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International Journalism Committee
The International Journalism Committee works to improve and protect international journalism and encourage the free practice of journalism in all countries.

For the purposes of this committee, international journalism is defined as any journalism that involves foreign journalists, that takes place overseas, or that deals with international affairs.

To improve international journalism, the committee will do some or all of the following:

— Write articles about international journalism for Quill.
— Put together a panel on a topic related to international journalism at the annual convention.
— Lend assistance to journalists when they ask for our help, both American and foreign, to the extent we are able to do so.
— Create resources of use to international journalists and make them available via the Web, printed guidebooks, or other means to both foreign and American journalists.
— Find ways to bring foreign journalists to the U.S. and American journalists overseas for fellowships, conferences, and other educational purposes.

To protect international journalism, the committee will do some or all of the following:

— Draft press releases and letters on behalf of international journalism or international journalists.
— Lobby Congress in favor of measures that support international journalism.
— Work with other organizations on international projects related to freedom of speech, freedom of information, and similar issues.
— Act as a watchdog on U.S. government agencies that may attempt to restrict international journalism.

Are you interested in serving on the committee? Please contact our committee chairs to find out how you can help.

International Journalism Committee Chair

Ricardo Sandoval
Assistant City Editor
Sacramento Bee
Bio (click to expand) picture Ricardo Sandoval is Assistant City Editor at the Sacramento Bee newspaper. He supervises the paper’s environment, science and regional development teams of reporters. Before joining The Bee, Sandoval was a foreign correspondent, based in Mexico City, for the Dallas Morning News and Knight Ridder Newspapers. Sandoval was born in Mexico and raised in San Diego, California. He graduated with a journalism degree from Humboldt State University in Northern California. His career has spanned three decades and has included award-winning coverage of California agriculture, immigration, the savings and loan scandal and the deregulation of public utility companies. His list of awards includes the Overseas Press Club, the InterAmerican Press Club, the Gerald Loeb prize for business journalism and two honors from the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Sandoval co-authored — with his wife, journalist Susan Ferriss — the biography “The Fight in the Fields: Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers Movement” published in 1997 by Harcourt.

Ronnie Lovler, vice chair
E-mail
Bio (click to expand) picture Ronnie Lovler is associate director of the Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism at San Francisco State University. She is also senior writer for the nonprofit Newsdesk.org, and its public-interest news service, “News You Might Have Missed”. In addition to serving as international committee chair, Ronnie is a member of the executive board of the northern California chapter of SPJ. Ronnie taught journalism at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, Florida before moving to San Francisco.

Ronnie’s journalism career spans several decades. She served as bureau chief and correspondent for CNN in Latin America for almost 10 years. During her time at CNN, she reported from every country in Latin America. She also worked for CBS News, The Weather Channel and The Associated Press, as well as The San Juan Star in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She was part of a team of observers headed by President Jimmy Carter monitoring electoral processes in Nicaragua (2001) and Venezuela (2004). During the 2005 U.S. hurricane season, Ms. Lovler worked with the American Red Cross as a volunteer crisis communicator and public information officer. She received her undergraduate degree from Ohio State University and her graduate degree in communications at the University of Florida.


Home > International Journalism > Ethics > War Journalism Resources > Resolving Ethical Conflicts in Wartime

War Journalism Resources
Resolving Ethical Conflicts in Wartime

Journalists face unprecedented ethical pressures during times of war. Popular patriotic passions, the demands and strategic interests of the government, cultural and national sensitivities and traditional journalistic responsibilities are often on a collision course. The Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists advises journalists to “Seek Truth and Report It” and to “Minimize Harm” — obligations that are frequently in conflict, as are the other two major obligations in the code: “Act Independently” and “Be Accountable.”

Here are some questions — many of them overlapping — that journalists might consider in resolving ethical conflicts on issues ranging from disclosure of troop positions to publication of disturbing photos to evaluation of government demands to suppress “enemy propaganda.”

Assessing Our Motivation in Publishing or Suppressing Information or Graphics
Assessing the Government’s Motivation in Seeking Suppression
Assessing the Reliability of the Information
Balancing the Importance and Harm of Publication
Considering Alternatives



Assessing Our Motivation in Publishing or Suppressing Information or Graphics

— Why do we believe the public needs this information, aside from the fact that a journalist has gotten wind of it?

— Are we trying to draw attention to our own news organization, to create a “buzz,” to gain an “exclusive”? If so, how much has that factor influenced our decision-making?

— Is our primary motivation informing the public? Or is it entertaining the public, exciting emotional responses, responding to government pressure or “branding” an image or idea?

— If we believe we are trying to perform a public service by publication, what precisely is the nature of that service, and how credible, useful and important is it to the public?

— Is patriotism a primary factor in our decision? Would we consider it important to publish or suppress the information if we had no national allegiance?

