This handbook (Code of Conduct) is a guide to performance. It outlines, in detail, a set of guidelines and rules that must be rigorously observed, as they are drawn from Al Jazeera Code of Ethics.
It is a reference document designed to regulate and govern Al Jazeera journalistic activities both in news and programs as well as the station's relationship with the audience and sources of news.
It aims to:
- Define the values and standards of professional practice of journalism.
- Uphold the freedom of the press.
- Regulate the application of standards of journalism.
- Be a guarantee of objectivity, credibility and independence.
- Boost viewers’ confidence in Al Jazeera news/program services.
- Streamline inter-departmental/inter-personal relationships and ensure a smooth flow of work in a friendly environment of mutual respect.
Credibility & Objectivity:
These two values are the cornerstone of the success of any media organization, as they guarantee reliable information. They have been characteristic of Al Jazeera since its inception to the present day, and helped create its brand image as a credible broadcaster. To uphold this image, the following guidelines should be adhered to:
- Verify the material (information and images/films) coming to Al Jazeera before broadcast/publishing. Exercise maximum care to avoid inadvertent errors.
- Never distort or misrepresent information/image for whatever reason.
- Don’t pass judgments when covering a story. Descriptive analysis not supported by confirmed information or facts is not allowed. (You may not talk about a massive destruction based on a scene showing few buildings destroyed etc).
- Avoid quoting a source unknown to Al Jazeera, and the use of phrases with indefinite meanings. Words like “lately/ recently” or “observers/critics” must be shunned when the exact date or source can be quoted. Stop this practice as it risks compromising Al Jazeera’s credibility.
- Pictures cannot be doctored nor can information be changed in a way that misrepresents the content. Image enhancement for technical clarity is always permissible.
- Avoid reconstruction. It may jeopardize professional integrity. If re-enactment is necessary to tell a story, label/say it so your viewers are not misled.
- When covering an intricate news story, consult with people with relevant experience. Don’t take sides or adopt anybody’s view as this could be understood as Al Jazeera’s.
- Peoples’ diverse cultures, traditions and customs, must be respected. Don’t label a community’s costume, for example, as national, a woman with jeans as westernized or a young man with tattoos or earrings as deviant.
- Avoid over-generalizations and stereotyping by color, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, geography, disability or social status.
- Distinguish news from analysis/commentary, to avoid the snares of bias and impartiality. News is characterized by known facts (viewers can judge whether or not your news is credible by checking other sources). Analysis/conjecture is essentially argumentative, and could be accepted or refused. Avoid hybrids that blur the lines between news and conjecture. When this turns out to be impossible to achieve, however, label/say it.
- You are not banned from expressing your views. In certain situations, you, as an Al Jazeera correspondent, may be asked to give your assessment. When doing so (preferably in a stand-up or a phone/DTL interview) make certain, however, your view isn't understood as a fail-safe fact or representing Al Jazeera’s viewpoint.
- In controversies and news stories involving more than one party, give “voice” to everyone and allow each of them to articulate his/her views or challenge accusations leveled against him/her. If you fail to accommodate all opinions in one program, strive to give unheard voices another go in ensuing shows. In case of rejection, declare it to the audience to avoid being accused of bias.
- Heated debates and conflicting views feature strongly in some events, like elections. In such situations, be objective in covering campaigns and slogans to avoid being labeled as showing favor to either party. Allow equal platforms for opponents to express their views and explain their programs. (This doesn’t apply to paid ads).
- A correspondent may not be presumed as an "authority" on a given subject knowing its ins and outs. Presenters, therefore, are discouraged from directing questions to them based on this assumption. This may force him/her to give inaccurate information or present his/her personal views as surefire facts, and eventually embarrass Al Jazeera. To overcome this, presenters may consult with the correspondent before going on air.
- Mind you don’t fall into “advertorial trap”. Labeling a tank as the strongest … or a medicine as the most effective … is an example of publicity free of charge.
- As a rule, sources should be identified. Quoting an anonymous source is an exception to the rule.
- When your source asks not to be identified, question its motives. If they prove to be valid, promise anonymity. Let your audience know about the reliability of your source.
- Make certain the disclosure of your source doesn’t trouble, harm or cause discomfort to him/her. Promise secrecy and privacy if identification risks troubling him/her.
- Official and unofficial sources can be equally important. The news we (should) publish does not derive its value from the famous names involved in it. Don’t ignore or underestimate an interesting news story because it deals with people not famous enough.
- Be cautious of sources which offer information for favors or money.
- Don’t overplay or oversimplify headlines, promotional material, photos, graphics, quotes, sound bites, to ovoid misrepresentation. Make certain your promos are free from bias and judgments.
- Be wary of visual/sound effects/graphics to avoid misleading viewers into having an unrealistic impression. Enhancement of a blur image or a faint sound is always permissible.
- Library pictures should be labeled or said by the presenter.
- Never plagiarize. Don’t take other peoples’ work and present it as your own.
- Don’t ignore or shred a news story based on the assumption that it could be unacceptable to some viewers.
