3. Strive for total and unrestricted access to subjects, recommend alternatives to shallow or rushed opportunities, seek a diversity of viewpoints, and work to show unpopular or unnoticed points of view.
4. Avoid political, civic and business involvements or other employment that compromise or give the appearance of compromising one's own journalistic independence.
5. Strive to be unobtrusive and humble in dealing with subjects.
6. Respect the integrity of the photographic moment.
7. Strive by example and influence to maintain the spirit and high standards expressed in this code. When confronted with situations in which the proper action is not clear, seek the counsel of those who exhibit the highest standards of the profession. Visual journalists should continuously study their craft and the ethics that guide it.


Radio-Televsion Digital News Association


Professional electronic journalists should operate as trustees of the public, seek the truth, report it fairly and with integrity and independence, and stand accountable for their actions.

PUBLIC TRUST: Professional electronic journalists should recognize that their first obligation is to the public.

Professional electronic journalists should:

* Understand that any commitment other than service to the public undermines trust and credibility.
* Recognize that service in the public interest creates an obligation to reflect the diversity of the community and guard against oversimplification of issues or events.
* Provide a full range of information to enable the public to make enlightened decisions.
* Fight to ensure that the public's business is conducted in public.

TRUTH: Professional electronic journalists should pursue truth aggressively and present the news accurately, in context, and as completely as possible.

Professional electronic journalists should:

* Continuously seek the truth.
* Resist distortions that obscure the importance of events.
* Clearly disclose the origin of information and label all material provided by outsiders.

Professional electronic journalists should not:

* Report anything known to be false.
* Manipulate images or sounds in any way that is misleading.
* Plagiarize.
* Present images or sounds that are reenacted without informing the public.

FAIRNESS: Professional electronic journalists should present the news fairly and impartially, placing primary value on significance and relevance.

Professional electronic journalists should:

* Treat all subjects of news coverage with respect and dignity, showing particular compassion to victims of crime or tragedy.
* Exercise special care when children are involved in a story and give children greater privacy protection than adults.
* Seek to understand the diversity of their community and inform the public without bias or stereotype.
* Present a diversity of expressions, opinions, and ideas in context.
* Present analytical reporting based on professional perspective, not personal bias.
* Respect the right to a fair trial.

INTEGRITY: Professional electronic journalists should present the news with integrity and decency, avoiding real or perceived conflicts of interest, and respect the dignity and intelligence of the audience as well as the subjects of news.

Professional electronic journalists should:

* Identify sources whenever possible. Confidential sources should be used only when it is clearly in the public interest to gather or convey important information or when a person providing information might be harmed. Journalists should keep all commitments to protect a confidential source.
* Clearly label opinion and commentary.
* Guard against extended coverage of events or individuals that fails to significantly advance a story, place the event in context, or add to the public knowledge.
* Refrain from contacting participants in violent situations while the situation is in progress.
* Use technological tools with skill and thoughtfulness, avoiding techniques that skew facts, distort reality, or sensationalize events.
* Use surreptitious newsgathering techniques, including hidden cameras or microphones, only if there is no other way to obtain stories of significant public importance and only if the technique is explained to the audience.
* Disseminate the private transmissions of other news organizations only with permission.

Professional electronic journalists should not:

* Pay news sources who have a vested interest in a story.
* Accept gifts, favors, or compensation from those who might seek to influence coverage.
* Engage in activities that may compromise their integrity or independence.

INDEPENDENCE: Professional electronic journalists should defend the independence of all journalists from those seeking influence or control over news content.

Professional electronic journalists should:

* Gather and report news without fear or favor, and vigorously resist undue influence from any outside forces, including advertisers, sources, story subjects, powerful individuals, and special interest groups.
* Resist those who would seek to buy or politically influence news content or who would seek to intimidate those who gather and disseminate the news.
* Determine news content solely through editorial judgment and not as the result of outside influence.
* Resist any self-interest or peer pressure that might erode journalistic duty and service to the public.
* Recognize that sponsorship of the news will not be used in any way to determine, restrict, or manipulate content.
* Refuse to allow the interests of ownership or management to influence news judgment and content inappropriately.
* Defend the rights of the free press for all journalists, recognizing that any professional or government licensing of journalists is a violation of that freedom.

ACCOUNTABILITY: Professional electronic journalists should recognize that they are accountable for their actions to the public, the profession, and themselves.

Professional electronic journalists should:

* Actively encourage adherence to these standards by all journalists and their employers.
* Respond to public concerns. Investigate complaints and correct errors promptly and with as much prominence as the original report.
* Explain journalistic processes to the public, especially when practices spark questions or controversy.
* Recognize that professional electronic journalists are duty-bound to conduct themselves ethically.
* Refrain from ordering or encouraging courses of action that would force employees to commit an unethical act.
* Carefully listen to employees who raise ethical objections and create environments in which such objections and discussions are encouraged.
* Seek support for and provide opportunities to train employees in ethical decision-making.

In meeting its responsibility to the profession of electronic journalism, RTDNA has created this code to identify important issues, to serve as a guide for its members, to facilitate self-scrutiny, and to shape future debate.

Adopted at RTNDA2000 in Minneapolis September 14, 2000.


Society for Professional Journalists

Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist's credibility. Members of the Society share a dedication to ethical behavior and adopt this code to declare the Society's principles and standards of practice.

