MEAA Journalist Code of Ethics


MEAA initiated press self-regulation in 1944 when it created the MEAA Journalist Code of Ethics (see the FAQs about the Code here). Under MEAA’s rules registered with the Fair Work Commission, only MEAA’s journalist members are bound by MEAA’s Journalist Code of Ethics. MEAA can undertake no action or investigation that involves individuals who are not MEAA members. Complaints about non-MEAA members should be taken up with the appropriate media employer and/or media industry groups:

The MEAA Journalist Code of Ethics

Respect for truth and the public’s right to information are fundamental principles of journalism. Journalists search, disclose, record, question, entertain, comment and remember. They inform citizens and animate democracy. They scrutinise power, but also exercise it, and should be responsible and accountable.

MEAA members engaged in journalism commit themselves to:

Honesty 
Fairness 
Independence 
Respect for the rights of others

Journalists will educate themselves about ethics and apply the following standards:

  1. Report and interpret honestly, striving for accuracy, fairness and disclosure of all essential facts. Do not suppress relevant available facts, or give distorting emphasis. Do your utmost to give a fair opportunity for reply.
  2. Do not place unnecessary emphasis on personal characteristics, including race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, sexual orientation, family relationships, religious belief, or physical or intellectual disability.
  3. Aim to attribute information to its source. Where a source seeks anonymity, do not agree without first considering the source’s motives and any alternative attributable source. Where confidences are accepted, respect them in all circumstances.
  4. Do not allow personal interest, or any belief, commitment, payment, gift or benefit, to undermine your accuracy, fairness or independence.
  5. Disclose conflicts of interest that affect, or could be seen to affect, the accuracy, fairness or independence of your journalism. Do not improperly use a journalistic position for personal gain.
  6. Do not allow advertising or other commercial considerations to undermine accuracy, fairness or independence.
  7. Do your utmost to ensure disclosure of any direct or indirect payment made for interviews, pictures, information or stories.
  8. Use fair, responsible and honest means to obtain material. Identify yourself and your employer before obtaining any interview for publication or broadcast. Never exploit a person’s vulnerability or ignorance of media practice.
  9. Present pictures and sound which are true and accurate. Any manipulation likely to mislead should be disclosed.
  10. Do not plagiarise.
  11. Respect private grief and personal privacy. Journalists have the right to resist compulsion to intrude.
  12. Do your utmost to achieve fair correction of errors.

Guidance Clause: Basic values often need interpretation and sometimes come into conflict. Ethical journalism requires conscientious decision-making in context. Only substantial advancement of the public interest or risk of substantial harm to people allows any standard to be overridden.

Making a complaint

If you believe a journalist has breached MEAA’s Journalist Code of Ethics, you should lodge a written complaint stating:
· The name of the journalist;
· The action that you believe is unethical;
· The clause or clauses of the code that you believe have been breached.

The letter should be addressed to: the CEO, MEAA, PO Box 723, Strawberry Hills, NSW 2012 or via email ceo@meaa.org Once the MEAA CEO receives your letter, the CEO will refer it to the National Ethics Panel (see below).

N.B. Only journalist members of MEAA are bound by MEAA’s Journalist Code of Ethics. MEAA can undertake no action or investigation if allegations are made against individuals who are not MEAA members. Complaints about non-MEAA members should be taken up with the appropriate media employer and/or media industry group.

How MEAA’s National Ethic Panel process works

Under MEAA’s rules, all members of MEAA’s Media section are bound by MEAA’s Journalist Code of Ethics (first adopted in 1944, reviewed and updated in 1984 and subject to a major review between 1994 and 1999 resulting in a new code of ethics being instituted in February 1999).

Complaints brought against MEAA members for Code violations are investigated by MEAA’s National Ethics Panel. The Panel consists of nine MEAA financial members and four members of the general public. The Panel members are appointed by MEAA’s biennially-elected National Media Section committee.

