Responsible reporting: Upstart editorial guidelines
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Ethics and responsible reporting
All student journalists have responsibilities to provide accurate, fair and culturally sensitive journalism. This can often involve seeking a balance between ethical reporting and protecting public interest. The following sections will provide you with vital information to ensure you are acting responsibly and ethically in your role as a student journalist.
La Trobe University Bachelor of Media and Communication students working for upstart must behave in a professional manner, as outlined in the upstart Code of Conduct.
The Upstart Code of Conduct
When approaching anyone for interviews or information, always identify yourself as a journalist and name the organisation you are working for. Covert journalism is only acceptable in specific circumstances and with the written permission of the editors.
- Take all reasonable steps to ensure your work is accurate and not misleading in any way.
- In the case of a mistake being published in your work, take immediate steps to notify your editors and to rectify the issue on their advice.
- Endeavour to cover both sides of a story where there is dispute, controversy or contention.
- Give individuals, companies and organisations the right of reply where any potentially defamatory allegations are being made against them, including a reasonable timeframe for them to respond. If they do not respond, signify to readers it was sought.
- Attribute all sources of information and avoid all forms of plagiarism.
- Do not alter any direct quote unless it is a minor change for clarity or to protect privacy.
- Do not refer to a person’s colour, race, religion, physical disability, mental illness, sexuality, marital status or nationality unless it is directly relevant to the story. Do not reference these elements of identity in any way that is pejorative.
- Respect the right to the privacy of individuals and their personal information.
- Behave sensitively and with courtesy for those grieving or in emotional distress.
- Let your editors know of any conflicts of interest that might conflict with your ability to provide balanced coverage of a topic. (e.g. financial interest in a company, religious or cultural beliefs, ethical or moral stances).
- Do not interview, photograph or record children without written consent from a parent or guardian or school. Do not identify children in any stories relating to crime or any court reports.
- Do not accept gifts or money from individuals, companies or organisations, or accept any offer that would count as a personal gain in exchange for coverage or review.
- Follow the sources provided in the ‘Guidelines and standards for responsible reporting’ section when writing about suicide, mental health or family violence.
Other important ethics resources
La Trobe University Media and Communication students working for upstart must use the following guidelines on ethics and responsible reporting, particularly in relation to stories reporting on issues such as mental health, suicide and children etc.
The MEAA journalism Code of Ethics
Upstart adheres to the Journalist Code of Conduct, as written by the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). The Code of Ethics is based on the following fundamental principles:
- Respect for the rights of others
Read the full MEAA code
The PRIA code of ethics for public relations professionals
All members of the Public Relations Institute of Australia are expected to adhere to the PRIA code of ethics. The code outlines standard for public relations professionals in the following areas:
- Ethical practice
- Professional competence
Read the PRIA code of ethics
Responsible reporting: Guidelines and standards
Reporting on mental health
Students working for upstart media must report on mental health and suicide responsibly. At upstart, we follow Mindframe’s guide for responsible reporting of mental health and suicide for media professionals. The guide makes recommendations based on the following factors:
- The relevance of mental illness to the story
- Producing balanced and responsible representation
- Handling police and court reports
- Interviewing those with mental illness
- Framing celebrity stories
Read the guidelines on how to responsibly report and depict suicide in the media, see Mindframe’s ‘Reporting suicide and mental illness: A Mindframe resource for professionals’.
Reporting on suicide
Students working for upstart are expected to adhere to the Australian Press Council’s standard for reporting on suicide in Australia.
These include specific guidelines on the following areas:
- Judging whether reporting an individual event is in the public’s interest
- Reporting on the specific details of a suicide and the identity of the dead
- Avoiding both stigmatisation and glamorisation of suicide
- Providing sources of assistance in published material
Read the Australian Press Council’s suicide reporting standard before reporting on any topic related to suicide.
Reporting on family and domestic violence
Due to an increase in reports about family and domestic violence, several guidelines and advisories have been created to ensure journalists report professionally and sensitively on these subjects. This might include consideration of the following:
- The legal restrictions on reporting on the subjects.
- Maintaining awareness of the safety of those affected by violence.
- The cultural sensitivity that might be required to report on some instances.