Seek Truth and Report It
Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.
Journalists should:

* Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.
* Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing.
* Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources' reliability.
* Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Clarify conditions attached to any promise made in exchange for information. Keep promises.
* Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.
* Never distort the content of news photos or video. Image enhancement for technical clarity is always permissible. Label montages and photo illustrations.
* Avoid misleading re-enactments or staged news events. If re-enactment is necessary to tell a story, label it.
* Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information except when traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public. Use of such methods should be explained as part of the story
* Never plagiarize.
* Tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so.
* Examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.
* Avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.
* Support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.
* Give voice to the voiceless; official and unofficial sources of information can be equally valid.
* Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.
* Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.
* Recognize a special obligation to ensure that the public's business is conducted in the open and that government records are open to inspection.

Minimize Harm
Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect.
Journalists should:
* Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.
* Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.
* Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.
* Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy.
* Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.
* Be cautious about identifying juvenile suspects or victims of sex crimes.
* Be judicious about naming criminal suspects before the formal filing of charges.
* Balance a criminal suspect’s fair trial rights with the public’s right to be informed.

Act Independently
Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know.
Journalists should:
* Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
* Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
* Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.
* Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
* Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.
* Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.
* Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; avoid bidding for news.

Be Accountable
Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other.
Journalists should:
* Clarify and explain news coverage and invite dialogue with the public over journalistic conduct.
* Encourage the public to voice grievances against the news media.
* Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.
* Expose unethical practices of journalists and the news media.
* Abide by the same high standards to which they hold others.

(Copyright © 1996-2002 Society of Professional Journalists. All Rights Reserved.)


Public Relations Society of America

PRSA Code of Ethics
Ethical Guidance for Today’s Practitioner
The practice of public relations can present unique and challenging ethical issues. At the same time, protecting integrity and the public trust are fundamental to the profession’s role and reputation. Bottom line, successful public relations hinges on the ethics of its practitioners.

To help members navigate ethics principles and applications, the Society created, and continues to maintain, the PRSA Code of Ethics. Under the Code, widely regarded as the industry standard, members pledge to core values, principles and practice guidelines that define their professionalism and advance their success.

Building Principles on Core Values
The Code, created and maintained by the PRSA Board of Ethics and Professional Standards (BEPS), sets out principles and guidelines built on core values. Fundamental values like advocacy, honesty, loyalty, professional development and objectivity structure ethical practice and interaction with clients and the public.

Translating values into principles of ethical practice, the Code advises professionals to:

Protect and advance the free flow of accurate and truthful information.
Foster informed decision making through open communication.
Protect confidential and private information.
Promote healthy and fair competition among professionals.
Avoid conflicts of interest.
Work to strengthen the public’s trust in the profession.
Code guidelines, like tactics supporting strategies, zero in on putting value and principles into play for working professionals facing everyday tasks and challenges. Among them, professionals should:

Be honest and accurate in all communications.
Reveal sponsors for represented causes and interests.
Act in the best interest of clients or employers.
Disclose financial interests in a client’s organization.
Safeguard the confidences and privacy rights of clients and employees.
Follow ethical hiring practices to respect free and open competition.
Avoid conflicts between personal and professional interests.
Decline representation of clients requiring actions contrary to the Code.
Accurately define what public relations activities can accomplish.
Report all ethical violations to the appropriate authority.
Addressing Practice Challenges
Digging even deeper, BEPS takes on current practice issues and challenges in periodic Professional Standards Advisories (PSA's). Applying the Code to specific scenarios, BEPS has addressed practices including:

Pay-for-play journalism.
Anonymous Internet posting, “flogs” and viral marketing.
Front groups.
Disclosure of payment of expert commentators.
Truth in wartime communications.
Overstating charges or compensation for work performed.
Offering a Professional Model
In the Code preamble, PRSA asserts that “ethical practice is the most important obligation of a PRSA member.” While the Code covers members, PRSA maintains that all public relations professionals should look to it as a model of professional behavior. Additionally, PRSA regards the Code as a “model for other professions, organizations and professionals.”

Resources for Your Benefit
To make the topic of professional ethics accessible, understandable and practical, PRSA offers a host of resources — the PRSA Code of Ethics, Professional Standards Advisories, topical analyses and case studies. The Code is also available in Spanish for your convenience.

Have an Ethical Dilemma?
PRSA members seeking counsel on ethical matters are invited to confer with PRSA’s Board of Ethics and Professional Standards

American Advertising Federation

The Advertising Code of American Business

The Advertising Principles of American Business*

Advertising shall tell the truth, and shall reveal significant facts, the omission of which would mislead the public.

Advertising claims shall be substantiated by evidence in possession of the advertiser and advertising agency, prior to making such claims.

Advertising shall refrain from making false, misleading, or unsubstantiated statements or claims about a competitor or his/her products or services.

Bait Advertising
Advertising shall not offer products or services for sale unless such offer constitutes a bona fide effort to sell the advertising products or services and is not a device to switch consumers to other goods or services, usually higher priced.

Guarantees and Warranties
Advertising of guarantees and warranties shall be explicit, with sufficient information to apprise consumers of their principal terms and limitations or, when space or time restrictions preclude such disclosures, the advertisement should clearly reveal where the full text of the guarantee or warranty can be examined before purchase.

Price Claims
Advertising shall avoid price claims which are false or misleading, or saving claims which do not offer provable savings.

Advertising containing testimonials shall be limited to those of competent witnesses who are reflecting a real and honest opinion or experience.

Taste And Decency
Advertising shall be free of statements, illustrations or implications which are offensive to good taste or public decency.

*Adopted by the American Advertising Federation Board of Directors, March 2, 1984, San Antonio, Texas.