‘Witness contributors’; Code of Practice
The National Union of Journalists’ Code of Conduct states that “a journalist has a duty to maintain the highest professional and ethical standards”. Media organisations subscribing to the UK Press Complaints Commission Code of Practice agree that: “All members of the press have a duty to maintain the highest professional standards.”
These commitments to the integrity and reliability of material and the safety of bona fide newsgatherers may be challenged and compromised by the use of “witness contributions”.
1. Organisations using material from “witness contributors” agree to uphold section 1 of the Press Complaints Council Code of Practice: That inaccurate, misleading or distorted information should not be published; that any breaches should be corrected quickly, prominently and, where appropriate, with an apology; and that conjecture and fact should be clearly distinguished;
2. Such organisations should check and provide sufficient resources for the adequate checking of witness contributions to establish their accuracy and authenticity before publication;
3. Such organisations recognise that journalists belonging to the National Union of Journalists have agreed to uphold the union’s Code of Conduct and will strive to use material from such individuals wherever and whenever such alternatives to witness contributions are available;
4. Such organisations accept that appropriate and agreed payments will be made to witness contributors for all uses of their material and that the terms of licensing will be easily available and clear;
5. Such organisations agree to respect fully the copyright(s) of the witness contributors; material will not be passed to third parties – including the police and security services – without the specific written agreement of a witness contributor, sub-poena or similar requirement from a court;
6. Such organisations agree to respect the spirit of witness contributors’ moral rights, crediting them appropriately and defending the integrity of their work against (unfair or misleading) alterations;
7. Such organisations agree that they will not make witness contributors provide unrealistic guarantees about legal consequences which witness contributors cannot be expected to know or understand and that they will indemnify such contributors against all liabilities resulting from the publication of contributions made in good faith, including ensuring that individuals’ privacy is not breached and that decency and taste are not compromised;
8. Such organisations undertake not to solicit material from witness contributors which will encourage such individuals to place themselves in danger and to dissuade publicly and actively witness contributors from exposing themselves unnecessarily to unassessed and inappropriate risk(s);
9. Organisations or individuals soliciting material from or offering (commercial) representation to witness contributors agree that they will not offer such material to media organisations in any way that may be inaccurate, misleading or distorted. (Such organisations and individuals should be encouraged to promote their commitment to this Code of Practice.);
10. Organisations subscribing to this Code of Practice agree that it – and the terms of licensing witness contributions – should: (i) be disseminated to all staff, members and interested individuals, (ii) be published on internet and intranet sites, (iii) be available to the public and to potential citizen witness contributors, (iv) be displayed on workplace noticeboards, and included in staff induction and employment contract materials and other membership information.