Mississippi Authority for Educational Television
Code of Ethics and Practices
I. Statement of purpose
As a news organization, we are always testing and questioning the credibility of others. We have to stand that test ourselves. The purpose of having a Code of Ethics and Practices is to protect the credibility of MAET news programming by ensuring high standards of honesty, integrity, impartiality and conduct of staff. We accomplish this by: a) articulating the ethical standards we observe in pursuing and presenting stories, b) setting rules and policies that prevent conflicts of interest, c) establishing guidelines for outside work and activities that may reflect on MAET, and d) establishing policies and procedures to ensure that the activities of MAET that fall outside journalism--corporate underwriting, foundation funding, marketing and promotional activities--do not jeopardize our journalistic independence or involve MAET reporters, editors, hosts or producers in activities inappropriate to their role as journalists.
II. Who and what is covered
This Code covers all MAET journalists, defined as employees who report (including hosts and newscasters), edit or produce news programming. It also covers all senior News managers. It does not cover News administrative staff. The Code applies to all platforms for MAET News content, including online. The Code also applies to material provided to MAET News by independent producers and freelance reporters. MAET News expects its outside contributors to be free of conflicts of interest on stories they cover, to be fair and accurate, and to pursue stories in a manner consistent with the ethical journalism principles stated in this Code. There will be instances where provisions of this Code are not applicable to an outside contributor (a freelancer who primarily does arts coverage, for example, may not in some situations be subject to the prohibition on making contributions to political campaigns). Supervisors will make these judgments on a case-by-case basis and, if necessary, in consultation with the Director of News and Public Affairs. Because contributors in this category are not MAET employees, the remedy for dealing with a conflict of interest or other violation of the principles of this Code is rejection of the offered material, as well as any future story proposals similarly affected by the conflict. As with MAET News employees, outside contributors must disclose potential conflicts of interest when they accept an assignment or make a story pitch, and MAET editors must make sufficient inquiries of those persons to satisfy themselves that the contributors have complied with this Code.
III. Statement of principles
Our coverage must be fair, unbiased, accurate, complete and honest. As MAET journalists, we are expected to conduct ourselves in a manner that leaves no question about our independence and fairness. We must treat the people we cover and our listeners with respect.
- Fairness means that we present all important views on a subject--and treat them even-handedly. This range of views may be encompassed in a single story on a controversial topic, or it may play out over a body of coverage or series of commentaries. But at all times, the commitment to presenting all important views must be conscious and affirmative and it must be timely if it is being accomplished over the course of more than one story.
- Unbiased means that we separate our personal opinions--such as an individual’s religious beliefs or political ideology--from the subjects we are covering. We do not approach any coverage with overt or hidden agendas.
- Accuracy means that each day we make rigorous efforts at all levels of the newsgathering and programming process to ensure our facts are not only right, but also presented in the correct context. We make every possible effort to ensure commentaries are correct in assertions of fact. We attempt to verify what our sources and the officials we interview tell us when the material involved is argumentative or capable of different interpretations. We are skeptical of all facts gathered and report them only when we are reasonably satisfied of their accuracy. We guard against errors of omission that cause a story to misinform our listeners by failing to be complete. We make sure that our language accurately describes the facts and does not imply a fact we have not confirmed.
- Honesty means we do not deceive the people or institutions we cover about our identity or intentions, and we do not deceive our listeners. We do not deceive our listeners by presenting the work of others as our own (plagiarism), by cutting interviews in ways that distort their meaning, or by manipulating audio in a way that distorts its meaning, how it was obtained or when it was obtained. The same applies to photographs used on www.mpbonline.org. Honesty means owning up publicly and quickly to mistakes we make on air.
- Treating the people we cover and our listeners with respect means we recognize the diversity of the country and world on which we report and the diversity of interests, attitudes and experiences of our audience. We approach subjects in an open-minded, sensitive and civil way.
IV. Conflicts of interest
- Conducting ourselves in a manner that inspires confidence in us as independent and fair means avoiding actual and apparent conflicts of interest or engaging in outside activities, public comment or writing that calls into question our ability to report fairly on a subject.
- A conflict of interest in its simplest dictionary term is a conflict between the private interests and the professional responsibilities of a person in a position of trust. An operative word in this sentence is “trust.” All of us are in positions of trust when it comes to both our audience and the people and institutions that we cover. To maintain that trust requires that there be no real or perceived overlap between the private interests and opinions of MAET journalists and their professional responsibilities.