- Be courageous and honest with news about people with power. If you feel uneasy with a duty potentially harmful to you, let the highest editorial authority know and ask for a replacement.
- In case of broadcasting a story with inaccurate/wrong/ incredible information, do the following:
- Ensure it is not re-broadcast.
- Admit the mistake and apologize for it promptly.
- Broadcast/publish a corrected version (unless the gravity of the mistake renders it unworthy to be broadcast).
- In case of harmful mistakes, afford the right of reply to those harmed, ensuring that he/she doesn’t misbehave.
- Show compassion for those who may have been adversely affected by news coverage. Be sensitive with children and ordinary people. (Don’t poll a layman about a complicated subject, unless you are conducting a survey, nor force a minor or an adult to say what you like to hear).
- Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by a tragedy or grief. Avoid hyping up and sensational treatment of scenes/statements with little interest.
- Pursuit of news is not a permission to cause harm to people or endanger their lives. Warn your sources, who give you information willingly, against potential dangers of identifying them if you believe this may trouble them.
- Ordinary people have a greater right to control their private lives than officials and those seeking power or fame. Only an ethical or professional reason justifies intrusion into peoples’ privacies, provided that no discomfort is caused and their lives are not affected adversely. Let your source know that he/she will be quoted when his/her views are broadcast/published.
Language & Style:
- Sobriety - not hype – is what wins you the viewers’ respect. Avoid hyping up and sensational treatment when covering a news story or interviewing guests. Avoid emotional involvement (by way of body language, gestures, facial expressions etc) for you not to be viewed as taking sides with either party.
- Over-generalized descriptions (disgraceful behavior, savage etc) may compromise your credibility and impartiality.
- Al Jazeera uses simple uncomplicated standard Arabic known as the language of the press. Being simple in no way means slang words are accepted. When such words are used, quote the source.
- Language is a medium of communication, and journalists must have a full command of it, so he/she can write correctly and nicely. Poor language and clumsy style leave an adverse effect on Al Jazeera’s image.
- Avoid clichés. Use correct, simple and direct language. Don’t use ambiguous words or sentences. Avoid writing in a style which could be seen as sarcastic or scornful of a faith, race, culture etc.
- Avoid acts which risk creating conflict of interests.
- Stay free of commitments/activities that may harm your credibility or call into question your professional integrity.
- You are not allowed to engage in any outside business that may adversely affect your performance. You are strictly banned from accepting paid jobs (including writing for the press) without a prior consent of the Managing Director or his deputy.
- You aren’t allowed to engage in political or partisan propagandas or commercial campaigns.
- You are banned from working, paid or otherwise, for any media organization competing with Al Jazeera.
- Resist pressures to broadcast/publish information that may compromise professional integrity and ethics. Such pressures should be immediately reported to the management.
- Don’t accept gifts, cash or otherwise, or special treatment (travel tickets, hotel accommodation etc) save those approved by Al Jazeera or presented as part of an official assignment. You may accept souvenirs (plaques, thank-you letters etc). Such items should be disclosed to Al Jazeera and are to be disposed of based on their value/significance.
- You aren't banned from having partisan and/or intellectual associations. This must not adversely affect your performance, however. Respect of this Code of Conduct takes priority over other considerations.
- You aren't allowed to use your job or the name of Al Jazeera to make personal gains and win a favored treatment in a way that harms its image.
- Using any material owned by Al Jazeera to make personal gains or serve a third party’s interest is banned.
- Policy memos and work-related instructions including Talkback comments must not be leaked to a third party.
- News/program presenters must ensure that their look (dress & make-up) is neat and decent.
- Freedom of the press mayn't be used to threaten or libel/slander people or organizations.
- Don’t speak to other media organizations about Al Jazeera’s internal affairs, policies or current/future plans. Don’t speak on its behalf, unless you are officially authorized to. Don’t act or say what may harm its reputation and credibility.
- Al Jazeera equipment and facilities are for what they are meant to be. Don’t play computer games, chat on or browse through the internet during your working hours.
- Keep channels of communication (e-mail etc) with the audience open, to allow them to send their remarks, complaints, criticisms, etc.
Guests & Interviewees:
- Be selective when you pick your news program/talk-show guests. Make certain they are competent and knowledgeable. Low quality interviews leave an adverse effect.
- Don’t introduce your guests with indefinite or undue titles (intellectual, political analyst, media expert etc). Identify your interviewee with his/her job/profession, even if they regularly write for the press or are frequent talk-show guests. However, you may identify your guest as an intellectual, political analyst, etc only if he/she is widely recognized to be so.
- Observe rules of etiquettes and accepted social behavior with your guests even when they misbehave. You may correct them, but not ridicule or underestimate their views.
- In talk-shows and similar programs, be balanced and allocate time to speakers proportionately, to avoid being labeled as biased or siding with either party.
- In call-in shows, mind your guest’s prestige is not hurt by callers. In case of an impropriety, cut him/her off and apologize to the guest. Ignore distasteful fax and e-mail letters.
