Code of Ethics for the Austrian Press

Country: Austria


Journalism requires freedom and responsibility. Newspaper publishers and editors, broadcasting managers, as well as journalists have a particular responsibility in maintaining the freedom of the mass media, which is a vitally important element of democratic life.

This is a special challenge for the heads of editorial offices, who have to ensure permanent respect for the principles that should guide the work of journalists under their authority.

The Austrian Press Council (Österreichischer Presserat) is the platform for all those who support the idea that the use of the freedom of the press should be guided by the principles of truthfulness and accuracy, and who are willing to submit their products, in concrete cases, to the scrutiny of the Press Council. Voluntary self-regulation on a permanent basis is an appropriate means to ensure that the press meets its responsibilities.

For these reasons, the Austrian Press Council has laid down the following principles (Code of Ethics for the Austrian Press) for all those who are engaged on behalf of newspapers in gathering, disseminating and commenting on the news. This Code can be supplemented or interpreted by guidelines as and when needed. The principles stated below shall hold for all those parts of a publication which are under the editors’ responsibility.

Newspapers and magazines that commit themselves to compliance with the principles of this Code of Ethics undertake to publish every and any finding of the Austrian Press Council directed against the said newspaper or magazine and the publication of which the Council has required.

1. Freedom

1.1. The freedom of news reporting and commenting, be it in words or in pictures, forms an integral part of the freedom of press. There shall be no restrictions regarding the collection and dissemination of news and comment.

1.2. For the Press Council and its activities, the limits to this freedom are set by the journalists’ voluntary self-regulation based on the provisions of this Code of Ethics.

2. Accuracy

2.1. It is the prime duty of journalists to aim at a maximum of conscientiousness and accuracy in their investigations, the presentation of news items, and comments on them.

2.2. Citations between quotation marks shall reflect the tenor of a statement as closely as possible, and no quotation marks shall be used for passages which merely render the general sense of a statement. Quoting from anonymous sources should be avoided unless anonymity is required in the interest of the safety of the person quoted or in order to protect such a person from some other serious disadvantage.

2.3. No charges shall be made against any person(s) or institution(s) unless proof can be furnished that an attempt has been made to obtain a statement on the said charges from the person(s) or institution(s) so charged. If the charge in question has been made in public, this circumstance shall be clearly indicated, and the source of the said charge shall be named.

2.4. As soon as an editorial office is advised of the fact that it has published an incorrect statement, professional ethics and common decency demand that a correction of that statement be published voluntarily.

2.5. Any justified statement on the part of a reader or readers calling for correction of a report shall be published as soon as possible and as extensively as required.

2.6. Adequate coverage shall be given to any important court decision or finding of another public authority regarding a subject on which the newspaper or magazine has reported or to any essential new findings concerning that subject which have emerged in some other way.

3. Distinctive character of reports

3.1. Readers shall be left in no doubt as to whether a newspaper item is a factual report, the reproduction of the views of a third party or third parties, or a comment.

3.2. In case of serious doubts about the accuracy of a quotation, the validity of third-party statements shall be checked before said statements are reproduced.

3.3. Photomontages and picture material that has been modified shall be clearly marked as such if a cursory reading might otherwise lead the reader to believe them to be documentary in nature.

4. Outside influence

4.1. The form and content of contributions to the editorial sections of a newspaper or magazine shall on no account be influenced by outside interests.

4.2. Such improper influence shall be deemed to comprise not only interventions or pressure that is brought to bear on a journalist but also the granting of personal advantages in matters external to the immediate realm of the journalist’s professional work.

4.3. Any person who accepts, in the context of his/her work as a journalist, presents or any other personal advantages likely to influence journalistic product, shall be deemed to have breached this Code of Ethics.

4.4. A journalist’s work shall in no way be influenced by personal material interests.

4.5. The publishers’ economic interests shall not affect editorial content in any way that might result in wrong information or the suppression of important information.

4.6. If a journalist publishes a report on a journey which has been paid for by a third party this fact shall be mentioned in the report in a suitable way.

5. Protection of personal rights

5.1. Every person is entitled to the protection and respect of his/her personal rights and dignity.

5.2. Libellous or disparaging statements about a person or persons shall be deemed a breach of the Code of Ethics.

5.3. Persons whose life is in jeopardy shall not be identified in media reports if such identification is likely to expose them to even greater danger.

5.4. Sweeping statements which disparage or incite suspicion against a person or group of persons shall be strictly avoided.

5.5. Any discrimination for reasons of race, religion, nationality, sexuality or for any other reason shall be inadmissible.

5.6. Any disparagement or derision of religious teachings or recognised Churches and religious communities liable to give justified offence shall be inadmissible.

5.7. The publication of disfiguring photographic material defamatory of the person or group of persons represented shall be inadmissible.

6. Privacy

6.1. The privacy of all individuals shall in principle be protected.

6.2 In the case of children, protection of the individual’s privacy shall take precedence over the news value.

6.3. Before pictures and reports about juveniles are published, special critical consideration shall be given to the question of whether such publication is in the public interest.

6.4. Reports about criminal offences or misconduct on the part of juveniles shall not render more difficult, or completely prevent, their eventual re-integration into society. In such cases, the individual’s full names shall not be published.

6.5. Journalists shall exercise particular caution in interviewing and photographing children and in reporting about matters which might have a detrimental influence on their future.

7. Procurement of material

7.1. No unfair or improper methods shall be used in obtaining oral or procuring written evidence.

7.2. Unfair or improper methods shall include misrepresentation, pressure, intimidation, exploitation of emotional or stressful situations and, as a rule, the use of wiretapping or bugging equipment.

7.3. The use of private photographs for publication shall be conditional upon the previous consent of the person(s) affected or, in the case of minors, their parents or guardians, unless publication of the picture is justified as being in the public interest.

8. Special areas of editorial work

8.1. Travelogues and reports of a touristic nature shall include, in suitable form, information about the social and political background and conditions prevailing in the country or region in question (such as serious human rights violations).

8.2. Environmental, transport and energy policy matters shall, amongst other things, be given adequate consideration in the paper’s motor section.

8.3. Reports about tourist areas, catering establishments and motor cars as well as all evaluative reports on consumer goods and services shall meet generally accepted criteria and be written by persons with professional journalistic qualifications.

9. Public interest

9.1. In concrete cases, and in particular in the case of public figures, it may be necessary to weigh carefully the justified interest of that individual in not having a report or a photograph published against the public interest in having said material published.

9.2. The term “public interest” within the meaning of this Code of Ethics for Austrian journalists shall in particular refer to situations in which publication of the facts in question might help to bring a criminal to justice, or might be desirable in the interest of protecting public security or health or preventing the general public from being misled.

9.3. The publication of photographs of (a) person(s) which have been taken without respect for their privacy (e.g. in case of waylaying) is only permitted if a great public interest is clearly perceptible and not only voyeurism is prevailing.

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