- An employee covered by this Code has the responsibility to disclose potential conflicts of interest. Revealing a conflict of interest after an individual has already participated in coverage where such a conflict exists or appears to exist can be extremely damaging to the reputation of MAET. MAET journalists must, at the time they are first assigned to cover or work on a matter, disclose to their immediate supervisor any business, commercial, financial or personal interests where such interests might reasonably be construed as being in actual, apparent or potential conflict with their duties. This would include situations in which a spouse, family member or companion is an active participant in a subject area that the MAET journalist covers. In the financial category, this does not include a journalist’s investment in mutual funds or pension funds that are invested by fund managers in a broad range of companies. The supervisor will decide whether the interests create an actual conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict. In making these decisions, supervisors should feel free to consult with the Director of News and Public Affairs.
V. Outside work, freelancing, speaking engagements
- The primary responsibility of MAET journalists is to gather, write, edit or produce news for MAET and not work in direct competition with MAET. An example of competing with MAET would be breaking a story for another news outlet before reporting the story for MAET.
- MAET journalists must get written permission for all outside freelance or journalistic work. Requests should be submitted in writing to the employee’s immediate supervisor. Approval will not be unreasonably denied if the proposed work will not discredit MAET, conflict with MAET’s interests, create a conflict of interest for the employee or interfere with the employee’s ability to perform MAET duties. Supervisors must respond within seven days of receiving a request.
- MAET journalists may not engage in public relations work, paid or unpaid. Exceptions may be made for certain volunteer non-profit, nonpartisan activities, such as participating in the work of a church or synagogue or charitable organization, so long as this would not conflict with the interests of MAET in reporting on activities related to that charity. When in doubt, employees should consult their supervisor.
- In general, MAET journalists may not perform outside work for private organizations that are regularly covered by MAET. This includes work that would be performed on leaves of absence. There may be instances in which such work will be approved after consultation with the journalist’s supervisor.
- MAET journalists may not ghostwrite or co-author articles or books with people they cover, or write reports--such as annual reports--for government agencies, institutions or businesses that we cover.
- MAET journalists must get approval from the Director of News and Public Affairs for speaking to groups that might have a relationship to a subject that MAET may cover. Generally, MAET journalists may not speak at corporation or industry functions. MAET journalists also may not speak in settings where their appearance is being used by an organization to market its services or products, unless it is marketing MAET’s interests, and then only as permitted in Section IX, Item 5. MAET journalists are permitted to engage in promotional activities for books they have written (such as a book tour), although they are expected to get approval from their supervisor on scheduling.
- MAET journalists may only accept speaking fees from educational or non-profit groups not engaged in significant lobbying or political activity. Determining whether a group engages in significant lobbying or political activity is the responsibility of the journalist seeking permission and all information must be fully disclosed to the journalist’s supervisor.
- MAET journalists may not speak to groups where the journalist’s appearance might put in question his or her impartiality. Such instances include situations where the employee’s appearance may appear to endorse the agenda of a group or organization.
- MAET journalists must get permission from the Director of News and Public Affairs to appear on TV or other media. It is not necessary to get permission in each instance when the employee is a regular participant on an approved show. Permission for such appearances may be revoked if MAET determines they raise questions about the journalist’s impartiality.
- In appearing on TV or other media, MAET journalists should not express views they would not air in their role as journalists on MAET’s programs. They should not participate in shows that encourage punditry and speculation rather than fact-based analysis.
- Any MAET journalist intending to write a non-fiction book or TV or movie script or other guiding documents for non-radio productions, based in whole or substantial part on assignments they did for MAET, must notify MAET in writing of such plans before entering into any agreement with respect to that work. MAET will respond within 14 days as to whether it has any objections to the project.
- MAET journalists considering book projects or TV or movie productions based on stories that they have covered must be careful not to give any impression they might benefit financially from the outcome of news events.
VI. Personal gain, gifts, freebies, loaned equipment or merchandise, etc.
- MAET journalists may not accept compensation, including property or benefits of any kind, from people or institutions they cover. MAET journalists may accept gifts of token value (hats, mugs, t-shirts, etc.). Unsolicited items of significant value will be returned with a letter thanking the sender, but stating our policy on gifts. MAET journalists pick up the check when they can (i.e., they are not wined and dined by sources); MAET journalists pay for our own travel in accordance with MAET’s travel policy. There are certain instances--such as conferences and conventions--where food is provided as a convenience for the press as a whole and in such instances, it is acceptable to take advantage of this. In addition, MAET journalists may accept paid travel and meals for speaking engagements and awards ceremonies that are approved under the standards in Section V.
