In the autumn of 2000, both the American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors and the Radio Television News Directors Association adopted new codes of ethics at their respective annual meetings. Efforts by George Lucas to control timing of reviews and stories surrounding the release of his 1999 Star Wars: Episode 1- The Phantom Menace, helped spur the AASFE to adopt guidelines on editorial independence and ethics. The RTNDA updated and elaborated its previous code, dating from 1987.
The AASFE code encourages media organizations to put policies into place that guarantee editorial independence from outside influences. The code's essence is that news organizations should not let their journalistic decisions be guided by any kind of threat or promise concerning access. The AASFE encourages its members to enforce policies against accepting free meals, trips or products offered by organizations seeking coverage. The code that was passed unanimously in New York on September 27, 2000, also labels "fan-like" behavior, such as asking for autographs, as contrary to the highest standards of newsgathering.
The RTNDA's revised code, adopted in Minneapolis on September 14, 2000, is based on six principles: Public Trust, Truth, Fairness, Independence, Integrity and Accountability. Compared to its 1987 version, the new code addresses more issues, and addresses them in more detail. Whereas in the old code, truth and accuracy were the only issues that were elaborated upon, the new code addresses a broader range of ethical issues in a more balanced and exhaustive way. Some of the new guidelines in the code include children's privacy, editorial independence from management control and other outside influences (e.g. self-interest, peer pressure), surreptitious news gathering, use of confidential sources, ethical use of new technologies, and diversity and stereotyping. Unlike its predecessor, the new code also explicitly articulates an obligation to serve the public interest, stating that journalists should "fight to ensure that the public's business is conducted in public." The new code also states that journalists should resist any professional or governmental licensing initiatives. The RTNDA has members in over 30 countries, some from countries which have licensing systems for journalists.
By Bastiaan Vanacker