Now more than ever, journalism is a vital tool for holding the powerful to account. Timely, accurate and reliable information is critical for the practice of informed democracy.
This is particularly important when it comes to the very halls of power where policies impacting the lives of Canadians are debated and where major decisions are made.
The Parliamentary Press Gallery holds a unique and privileged position in this. Members place their trust in the elected Board of Directors to defend their access to the parliamentary institutions and the Board of Directors takes this responsibility seriously.
Trust in journalism must be actively earned and maintained. In this vein, the Board of Directors has a series of criteria that it assesses in evaluating requests for accreditation by individuals who are not currently members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, as well as for new organizations applying to accredit their employees as members. One of those criteria, laid out in the Constitution of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, is that new applicants must adhere to "generally accepted journalistic principles and practices."
The Board of Directors expressed to members at the 2020 Annual General Meeting that it sees value in providing clarity on what this term means, and this document is intended to do just that. It aims to clarify how the Board of Directors assesses new applications for membership, both in terms of the individuals seeking to be members as well as the new organization forms filled out by entities seeking to get their employees accredited for the first time. This document does not replace or alter the existing rules in place for members who are already accredited.
The Board of Directors does not itself maintain a list of such principles and practices. Instead, as a democratically elected body, it looks to the values enshrined in the codes of conduct of its members and professional associations including the Canadian Association of Journalists and the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA Canada) Code of Journalistic Ethics, among others.
For example, the RTDNA Canada Code of Journalistic Ethics states :
"We are committed to journalism in the public interest that is accurate and reliable. Journalists will strive to verify facts and put them in context."
The Board of Directors recognizes and respects these principles, which are echoed by the Canadian Association of Journalists.
As both the RTNDA and CAJ guidelines also note, it is imperative to distinguish news content from both editorial opinion, advertising or any other form of sponsorship, and that any biases that could be perceived as influencing reporting must be disclosed to readers or audiences.
The Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec's code of ethics adds that "journalists must avoid situations that could create a conflict of interest, or that could even have the appearance of a conflict of interest", by serving special interests.
"These interests may be their own or those of other individuals, groups, unions, companies, political parties, etc. The conflict of interest can occur through diverse contracts, favours or public commitments. Public interest should be the only principle that guides a journalist's choice to publish information. Facts should not be suppressed in order to preserve or enhance the image of a particular individual or group", notes the FPJQ.
The CAJ Ethics Guidelines state that journalists have a responsibility to "respect the rights of people involved in the news" and that this includes giving subjects the chance to respond to accusations against them in a timely manner. It also says journalists avoid "stereotypes of race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status." Those guidelines note that "we take special care when reporting on children or those who are otherwise unable to give consent to be interviewed" and that "we do not allow our own biases to impede fair and accurate reporting."
Demonstrating responsible coverage of minorities and vulnerable groups is a common theme throughout the various ethics codes in Canadian journalism. For instance, the CBC's Journalistic Standards and Practices states:
"We avoid generalizations, stereotypes and any degrading or offensive words or images that could feed prejudice or expose people to hatred or contempt… We ensure that, taking into account the context in which the words are published, they are not likely to expose anyone to hatred or contempt on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age or physical or mental disability."
The Board of Directors recognizes and respects these principles.
As the Canadian Press ethical principles state, journalists have a responsibility to "admit errors promptly, frankly," and this is closely tied with the responsibility to earn the trust of the public.
"Public distrust of the media is profound and troubling," those principles state. "The distrust is fed by inaccuracy, carelessness, indifference to public sentiment, automatic cynicism about those in public life, perceived bias or unfairness and other sins suggesting arrogance."
Those principles also state the following:
"We have a responsibility to report the news but we have an even greater responsibility to ensure that our actions in news-gathering and reporting do not endanger human lives."
On a similar note, the editorial policy of the Globe and Mail states the following:
"Journalistic accuracy, fairness and clarity should be the guiding principles of editorial staff in any public forum, online or otherwise."
The Board of Directors recognizes and respects the principles as expressed by its members.
Membership in the Parliamentary Press Gallery allows access to the secure physical buildings of the parliamentary precinct and the opportunity to directly question individuals who drive and shape public policy.
Misuse of this access by any one member or member organization could erode the professional relationship that exists between the institution of Parliament and the Parliamentary Press Gallery, leading to negative consequences for the ability of members to perform their work.
As a result, accreditation is a privilege – not a right.
The principles as outlined above provide further clarity on the factors the Board of Directors studies in weighing applications for membership in the Parliamentary Press Gallery.