- MAET journalists must conduct themselves at all times in a manner that leaves no grounds for belief, or even the appearance, that information they have gathered on the job has been used for personal gain, financial or otherwise.
- MAET journalists may not use any nonpublic information acquired at work for personal gain or use their association with MAET for personal gain. No MAET journalist may disclose information acquired by MAET to anyone inside or outside of MAET if the intent is to use that information for personal or institutional gain. This prohibition does not apply to accepted journalistic practices, such as sharing information as a member of a news “pool.”
- MAET journalists pay their own way in newsgathering, except in unusual circumstances. The Director of News and Public Affairs must approve any exceptions. MAET journalists may accept free passes to movie screenings, performances or similar activities that are attended for the purpose of doing reviews or stories for airing.
- MAET journalists cannot sell items like books, CDs, etc., that are received at MAET for review. They belong to MAET. They may be distributed to staff for their personal use (which may include donations to charities) after they are no longer needed.
- MAET journalists cannot keep any equipment or items of value provided by a company for test-use for story purposes. Such items must be disclosed to the journalist’s supervisor and are to be disposed of in accordance with the ethical practices stated in this document, which usually means returning such items to the provider.
VII. Ethical conduct in coverage of news
- Plagiarism is an unforgivable offense. MAET journalists do not take other people’s work and present it as our own.
- MAET News puts its highest value on firsthand news gathering and confirmation of facts, as opposed to relying on material from other sources (Associated Press (AP), other newspapers and networks, etc.).
- MAET journalists must take special care in the use they make of information from wire service stories, reports by other broadcast news organizations, newspaper clips or articles in other publications. No material from another source should ever be included verbatim, or substantially so, without attribution.
- Wire services: There is one category of quotation from wire services where it is acceptable to use quotes without attribution. That is where an AP or Reuters story is about some public event--like a press conference, speech by a public official in a public setting, an official statement of a government agency, a congressional hearing, and the like. In those cases, we reasonably expect that AP and Reuters are reliable conveyors of those quotes in the same way we regard the transcript services we use for these events. However, reporters and editors must use caution and check source material if there is reason to believe that a quote has been inaccurately reported or has been taken out of its proper context.
- When using material from newspaper stories, MAET journalists must double-check “facts” and other material gleaned from those stories. Too often, incorrect information is passed down from one news story to another because of the failure of one news organization to get it right. MAET should never pass on errors in this way.
- MAET journalists are generous in giving credit to other news organizations for stories that demonstrate enterprise or contain exclusive information. If their story inspires us to replicate it, we should give credit even if we use different sources and materials. If there is any doubt about whether to credit another news organization, consult the Director of News and Public Affairs.
- MAET journalists must treat the people they cover fairly and with respect. They always keep in mind that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort, and they weigh that against the importance of the story. MAET journalists show sensitivity when seeking or using interviews of those affected by tragedy or grief. They show special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced or unsophisticated sources or subjects, or individuals who have difficulty understanding the language in which they are being interviewed.
- There are also legal considerations when dealing with minors--anyone under the age of 18. If you interview a minor, you must obtain written or recorded permission from the minor’s parent or legal guardian before using the audio. In fact, you cannot identify the minor in any way (by name, description, location, etc.) without permission. Only if the minor is not individually identifiable--for example, the sound of a gaggle of children on a playground--do you not need to get permission. Many editors have the release forms for use in such circumstances; they also are available on the MAET shared drive (Read Only) at R:\Contract forms\RELEASES\Minor Release.” If there are other more routine instances in which a reporter wishes to use audio from a minor who is identified when permission has not been obtained, the reporter or his/her supervisor should consult the Director of News and Public Affairs to determine whether that might be permissible.
- MAET journalists think carefully about the boundaries between legitimate journalistic pursuit and an individual’s right to privacy. We 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 the overriding public’s need to know can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy.
