The ethical orientation of journalism must start from self-regulation and professional commitment. In this sense, the coverage and dissemination of news requires quality in essential aspects that correspond to the purpose and mission of journalism before the citizenry and the common good; these aspects are: informative, pedagogical and investigative.
This article does not intend to evaluate the contents, dissemination and effect on the various audiences in times of Covid-19. It is a reflective and analytical text on journalistic quality values (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2007, p. 61) founded on various ethical and professional principles set forth in the Declaration of Ethical Principles for the coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic, proposed by Ethical Journalism Network (EJN) (Declaration, 2020). Also, as analysis material, this article covers some points of the UNESCO International Code of Journalistic Ethics of 1983 (Code, UNESCO, 1983) and the Agreement for Discretion (Agreement, 1999) signed by media directors of communication in Colombia in November 1999.
2. Ethical commitment and information quality
The Statement of Ethical Principles was drafted in 2020 and endorsed by more than 70 journalistic organizations around the world. It was made to cover the pandemic and is contained in these seven points:
- Stick to the facts. Solid facts and data are key to relevant and accurate reporting. Use verified, reliable and diverse sources, such as the WHO, health sector workers, hospital staff or police. Check the date of the data to ensure that it is timely. Be transparent about data collection methods. Correct and contrast misinformation with facts. Warn that misinformation fuels hate speech and causes harm.
- Practice accountability. Contextualize official statistics and data. Be accountable to audiences, interacting, responding to their requests for information whenever possible, and providing them with resources. Avoid alarmism. Recognize that Covid-19 affects certain communities and individuals more forcefully.
- Become familiar with medical and scientific terminology. Avoid misleading language and labels. For example, it is not appropriate to say that the victims have «lost the battle».
- Show humanity. Sharing stories of people who have recovered from Covid-19, as well as stories of resilience and solidarity. Dignify the human background of the stories of the victims and their families. Be sensitive to the memories and emotions of the families of those who have been affected.
- Defy hate. Avoid pointing to ethnic or religious groups, as well as attributing the disease to specific racial or national groups. Avoid the use of gender stereotypes and any discriminatory language.
- Avoid social stigmatization and stereotypes. The disease must be presented in an objective way that avoids the abuse of emotional language. Encourage people to use available medical services. Avoid blame.
- Protect yourself and others. Journalism is essential, but not to the point of putting your own health and that of your sources at risk. Managers must lead by example. Appropriate measures must be ensured to protect physical and mental health, as well as to mitigate risks to their sources. Recognize the need to empathize with those affected and, when necessary, preserve the confidentiality of sources.