- Likewise, your guests aren't allowed to insult callers. Let them know decisively yet politely, improprieties cannot be tolerated.
- Interruption of a speaker is left to the presenter’s discretion. Frequent interruption is generally discouraged; it may discomfort or distract the speaker. Avoid cutting a speaker short when he/she is giving valuable information. In either case, interrupt your guest with delicacy.
- Work-related instructions issued by all departments/ sections are binding and considered an integral part of this guidebook.
- Journalism is a team work requiring every one of you to demonstrate team spirit, whether working in one program or in different ones. You may not impose your view on other colleagues who have ethical or professional reservations. In case of dispute, refer it to your supervisor.
- You may not use your position to ignore or ridicule views of your colleagues. All workers should be treated with due respect. A team leader must assign work duties fairly. Every employee is entitled to having an equal opportunity (commensurate with his/her position) in the production of work. (Employees with special experience may be excluded as an exception to the rule).
- Working relations should be based on mutual respect, away from sentiments and personal attitudes. Backtalk or barbs, even for work reasons, won’t be tolerated at Al Jazeera premises.
- Hierarchy must be respected. You may not ignore your supervisor in sensitive or controversial matters.
- You may not broadcast/publish any material without your supervisor’s consent.
Violence & Taboos:
- Don’t broadcast/publish what may incite or promote violence, nor broadcast/publish images/footages that are too graphic, unless seen as significant to a news story. (Violence is defined as an unjustified act aimed to inflict physical or psychological damage on living beings particularly humans). When you opt not to air/ publish a too graphic image/footage to avoid shocking your viewers, label/say it.
- Be cautious about stories involving violence against women, children, people with special needs, the elderly, as well as about violence fed by racist, religious or sectarian motives.
- Should a too graphic image/footage from non-conventional war/conflict be decided to be broadcast/ published for an over-riding reason, news/program presenters must warn the viewers beforehand.
- Be wary of sex-related stories. Disregard sex images and distasteful language. Shall an over-riding reason leave you with no option but to broadcast/publish a nude footage/picture, private organs must be pixilated.
- Be wary of any material that could be viewed as promoting harmful practices (smoking, drug-taking, drinking etc).
- News/program producers and presenters are required to keep abreast of the latest in politics, business, sports, entertainment, science, education, arts etc, based on each one’s field of work.
- In exceptional circumstances (unexpected and high- profile events), a journalist may produce a story without having it approved by the team leader, provided he is sure the information is correct and accurate. This doesn’t mean such produced stories can be broadcast/published before having them checked by the team leader and language monitor.
- It is the team leader’s duty to ensure that in-house reports meet Al Jazeera’s standards of impartiality, objectivity, correctness and accuracy including choice of pictures.
- Don’t hide mistakes which are discovered and avoided just before broadcasting/publishing or those corrected in the re-plays. Such out-takes are useful in constructive criticism and postmortem assessments.
- The Chief Editor or his deputy must be informed, verbally and later in writing, of any editorial/ technical mistake which needs to be corrected.
- Breaching any of this document’s rules is to be decided by the Managing Director or anyone he deputizes to do so.
- Breaching any of this document’s rules is a violation of the contract of employment and may invite a punitive action, (in accordance with a penalty code to be announced later).
- Ads viewed as distasteful, obscene, blasphemous, or promoting violence, vice or illegal activities (arms, prostitution, charlatanry, myths, unlicensed medical drugs etc) may not be accepted.
- Political ads inciting violence or those relating to legal disputes (over, say, a product ownership) may not be accepted.
- Paid political advertisements are to be labeled so the viewers won’t be misled into believing such ads are adopted by Al Jazeera.
- No advertisement can be accepted/aired before its owner is identified, as some ads may be meant to harm a third party. Failing to do so may result in implicating Al Jazeera in unnecessary legal battles.
- Advertisements which directly specify other competing products/services as inferior to theirs may not be accepted.
- Pursuit of excellence or a scoop shouldn’t allow hype to override objectivity or to breach any of the Code of Ethics rules. Our goal is to win viewers’ minds not sentiments. Respect and credibility are favored to publicity stunts.
- Competition is not a permission to underestimate other media organizations, by attacking them or openly questioning their credibility. Excellence is gauged by the audience you hold. Al Jazeera is an all-news station, and is in no competition with entertainment broadcasters no matter how popular their shows are. An entertainment service is different from a news one. Lines between the two sometimes get blurred.
- Safety is far more important than a scoop. Correspondents are required to have maximum precautions when covering wars, riots and unrest including hot-sports contests etc, where their lives may end up at risk.
- Don’t stop a program on air to broadcast an event or break as urgent news of little interest. The highest editorial authority on duty has the sole right to decide on when a program can be taken off air to allow a live coverage.
- Al Jazeera is a TV station dedicated to educating the public, and must not allow its principles and values to be compromised for a financial profit. Thus programs should be assessed based on professional merits rather than on financial feasibility.