- MAET journalists make sure actualities, quotes or paraphrases of those we interview are accurate and are used in the proper context. An actuality from an interviewee or speaker should reflect accurately what that person was asked or was responding to. If we use tape or material from an earlier story, we clearly identify it as such. We tell listeners about the circumstances of an interview if that information is pertinent (such as the time the interview took place, the fact that an interviewee was speaking to us while on the fly, etc.). Whenever it is not clear how an interview was obtained, we should make it clear. The audience deserves more information, not less. The burden is on the MAET journalist to ensure that our use of such material is true to the meaning the interviewee or speaker intended.
- Journalism should be conducted in the open. MAET journalists do not mis-represent themselves: MAET journalists disclose who they are and don’t pose as law enforcement officials, investigators or other such officials. There will be occasions not to declare our profession, but rather to seek information as a member of the public working in places to which the general public has access, such as stores, public buildings, etc.
- MAET journalists do not use hidden microphones, recorders or cameras except in unusual circumstances. Occasionally information that serves an important journalistic purpose, such as in reporting on illegal, antisocial or fraudulent activities, cannot be obtained by more open means. In such circumstances, approval must be obtained from a senior News supervisor and the Attorney General’s Office before any taping or photographing takes place. MAET journalists do not record phone calls without permission.
- If there is a question of legality in pursuit of a story, MAET journalists should consult their supervisor and the Director of News and Public Affairs.
- MAET journalists do not pay for information from sources or newsmakers. They do not allow sources or interviewees to dictate how a topic will be covered, or which other voices or ideas will be included. They do not agree to submit questions in advance unless a specific instance is approved by the Director of News and Public Affairs or a designee. If questions are submitted in advance, this will be disclosed in our coverage.
- MAET journalists do not sign non-disclosure agreements, except in the rarest of circumstances. Exceptions to this rule must be approved by the Director of News and Public Affairs. MAET journalists respect embargoes on news unless the circum-stances surrounding the embargo make adherence to it inappropriate, such as where the information has already surfaced elsewhere or a strong public interest requires the disclosure to place other news in the proper context.
- Although MAET journalists do agree to talk to sources on background when necessary, MAET’s strong preference is to have people on the record. Before any information is accepted without full attribution, reporters should make every reasonable effort to get it on the record. If that is not possible, reporters should consider seeking the information elsewhere.
- When reporters quote anonymous sources, the editor or producer of that story has an obligation to satisfy him/herself that the source is credible and reliable, and there is a journalistically justifiable reason to let that person speak without attribution. This obligation also pertains to situations where individuals ask that their real names be withheld. The editor or producer has a twofold responsibility: 1) to make a judgment about whether it is editorially justified to let the person speak anonymously or under cover of a pseudonym or partial description, and 2) to satisfy her/himself that this person is who the piece says s/he is. An editor should never be in the position of having to verify these things after a story has aired and a question is raised about it. If a pseudonym is used, the reporter must disclose this in the story.
- When MAET journalists attribute information in a story to a “source” or “sources,” it is assumed that these are the MAET journalists’ sources and that they have obtained the information firsthand. If this is not the case, and the sources are ones quoted by other news organizations, then those sources must be attributed to those other news organizations.
- MAET journalists do not show scripts in advance or preview pieces to any person not affiliated with MAET. An MAET journalist may review portions of a script or read back a quotation to assure accuracy. An MAET journalist may also play audio or read transcripts of an interview to a third party if the purpose is to get that party’s reaction to what another person has said.
- Our corrections policy is to correct substantive errors of fact in a timely way. If a reporter, host, editor or producer believes MAET got something wrong--or that there was a serious defect in a piece--s/he has an affirmative responsibility to get that on the table for investigation and possible correction. Many times MAET learns these things when someone outside brings an error to its attention. That is one natural way of finding out. But if MAET journalists have reason to believe there was a significant error, they should not wait for it to be pointed out. MAET journalists should err on the side of caution in checking corrections, clarifications or retractions with the Director of News and Public Affairs before they air or are posted online if there is any possibility the material in question poses a legal liability.
- A reporter or host should make clear when an interview has begun or has ended so there is no question about what is or isn’t for broadcast, or what is on the record or not.
- Archival audio, or audio that was obtained from a past story, must be identified as such if it is used in a new piece. The listener should not be left to think that any archival or previously obtained audio was gathered in the context of the current piece. As an example, a story updating a controversy surrounding an individual would be misleading if it included new assertions of fact but only used past statements by that individual and failed to identify them as such.
