Wednesday May 7 2014

No matter our journalists’ political bent, we will be fair and equal to all

By Malcolm Gibson

Ethics is at the heart of all we do, and those of us at the Daily Monitor have renewed our commitment to holding ourselves to the highest ethical standards when it comes to doing our work as journalists.
I am sharing this with you so that you can help us in our honest and sincere pursuit of becoming the most respected media operation in Africa.
As part of that effort, effective next week you will find, elsewhere on page 10, a text box asking you – our readers and sources – to help us keep our commitments.

If you encounter anyone pursuing a news story who does not meet the commitments to which we have pledged, as well as those outlined in the Reporter/Editor Story Checklist addressed previously, please notify me immediately.
We believe that quality journalism is important to a democracy and to its positive development. In that vein, we are changing the tenor of journalism at the Monitor and, perhaps, through the examples we expect to set, for all of Uganda.

Here’s some of what I shared with members of the news staff and to what we have agreed as it relates to neutrality and fairness, expressing political views and personal opinions that might affect the perception people have of us, and compensation for what we do as journalists.

Neutrality/Fairness: As to neutrality (and fairness), I offer a personal example. I have been a professional journalist for almost 52 years now. And I am a person with strong political views. However, in my time as a journalist, I have never allowed my personal views, political or otherwise, to affect my journalism. In fact, virtually all my sources never knew of my political bent from the questions I’ve asked or the stories I’ve written because, even as difficult as it has been at times, I’ve always set aside my own personal beliefs and opinions at those times.
I expect the same from everyone who’s part of the Daily Monitor’s editorial team.

That means, in all cases, no matter anyone’s political bent, our journalism will be solid – which means fair and equal to all.

Personal opinion and analysis vs. opinion:
Parallel to the neutrality issue is a journalist expressing one’s own personal (usually political) viewpoints at public forums or on social media. Journalists should not express overt political views via Facebook, Twitter, etc., and, obviously, at public forums, political or otherwise. The issue is one of perception – in that a reporter or editor working for the Monitor is speaking not only for himself, but the Monitor. And, of course, it also creates a strong perception that that person, as a journalist, will be unable to step back from those views while doing the work of a journalist.

Related to that is providing opinion, rather than analysis. The difference is simple: With analysis, you provide sourcing to support and underscore the views presented. With opinion, you do not.

Monitor journalists may ask questions and provide analysis at public forums and on various media, but they are not to provide personal opinions on issues of importance, particularly politics. It is impossible to avoid the perception that you are speaking for the Monitor. Again, it’s also impossible to separate your opinion from the perspective that it influences your approach to doing the job of a journalist.

Compensation: For any work a Monitor journalist does for the newspaper in any capacity, the only compensation that journalist – whether reporter, photographer or editor – should receive is from the Monitor. Period. Any Monitor journalist is absolutely prohibited from accepting or requesting gratuities (money or anything of value, even if unsolicited) from any party other than the Monitor – without expressed approval of the Executive Editor. Moreover, if approved – such as a government- or commercially-sponsored trip or event, any story as a result will indicate, in an editor’s note, the circumstances for such.

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We have committed ourselves to these standards, and we would ask that you help us ensure that we are true to that commitment.
We want to be the best in Africa in all we do, and you are important to that effort.

Mr Gibson is the Executive Editor of Monitor Publications Ltd.