- The need for careful thought around the context in which the violence occurs and the complexity of the subject.
Before writing any article about these subjects, please consult with The Australian Press Council’s Advisory Guidelines of Family and Domestic Violence Reporting. Additionally, consult with Our Watch’s guidelines on reporting violence against women/
Culturally sensitive reporting: Reporting on First Nations people of Australia
Many Australian government agencies and media bodies have developed protocols for reporting on and depicting Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders. These protocols have been created in consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander groups to acknowledge and honour their unique culture and traditions, and to ensure journalists report on them respectfully.
Depicting and reporting death
There are important protocols relating to depicting images, broadcasting recorded voices, or using the names of deceased Aboriginal Australians or Torres Strait Islanders in print or broadcast journalism.
In many First Nations Australian cultures reproducing the names of, or distribution of images of the deceased is restricted during mourning periods. Instead, there may be certain (and it varies among cultures) protocols for representing the deceased.
To understand more about these protocols, please use the SBS Guide for reference.
Using inclusive language
The following are the appropriate terms for referring to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people:
Use specific terms where possible
Where possible, use a specific community or tribal group, instead of a general term. (However, it is important to be aware that some members of the indigenous community may not know their language or cultural group.)
e.g. She is a thirty-five-year-old Wurrundjeri woman.
When you do not know the specific cultural group, or are speaking about Indigenous Australian people collectively, the following terms are applicable. One thing that is important to know is that “Aboriginal Australian” only refers to First Nations Australians from mainland Australia, and does not include Torres Strait Islands, thus is not wholly inclusive of all First nations Australians.
First Nations: This is a term that can be used to collectively describe both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
e.g. She is a First Nations person from Central Australia.
Aboriginal Australians: Refers to First nations Australians from mainland Australia. ‘Aboriginal’ is the adjective and ‘Aboriginal person’ or ‘Aboriginal people’ are the preferred nouns.
Note: avoid the term “aborigine”. It is offensive.
Torres Strait Islanders: Torres Strait Islanders have a culture that is distinct from other Aboriginal cultures, thus the word Aboriginal does not encompass their culture as well.
Use the following when referring to both peoples or cultures:
e.g. “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is unique to Australia.”
Indigenous: This is a term that covers both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. However, some prefer not to use the term “Indigenous”. If you do use it, please capitalise it.
e.g. “Many Indigenous communities from across Australia participated in the event.”
Koori: This is a term that Aboriginal people from Victoria and New South Wales often refer to themselves by. It cannot be used to refer to First Nations Australians in general.
e.g. “Uncle Stewart was a respected Elder of the Wemba Wemba people, and held many positions in the Koori community, according to the Koori Heritage Trust, where the library is named after him.”
Note: When referring to Australian cultural groups, the terms Aboriginal and Indigenous are capitalised. When referring more generically to indigenous groups of other nations, we do not. For example: “The Inuit are an indigenous group who inhabit areas of Canada, Alaska and Greenland.”
Respectful reporting of gender diversity and identity
Terminology relating to gender, gender diversity and identity has evolved in recent years, and it is important you are reporting both accurately and respectfully.
The GLAAD Media Reference Guide contains a thorough list of definition of terms relating to gender identity such as transgender, transsexual, intersex, as well as terms relating to sexual orientation such as queer, bisexual and lesbian.
It also contains a list of offensive and preferred terms for describing sexuality and gender.
Access it HERE
Note: Please do not report on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity unless directly relevant to the story.
Respectful reporting of autism and autistic people
According to Amaze, a Victorian body that provides support and resources for autistic people and their supporters, “Media stories can challenge public misconceptions and myths about autism, give autistic people a platform to share their stories and experiences in a positive way, help the general community to understand autism better, and foster greater acceptance of autistic people…or they can do the opposite – reinforce myths and inaccurate stereotypes, and perpetuate negative attitudes.
Please use the following guide to ensure you are sensitively and responsibly reporting on topics related to autism and autistic people. It also contains a useful vocabulary list and offers some common media misconceptions.
Access it HERE
Photo: by Thomas Charters and available HERE and used under a creative commons attribution. The image was not modified.