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An ethic charter for journalists and researchers working on remote countries

Otto Kölbl

Collecting and publishing information about remote countries requires special precautions. Each article below has been included here because of repeated violations in the media or in academic publications.

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The readers of our newspapers deserve being properly informed about remote countries.

Taking into consideration the cultural dimension

All the communities have created their own culture during the past centuries and millenaries. Each conscientious journalist and researcher pledges that he will try to know and understand the culture of the community he investigates, while trying to become aware of the fact that he is himself influenced by his own culture.

Taking into account collective traumas

All the communities are heavily influenced by the traumas they experienced in the past. Each conscientious journalist and researcher pledges that she will take into consideration not only the traumas which influenced the community she studies, but also those which influenced her own community, so as to avoid imposing them on a community which has got nothing to do with it.

Taking into consideration the historical and long term dimension

All the human beings tend to focus on the present and the near future. In particular, the media tend to focus on the "latest new" and on "live reporting".  Each conscientious journalist and researcher pledges that he will look for the information about the near and remote history which is necessary to understand the present situation and reflect about the medium and long term consequences of the reported events and measures.

Cognitive mechanisms

All human beings are formatted by the education they got; this is also true for the most fundamental cognitive mechanisms. Each conscientious journalist and researcher pledges that she will try to become aware of the education she got and devote the necessary attention to possible cultural differences in the field of information acquisition and treatment, so that she can not only understand the reality in a remote country, but also the abstract concepts elaborated by its inhabitants.

Global application of universal values

A human society can not function without shared values. In the contemporary world, international law and the human rights, as they have been defined by the international community within the framework of the UN, are one of the fundaments of international relations. However, when facing such rules, all human beings tend to apply them differently according to their sympathy for the concerned person or community. Each conscientious journalist and researcher pledges that he will do all he can so that the values and rules he advocates are applied impartially to all human beings and to all the communities.

Looking for reliable sources

All human beings tend to believe what is convenient for them. Each conscientious journalist and researcher pledges that she will look for reliable sources on which her reports can be based, and if necessary ask specialists for help in order to get the best out of these sources.

Building up trust relations

All human beings have got a public discourse and a discourse which they keep for people they trust. Each conscientious journalist and researcher pledges that he will try to build up trust relations with the largest possible number of information sources, first of all by showing himself trustworthy by the way in which he uses the collected information.

Defence of rights and privileges

All human beings tend to defend their own rights and the rights and privileges of the community and the social class to which they belong with more energy than the rights of other people. Each conscientious journalist and researcher pledges that she will become aware of her own interests and of the interests of the communities and the social classes to which she belongs and to compensate them in order to defend the values she advocates in the interest of all.

Looking beyond personal experience

Each human being tends to grasp what he sees and hears through his own experience. Each conscientious journalist and researcher pledges that he will try to compensate by intellectual abstraction and adequate collaboration any lack of personal experience which could prevent him from understanding a situation or the words of an interviewed person. In particular, since the huge majority of foreign correspondents in remote countries are singles without family who depend on them, they will try to understand to what extent the responsibility for other people (children, wife/husband, elderly) can change our way of seeing the world.

Taking everybody seriously

Each human being tends to give more weight to the opinions of certain people, or even to discard the opinions of some people completely. Each conscientious journalist and researcher pledges to be open to the opinions of all the people she will meet.

Adapting the evaluation to the general opinion of the population

Each human being tends to talk bad about communities or countries for which he has got not much sympathy. Each conscientious journalist and researcher pledges that he will reflect in his article the general opinion of the members of the community. However, this is not about requiring a "balanced" coverage, i.e. a balance between negative and positive, because it is perfectly legitimate to criticize a government if the population is not satisfied about the turn events are taking.

Harmonizing the editorial line

Each human being tends to talk bad about communities or countries for which he has got not much sympathy. Each conscientious journalist and researcher pledges that she will coordinate her reporting with her colleagues who work on the same topic in different communities in order to get a homogenous evaluation.

Refusing polarization

Each human being tends to strive for a final victory over those which whom he is in conflict or who don't share his values. Each conscientious journalist and researcher pledges that she will work towards a relation based on a good understanding and mutual comprehension between all countries and all communities.

Differentiation, in particular between the government and the civil population

All human beings tend to conceive remote communities or countries as a homogenous whole. Each conscientious journalist and researcher pledges that he will keep a differentiated view, and in particular to make always the difference between the government and the civil population.

Quest for feedback

All human beings tend to deform what they hear. Each conscientious journalist and researcher pledges that she will look for feedback from all concerned people: interviewed persons, members of investigated communities, specialists in a specific field.

Switching the points of view

All human beings tend to see the world from their own point of view. Each conscientious journalist and researcher pledges that he will engage in "putting himself in the shoes of others" and to let the result of this experience flow into his production.

Open attitude towards constructive criticism

Nobody likes to revise what she considered well-established truths. When facing well founded criticism, no matter whether they were expressed privately or in public, each conscientious journalist and researcher pledges that she will react in a constructive way, with always the objective of improving the quality of her reporting in mind.

Advocating the right to response and recourse to justice

All human beings make errors. In particular, media reports and research about remote countries are more error prone than other subjects because of differences in culture, history and standard of living etc. Each error can have serious consequences, especially if it is taken up by other media and reproduced over a long time span. Each conscientious journalist and researcher pledges that he will advocate the introduction of an efficient right to respond and of legal tools, which individuals or communities who feel wronged can use to require the publication of a rectification at the same place or in the same program where obviously wrong information has been presented. However, in order to preserve the right to free expression and in order to give the media the means to offer good quality information and to play their indispensable role of countervailing power, opinions which are clearly recognizable as such can be limited only within the framework of the fundamental human rights texts, and the media can not be required to prove that what they wrote is correct; it is up to the suing party to prove that what has been published is in contradiction to the reality as it is described by sources which are considered reliable.

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