The media are given more freedom only if they act in good faith, base their reports on accurate facts and provide reliable and precise information observing the ethical standards of journalism.

In this section you can read about the obligation of the media to:

  • provide truthful information and to verify the accuracy of their sources
  • clearly differentiate between news and opinions
  • avoid using grossly offensive language towards an individual when its use is not justified
Truthful and verified information

Journalists have a duty to provide truthful information, to verify their facts and the accuracy of their sources. The more serious an allegation, the more accurate and reliable the facts must be.

example If a journalist is reporting that a certain person has committed a crime or has done something illegal, he/she must verify that their sources and facts are accurate and reliable.

Journalists should not simply assume that such sources as anonymous letters or statements by persons personally involved in the reported dispute are true. In those cases journalists are expected to verify their information, for example, by consulting other available sources or seeking comments from the person concerned.

exception The media do not have to verify their sources and carry out independent research if they base their publication on official reports or other information given by public institutions. For example, such pubic information could be court judgments, statistical information published by state institutions or statements made in a press conference.

Separation of news and opinions

Journalists must make a clear distinction between news and the opinions they are providing. This is essential for the reader to be able to form their own opinion about the topic.

News

News includes facts and data which can be verified. A news broadcast should therefore be truthful, and the information given should be verified and backed by proof.

Opinions

Opinions express the thoughts, ideas, beliefs or value judgments of media companies, publishers or journalists. For example, opinions can be expressed as comments on general ideas or remarks on news relating to actual events.

Opinions are always subjective, which is why it is not possible to check whether they are true or accurate. However, this does not mean that critical opinions about a certain person should not have any factual basis. Opinions which do not have sufficient factual basis might be considered excessive and overstep the boundaries of freedom of expression.

What is sufficient factual basis depends on the seriousness of the allegations and will be assessed in each case. However, the more serious and more precise the allegation is, the more accurate and reliable the factual basis should be.

example If a journalist publishes a very serious allegation that a certain politician is a child abuser, he/she would have to have a solid factual basis to substantiate his/her opinion.

Grossly offensive language

Journalists should not use excessively offensive language to express a negative opinion. However, when reporting on issues of public interest, they are allowed some degree of provocation and even use of offensive language if this is necessary in the context of the specific report.

example Naming somebody “an idiot” would generally not be acceptable for a journalist. However, this could be justified in a publication which reacts to the public glorification and denial of crimes committed by an occupying regime in the Second World War by a member of parliament.

Human Rights Guide

A European platform for human rights education