- In general, the same ethical and editorial standards apply to online journalism that apply to radio journalism, although there are unique considerations pertaining to online. Those considerations will be defined in a separate document to be developed by MAET in consultation with MAET News.
- MAET’s sign-off policy is either to sign-off from the place where the reporter is filing or, if the reporter is no longer there, to sign-off generically (“Joe Smith, MPB News”) and establish the “place” of the story in the intro and body of the story itself.
- MAET does not name victims of sexual assaults. There will, at times, be exceptions--such as certain instances when a victim goes public with his/her identity- -and MAET editors will judge these instances on a case-by-case basis.
VIII. Politics, community and outside activities
- MAET journalists may not run for office, endorse candidates or otherwise engage in politics. Since contributions to candidates are part of the public record, MAET journalists may not contribute to political campaigns, as doing so would call into question a journalist’s impartiality in coverage.
- MAET journalists may not participate in marches and rallies involving causes or issues that MAET covers, nor should they sign petitions or otherwise lend their name to such causes, or contribute money to them.
- MAET journalists may not serve on government boards or commissions.
- MAET journalists may sit on community advisory boards, educational institution trustee boards, boards of religious organizations or boards of nonprofit organizations so long as MAET does not normally cover them and they are not engaged in significant lobbying or political activity. Such activities should be disclosed to the Director of News and Public Affairs or designee, and MAET may revoke approval if it believes continued service will create the appearance of a conflict of interest or an actual conflict.
- When a spouse, family member or companion of an MAET journalist is involved in political activity, the journalist should be sensitive to the fact that this could create real or apparent conflicts of interest. In such instances, the MAET journalist should advise her or his supervisor to determine whether s/he should recuse her or himself from a certain story or certain coverage.
IX. Underwriting; foundation grants; advertising, marketing and promotion
- A firewall will be maintained between MAET journalists and funders. While staff will inevitably end up talking to experts and officials who work at foundations that fund us (and their grantees), we may not discuss coverage planning with grant-making officials.
- The Director of News and Public Affairs will designate individuals who will serve as contacts with funders for grant-making purposes or other communications.
- Because of limited staff, MAET journalists may read funding credits on-air.
- If MAET reports on an organization or individual who funds us, we will disclose that relationship on-air if the subject of the report is directly related to the thrust of the grant we received.
- When authorized by the Director of News and Public Affairs, MAET journalists may take part or be asked to take part in promotional activities or events involving supporters of MAET, such as our coordinated fund drives and public radio audience-building initiatives.
X. Application and enforcement of this Code
- Application and enforcement of this Code is the responsibility in the first instance of every MAET journalist. This responsibility extends to both him/herself and to every other MAET journalist with whom he/she works. We should feel free to guide ourselves by offering suggestions to our peers to help them comply with their obligations under this Code.
- Editors and producers have special responsibility for application of this Code to matters they are editing or producing. For each story that is produced, they should be satisfied that the standards of this Code have been met.
- MAET journalists who do not comply with the Code may be subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination.
- We do not enter journalism contests or competitions when they are sponsored by groups that have an interest in influencing our coverage. All entries for contests or competitions must be approved by the Director of News and Public Affairs.
- MAET journalists should not speak on behalf of MAET, or its policies and practices, unless authorized to do so by appropriate agency officials. All press inquiries about MAET policies and practices must be directed to MAET’s Communications Department.
- Generally, MAET journalists may not endorse products or provide blurbs for books, movies or performances using their MAET identification. The Director of News and Public Affairs may make exceptions to this rule, such as when the author of a book is a colleague of the blurb-writer. However, permission will be denied in other circumstances, such as when the author is a politician or someone the MAET journalist covers. Blurbs drawn accurately and in context from material that has been on our air are permissible.
- MAET journalists must not turn over any notes, audio or working materials from their stories or provide information they have observed in the course of their journalistic activities to government officials or parties involved in or considering litigation. If such materials or information are requested pursuant to governmental, administrative or other legal process, MAET journalists should immediately consult the Director of News and Public Affairs.
- MAET owns materials that has been collected or produced by MAET journalists in the course of their duties, irrespective of whether it has been distributed on our air outright, and it may not be reproduced elsewhere without the permission of MAET.
- The provisions of this Code are subject to the employment and other policies made generally applicable to all MAET employees.