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Code of Fair Practices
Coverage of Israeli-Palestinian Issues

The following Code of Fair Practices was developed during a conference called "Megaphones and Muffled Voices" on what constitutes full and fair media coverage of Israeli-Palestinian issues. The conference, held in New York City, April 17-18, 2002, was sponsored by the World Association for Christian Communication, its North American Regional Association, and the Communication Commission of the National Council of Churches, U.S.A.

Conference participants included public and religious communicators and professors from several noted journalism schools. The participants included media professionals from Israel, Palestine and Jordan as well as from Europe, the U.S. and Canada. They developed the Code of Fair Practices under the leadership of John Zakarian, editor of the editorial page of The Hartford Courant. In the statement that follows, the term journalist refers to any non-government person engaged in the gathering and dissemination of information and opinion through electronic or print media. This includes reporters, opinion writers, editors, publishers, general managers and producers.

The primary mission of journalists is to offer readers, viewers and listeners a rough first draft of history as it is being made. By definition, this draft is not always complete, often presenting facts without adequate context, filing reports in a hurry and sending pictures that emphasize immediate action and consequences. Still, there is more to informing the public than merely relaying raw data quickly.

To prepare coherent accounts of events, reporters and editors routinely filter and condense the vast amount of available information into a coherent package. They attempt to separate the wheat from the chaff. Information gatherers and gatekeepers fulfill their responsibilities best when they observe the following

1. The best of journalists do not only report what they see, hear or are told by official sources. They dig beneath the surface. They strive to get the other side or sides of the story and rely on diverse sources.

2. Balance of coverage is not achieved only in providing equal space or time to each side. There is no balance when an articulate, moderate and charismatic person is asked to represent one side and an uncompromising, militant, fiery and inarticulate ideologist is offered as a representative of the other side.

3. Headlines should reflect the content of the story. Photographs should give a fair and accurate image of an event and not exaggerate an incident simply because the photograph is exceptionally dramatic.

4. As much as possible, journalists should understand the language, the history and the culture of the people they cover. They should not totally rely on interpreters provided by particular causes or governments.

5. Covering such a sensitive, nuance-ridden subject as the Arab-Israeli conflict, journalists should be careful in using such loaded words and cliches as "terrorists" "gunmen," "Islamic bombers" and "fatalistic" Muslims.

6. In presenting stories, there should be a clear distinction between news reports and expressions of opinion. News should be free of bias. Columnists should stake their positions by verifiable facts rather than secondary sources or reports. Op-ed articles by advocacy groups should be clearly labeled as such.

7. As a marketplace for ideas, the news media, particularly newspapers, magazines and periodicals, have a responsibility to publish all sides of controversial issues by inviting "op-ed" contributions and letters to the editor.

8. Journalists should have the courage of well-founded convictions and a healthy sense of fair play. They should never write anything that goes against their conscience.

9. Although pledges of confidentiality should be honored, they should be made sparingly - and only when the journalist deems it to serve the public's need for information.

10. Journalists are more self-critical about their work than their readers or viewers frequently give them credit. Journalists should also encourage thoughtful public input about their work.

11. Journalists should expect access from governments at all levels, especially from those that profess to honor democracy. So-called closed military zones and blanket orders prohibiting coverage in combat zones ill serve democracy.

12. Editorial criticism of a government's policy should not be equated as criticism or derision of an entire nation or class of people.


See also:
NCC News Story: Conferees Seek More Fair Coverage of Israeli-Palestinian Issues

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