Ethics panel chairman: Terry O’Connor

Terry O’Connor joined The Courier-Mail in 1980 and in 1982 was recruited to The Sun, where he became deputy chief sub-editor. He returned to The Courier-Mail in 1984 and was soon appointed chief sub-editor. O’Connor also worked as higher education editor, literary editor and computer editor of The Courier-Mail.

He was secretary of the Queensland Ethics Judiciary Committee for several years and took part in the review which resulted in the formation of the existing National Ethics Panel.

In 1990, while chief sub-editor, O’Connor wrote The Courier-Mail Style Book. This he later expanded and made suitable for a general audience, and it was published commercially as Hold the Front Page: Writing for Newspapers. The textbook was taken up by many Australian universities.

In 2004 he was appointed a tutor with the News Ltd online training system, where he taught sub-editing and media law.

In 2005 he was appointed Production Editor at couriermail.com.au, where he developed advanced systems for online editing, as well as training Queensland Newspaper journalists in online writing and editing.

He left The Courier-Mail in 2010 and since then has worked mainly as a freelance editor. He is a member of the Institute of Professional Editors.

He tutors in Ethics and Issues at QUT and is Queensland President of the MEAA Media section.

A MEAA member commits an offence if found guilty of any violation and/or refusal to observe the Code, or failure to obey a summons to attend a meeting of the Panel and failing to supply the Committee with a reasonable explanation for non-attendance.

If guilty, the member may be liable to any of these penalties: warning, reprimand, fine (maximum $1000), membership suspension (for up to one year) and expulsion from membership.

Complaints

Anyone may write to MEAA alleging a MEAA journalist member has acted contrary to the Code. The complaint is submitted as soon as possible to the chair of the National Ethics Panel to consider.

The Panel does not accept anonymous or oral complaints. It has the right to refuse to receive, investigate or make a decision upon any complaint which, in the opinion of the majority of Panel members, does not come within the provisions of the Journalist Code of Ethics, or which is vexatious, frivolous or trivial.

The Panel can investigate any report on any matter concerning MEAA’s Journalist Code of Ethics which may be referred to it by MEAA’s Federal Council, the MEAA Board,  MEAA’s National Media Section committee or a MEAA Branch Council.

If a complaint requires investigation, the National Ethics Panel chair has eight days to convene a Complaints Panel of three members of the National Ethics Panel – at least one must be a general public member. The chair will advise the complainant that the complaint has been received and advise the member of the nature of the complaint.

The Complaints Panel will consider the complaint and can dismiss the complaint without further action; attempt to mediate; or seek further information. It can also have the parties appear personally before it. The parties can call witnesses who can be examined or cross-examined.

While the formalities of legal proceedings are followed where necessary to protect the member, the Complaints Panel is not bound by formal rules of evidence. The Complaints Panel hearing is to ascertain the truth and substance of the matter. The rules of natural justice are observed but neither party has the right to legal representation.

Upon completing its investigation, the Complaints Panel decides by a majority vote whether the complaint is upheld or dismissed. If upheld, it will also decide by majority vote on the penalty to be imposed. The chair of the Ethics Panel will advise the complainant and the member of the Complaints Panel’s decision within 28 days.

Appeals
Each party has the right to appeal. If no appeal is lodged within a further 28 days, the decision is confirmed and any action required is taken.

If an appeal is lodged, the National Ethics Panel chair has eight days to convene an Appeal Panel of five members of the National Ethics Panel – at least two must be general public members of the Panel. No member of the Complaints Panel that heard the original matter can sit on the Appeal Panel.

The National Ethics Panel chair will advise the appellant that the appeal has been received and advise the other party of the nature of the appeal; and provide the Appeals Panel with all material connected with the decision.

The Appeal Panel is restricted to correcting error in the Complaints Panel’s decision. The parties can provide further evidence to the Appeal Panel.

The Appeal Panel will consider the complaint and can dismiss or uphold the appeal; vary the original decision of the Complaints Panel; direct that a new Complaints Panel be convened to reconsider the complaint; or seek further information from either party. It can have the parties appear personally before it, and can allow them to call witnesses who can be examined or cross-examined.

The National Ethics Panel chair will advise the parties of the Appeals Panel’s decision within 28 days.