Sunday, 15 February 2009

Blogs, Media Laws and Ethics

Loveday Morris in The National touched the issue of the UAE's new draft media law and its treatment of online entities and media today. Her piece (which referenced a certain, ahem, blog) put the question of how the new law caters for the Internet and its media and platforms to Ibrahim Al Abed, director general of the UAE's National Media Council. His response, quoted by The National, was that 'internet issues may be addressed in the “executive regulations” that will accompany the new law.'

This response is increasingly being used to address questions from media that attempt to define a more granular view of a very wide-ranging law. The law itself has been two years, as Gulf News (640g) is so fond of saying, 'on the anvil'. One is left wondering if the regulations have been part of that process or are a process yet to come.

In the meantime, I've been doing a little ferretting in response to the interesting questions I've been starting to encounter regarding the roles of media in today's online world. For instance, what's a journalist and what's a blogger? How should the two behave? Should bloggers be held to the same standards as journalists? And if not, to what standards should they be held, if any?

I found the document below useful and would welcome comments on it. It was referenced by Reporters Sans Frontiers and has been produced by, where it has generated a significant volume of comment and contribution.

Could this be a framework for the Middle East? Something to guide legislators along the same lines as the UAE Journalists' Association guidelines?

This text and the comments on it (over 300, so make a cup of tea first) can be referenced here.


Be Honest and Fair
Bloggers should be honest and fair in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.
Bloggers should:
• Never plagiarize.
• Identify and link to sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources' reliability.
• Make certain that Weblog entries, quotations, headlines, photos and all other content do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.
• Never distort the content of photos without disclosing what has been changed. Image enhancement is only acceptable for for technical clarity. Label montages and photo illustrations.
• Never publish information they know is inaccurate -- and if publishing questionable information, make it clear it's in doubt.
• Distinguish between advocacy, commentary and factual information. Even advocacy writing and commentary should not misrepresent fact or context.
• Distinguish factual information and commentary from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.

Minimize Harm
Ethical bloggers treat sources and subjects as human beings deserving of respect.
Bloggers should:
• Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by Weblog content. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.
• Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.
• Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of information is not a license for arrogance.
• Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone's privacy.
• Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.
Be cautious about identifying juvenile suspects, victims of sex crimes and criminal suspects before the formal filing of charges.

Be Accountable
Bloggers should:
• Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.
• Explain each Weblog's mission and invite dialogue with the public over its content and the bloggers' conduct.
• Disclose conflicts of interest, affiliations, activities and personal agendas.
• Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence content. When exceptions are made, disclose them fully to readers.
• Be wary of sources offering information for favors. When accepting such information, disclose the favors.
• Expose unethical practices of other bloggers.
• Abide by the same high standards to which they hold others.

(All of which covers blogs, but not Twitter or Facebook or YouTube or MySpace or or or...)


Mars said...

and what about personal blogs that do the occasional commentary or whine/rant? what of them?

The Spear said...

I agree with Mars. I'm no journalist or wannabee journalist. I have no urge to be one. I have also never claimed to be one, so why should I be "managed" under a media law.

My views are my own and subjective and most of the times not thought through.

There should be NO law governing internet "speech" in the UAE or any country except if it entice violence or is hate speech.

I still maintain that the internet is exactly like the street corner. It is a public domain.

What about satire? Or jokes? Damn, this is ridiculous.

The Wizard of D said...

Hey.. been blogging for a while but never ever came across the bloggers' code of ethic.

Interesting reading here....

the real nick said...

I agree with Spear, who agrees with Mars, who agrees with common sense.
I refuse to let anybody tell me what to do or say when blogging - other than myself and my sense of decency.

Who is this again and who exactly asked them to come up with a code of conduct?!

Lara Dunston said...

It's a tricky one, isn't it?

I'm a professional travel writer, so I started my blog Cool Travel Guide to write about the things I wanted to write about rather than was paid to write about (not always the same thing), the things I was frustrated about not being able to write about in the books and stories I do.

I was tired of my writing being censored - not in the UAE, but by publishers in the UK, USA - who don't always like it when your reviews are critical and honest - they tend to want a rosy picture painted of destinations. If you write about the crime still being significant in Buenos Aires, that armed hold-ups are frequent, that it's still more South American than European - then they can't sell it as the trendy destination they'd like to, which in turn sells books and magazines.

Apart from not censoring myself and allowing myself to write honestly and critically about anything I please, whether it's a place we've researched, a hotel we've stayed at, a meal we've eaten, or a travel website that's crap (see my latest posts on Offbeat Guides!), I maintain all the same ethical standards and follow the same codes of personal conduct that I would in my published travel journalism.

Having said that, I wouldn't expect those standards of an expat Mum writing about her family and life in Dubai (or Hong Kong or wherever), who occasionally inserts social and political opinion, primarily for her family and friends back home. Now, if that blog takes off, however, and starts to get read by thousands of people around the world whom she doesn't know, then that's a different story...

The difference lies in audience, who we expect and want to read our blogs, and whether it's private or public. If it's private (family and friends) versus public (for all the world to see), then different standards/ethics/codes of conduct need to be applied.

Perhaps some bloggers will need to start using those little buttons and flicking their blogs to private if they're not willing to apply similar codes to journalists?

Gosh, sorry for the novel! Thought-provoking post!

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