Ethical journalism requires rectification and correction of published information that is found to be inaccurate. It is enshrined in Article 6 of the Global Charter of Ethics for Journalists, which specifies that rectification should be done in a timely, explicit, complete and transparent manner. The SPJ Code of Ethics also declares the principle of seeking the truth and reporting it through regular gathering, update and correction of information throughout the life of a news story. All newly discovered data should be made available to the public in pursuit of an objective and comprehensive presentation of the story. In case of mistake, it should be acknowledged, corrected and clarified, so that no room for doubt is left. This ethical standard is recognised by the Council of Europe in its Resolution on Ethics of Journalism. It prescribes that national legislation should be in place, providing sanctions and compensation in the event of incorrect information or opinion published by news media, at the request of the persons concerned.
In line with the Council of Europe Resolution, Italian law requires a rectification of information after a change in the legal status of a person. It is also an ethical imperative enshrined in the Italian Journalists’ Code of Conduct (Testo unico dei obblighi del giornalista), where Article 8 provides that journalists must always and in any case respect the presumption of innocence of the accused persons, and in the event of an acquittal, they must report it with adequate prominence, correcting and rectifying what may have been written ex ante. The case of the murder of Antonino Barbaro in Italy demonstrates a failure of the media to effectively rectify wrongful accusations and erroneous information, as well as to prevent the harmful implications on the suspects’ lives. As mentioned above, the defendants experienced the adverse effects of media coverage limited to the initial phases of the proceedings, i.e. the suspects’ arrest, coupled with the accusatory rhetoric in the following reportages. Since the Giaccotto brothers were acquitted and released from detention, neither online, nor traditional media have yet corrected the information presented previously or reported to the public the final ruling on the case. It is noteworthy that the Giaccotto brothers have requested the media to rectify the incorrect information, but their request remained unfulfilled. This case indicates another fundamental problem of general order – the disrespect of the right to be forgotten.
An example of the rectification of errors in published information was observed in the case of the car accident in which journalist Milen Tsvetkov died. It was broadly covered by the media, with one of the topics on point being the defendant’s drug abuse and addiction. After the police and Prosecutor’s Office announced the name of the driver and his positive drug test, a number of articles appeared in online and traditional media specifically unravelling the defendant’s experience with drugs. For example, an article entitled “Milen Tsvetkov’s killer was a drug specialist, discussing with friends their effects on the brain and body” published parts of the defendant’s personal correspondence disclosed within the hearings, where he had discussed the effects of different drugs with his friends. The article claimed that the accused youngster‘s girlfriend, who was also present in the car at the time of the accident, was using drugs as well. In response, the accused person officially asked the media to make a public apology for the untrue statements about him and said that reading the publication seriously affected his mental health. Respectively, an apology was published and the media admitted that one of the statements was untrue. It is noteworthy that part of the media’s explanation of the error read: “We do not have access to the case materials because we are not parties. We rely on oral information.” A journalist is expected to evaluate whether unverified information in connection to a pending criminal case should be published in view of its potential negative implications.
Mistakes can take different forms and vary in degree of seriousness, including mis-quotes, misleading wordage, exaggerated or out-of-context facts, incriminating statements, or defamation. Errors can also play a major part in eroding the trust in the media, have serious consequences on certain groups and individuals, as well as severely undermine the journalists’ main job to accurately inform the public. The widespread persistence of misinformation by the media is a matter of public concern. The simplest way to overcome this issue should be the rectification of previously published incorrect information in order to achieve maximum amount of transparency. Unauthentic and misleading information must be corrected in full and in a timely manner, so as to prevent misinformation and misperceptions about one’s innocence or guilt of committing a crime.
Assessing the Risk of Isolation of Suspects and Accused (ARISA) is a series of projects striving to promote the rights of suspects, accused and convicted persons in the European Union.
This website was funded by the European Union’s Justice Programme (2014-2020).
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