— Is the contemplated “play” of our coverage commensurate with the news value of the story? If not, what other factors have entered into our decision?

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Assessing the Government’s Motivation in Seeking Suppression

— What are the government’s reasons for asking us to refrain from disclosure? Will officials discuss the reasons, even confidentially, or are they asking us to take the request on faith? Are their reasons credible, detailed and to the point?

— Is the action requested the least restrictive means of responding to the government’s asserted rationale?

— Is this a one-time request? Is there a history of cooperating with journalists to keep the public informed, or is this part of a pattern of indiscriminate and inappropriate secrecy?

— Are government officials willing to negotiate a compromise that would respond to their concerns by other means than those they propose?

— Do the grounds for requesting suppression appear to be designed to affect public attitudes — for example, to instill patriotism or insulate the American public from “propaganda” or perception of government mistakes, incompetence or mendacity — or do they have a legitimate basis apart from such attempts to influence public attitudes?

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Assessing the Reliability of the Information

— What are the motivations of the sources from whom we got the information, and how do those motivations reflect on a request to keep the information secret? Based on past experience, how reliable are the sources? Is our coverage skewed by using too many sources from one institution or ideological perspective?

— Are there grounds to suspect that the news media are being used for the purposes of “disinformation” — by our government, by the “enemy” or by other interested parties?

— Is it our choice to frame an issue or event in the way we are contemplating, or did it seem to drop into our laps readymade — and if the latter, are we being used to further someone else’s impression or agenda?

— Might the subject matter be interpreted differently by those of other nationalities or cultures? If so, are our decisions being made by editors representing a broad spectrum of cultural backgrounds?

— Can we gain any insights into our unconscious partisanship or bias by comparing our coverage with that of the foreign press or the ethnic or other special-interest news media in this country? How is our coverage viewed abroad?

— How broad or narrow is our base of sources?

— Is the commitment to one’s own reporters or a wire service or other source or news-gathering technique tilting the nature or emphasis of the coverage and fostering unintended misrepresentation? Is anyone in the news organization detailed to step back and ask this sort of question?

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Balancing the Importance and Harm of Publication

— How critical is the information in helping the public understand crucial issues, make informed decisions, influence policy or evaluate the performance of government?

— How credible or speculative is the danger or benefit of publishing the information or illustration? To whom would harm be done, and how? Who would benefit, and how?

— Is the information already available from other sources? Is it known to the “enemy” but not to the American people? Have foreign or Internet news outlets carried the same reports? Is there media consensus on the need to publish such information?

— Has similar information been suppressed by the press historically, and on what grounds? Were the grounds the same as those being cited now, and were the circumstances comparable? What were the consequences of past suppression?

— With especially disturbing or contentious photos, illustrations or other graphics, is the content at issue or the emotional impact of the specific form of presentation?

— Does it make a difference in how we view our decision if we consider journalism ethics “nation-blind” — equally applicable in our own country and any other?

— Could unanticipated consequences flow from the decision to publish — or not to publish? How harmful are they, and how likely are they to occur?

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Considering Alternatives

— Are there ways to report the information while accommodating legitimate government interests — by delayed release, omission of some details, etc.? Would some such technique satisfy the government’s stated objections, even if the government persists in opposing publication? Would the primary public interest still be served despite such an accommodation?

— What would be lost if the information were withheld for future publication? Is there a time limit on the danger of releasing the information or graphics? Would the offensiveness of the content diminish with the passage of time? Would the information or graphics have significant social, policy or historical value if published or broadcast at a much later date, and if so, what is it?

— Is there a way to obtain the information without ethically questionable techniques such as breaking the law, omitting critically important information or otherwise putting ourselves in a compromised position? What is lost and gained by using alternative techniques?

— Should our information be shared with the government, either in addition to or instead of publication, and should such cooperation be disclosed publicly? Does collaboration risk immediate or long-term danger to journalists’ lives and/or independence? Is that risk outweighed by specific, credible, life-and-death consequences if the information is not shared?

— Does the story suffer if a disturbing graphic or photo is omitted, and if so, how? Is the reader or viewer compelled to view the graphic? Is there a way to show the same graphic only to those who wish to view it — as with a warning on a voluntary web link?

— Are there academic or unaffiliated experts or participants beyond our usual sources who can help us gain new perspectives on emotional or conventionally conceived issues?

— Have we explained to the reader, listener or viewer the general nature of the information omitted and the reasons for the omission — or the reasons why we have chosen to disseminate information that others feel should be withheld as harmful or unpatriotic?

— Can we get some guidance on our proper response by comparing current circumstances with those of non-wartime issues, such as past policies and practices on naming gang members or rape victims or revealing the details of a kidnap in progress?

— Peter Y. Sussman, member, SPJ National Ethics Committee (with assistance from workshop participants and other contributors)

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