Journalists violate ethical principles while disseminating ‘bombshell’ statements (exemplified by Patriarch Filaret's speech) 19 серпня 2020

On March 22, Ukrainian media outlets disseminated news report based on Patriarch Filaret’s interview with Ukrainian Channel 4. In particular, Filaret noted that coronavirus pandemic originated and spread "through same-sex marriages" and called for taking communion in religious buildings during the quarantine period.

The Commission on Journalism Ethics, as a self-regulatory body of journalists and editorial offices, is concerned and condemns the dissemination in the media of hate speech related to the LGBT community and calls for disregard for quarantine requirements. This fact raises especially serious concern at a difficult time for Ukraine and the whole world, when dissemination of fake news and misinformation can lead to increased aggression in society and the lack of complete and impartial information triggers the spread of conspiracy and antiscientific statements and encourages the audience to look for "culprits" instead of ways to solve a problem.

What did the media outlets do wrong from a point of view of journalism ethics?

  1. A discriminatory statement was chosen and used as the title. Some media outlets not only used Filaret's statement as a title but also did not put quotes around it. It should be kept in mind that such practice is extremely dangerous as repeating a label finally asserts it as a common stereotype. Moreover, discriminatory statements disseminated by the media can trigger surge in homophobia and hate crimes. This violates Paragraph 9 of the Code of Ethics of Ukrainian Journalists which stipulates that facts, judgments, and assumptions must be clearly separated from each other. It is unacceptable to disseminate information containing bias or unfounded allegations without additional commentary or explanation as to why the statements are discriminatory and / or antiscientific.
  2. The news report lacked balance, additional explanations, background information, and commentaries from experts or doctors. This is a violation of Paragraph 6 of the Code of Ethics of Ukrainian Journalists on the obligation to respect the public's right to complete and impartial information about facts and events. In addition, there is a violation of Paragraph 10 of the Code, according to which the views of opponents, including those who have been the target of journalistic criticism, should be presented in a balanced way. The news report should also contain the assessments of independent experts.
  3. Incorrect terminology was used, in particular "homosexualism" instead of "homosexuality". The term "homosexualism" is outdated and offensive. After 1990, when the amendment to remove homosexuality from the list of diseases was adopted by the World Health Organization, the matter of whether homosexuality is a pathology can be considered completely settled. The Commission on Journalism Ethics reminds that the main task of a journalist is to cover events impartially and not to disseminate hate speech.

Thus, many news reports on this topic violated Paragraph 15 of the Code of Ethics of Ukrainian Journalists which stipulates that no one can be discriminated against because of their gender, language, race, religion, national, regional or social origin, political preferences and on other grounds.

The Commission on Journalism Ethics recommends that journalists and editors:

  1. Understand that statements made by a public figure, who enjoys trust of a wide range of people, can often be taken for granted, without further verification or analysis. The journalist's task is to present the corresponding analysis in the news report.
  2. Respect the right of the audience to reliable and impartial information and add expert comments and explanations, when preparing news reports that contain discriminatory and antiscientific statements, in order to give the audience a complete and comprehensive description of the mentioned phenomenon.
  3. Avoid impartial judgments of what seems ridiculous, untrue or "already clear" to society. Instead, comprehensive information should be provided so that readers or viewers can make their own well-informed decision about the event described or statement mentioned.
  4. When covering issues that concern groups vulnerable to discrimination, keep in mind that the media influence society, and the rate of hate crimes depends, inter alia, on the perspective from which the news report is presented.
  5. Use the manual "How to write about LGBT. Course for journalists" created by the NGO "Insight" when preparing journalistic materials about the LGBT community. Take free online course "How to write about LGBT: Course for journalists" available on the Prometheus platform.
  6. Adhere to the Code of Ethics of Ukrainian Journalists in all sensitive cases and ask the Commission for clarification or advice.