Submitted by the Resolutions Committee to the National Convention of the Society of Professional Journalists in Atlanta, Ga., for passage on September 6, 2008
Resolution No. 1
Remembering our mission in trying times
Whereas, many news organizations have suffered sharply declining revenues this past year; and
Whereas, this has led to many layoffs of journalists and reduction of news content; and
Whereas, this has the effect of reducing the free flow of information Americans need to exercise self-government;
Therefore, be it resolved by the Society of Professional Journalists in convention assembled, that all involved in producing, managing and financing journalism should remember its important public-service mission and act accordingly.
Resolution No. 2
The need for a federal shield law
Whereas, the First Amendments promise of an independent news media cannot be fulfilled unless journalists are able to protect confidentiality of news sources; and
Whereas, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Free Flow of Information Act, which would be a federal shield law for journalists, by a vote of 398-21; and
Whereas, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a somewhat weaker version of the legislation, which is now pending before the full Senate; and
Whereas, 49 states and the District of Columbia recognize by law or case law some level of reporters privilege to protect sources; and
Whereas, the need for a federal shield law has been freshly illustrated by the case of Toni Locy, a former reporter for USA Today, who was subpoenaed for information about her sources for a story on former Army scientist Steven Hatfill and ordered to testify or be subject to a $5,000 daily fine, for which she could not accept any reimbursement an order never before issued by any other judge, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press;
Therefore, be it resolved by the Society of Professional Journalists, in convention assembled, that the Senate should pass the proposed Free Flow of Information Act without further delay;
Be it further resolved that the Senate and the House should agree on a strong, final version of the bill, and that the President should sign it into law; and
Be it further resolved that copies of this resolution be sent to the majority leader, whip and minority leader of the Senate, the speaker, majority leader and minority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, and to the President of the United States.
Resolution No. 3
Funding and fixing the OPEN Government Act
Whereas, the Congress of the United States passed the Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National Government Act of 2007, and President Bush signed it into law; and
Whereas, the OPEN Government Act held out the promise of long overdue improvements in the federal Freedom of Information Act; and
Whereas, the Bush administration subsequently eliminated funding for the position of freedom-of-information ombudsman at the National Archives and Records Administration and shifted the duties to the Department of Justice, creating a possible conflict of interest for mediation of disputes over access to records; and
Whereas, members of Congress are trying to fund the ombudsman position as intended by the OPEN Government Act, and to correct a drafting error in the Act that may inadvertently prevent the disclosure of records that need to be public;
Therefore, be it resolved by the Society of Professional Journalists, in convention assembled, that Congress and the new Administration should put the ombudsmans position in the National Archives and Records Administration, see that it is properly funded, and correct the drafting error in the Act; and
Be it further resolved that copies of this resolution be sent to the majority and minority leaders of the Senate, the speaker, majority leader and minority leader of the House, and to the President.
Resolution No. 4
Unhealthy alliances: The ethics of video press releases and similar devices
Whereas, broadcast news outlets around the nation are using news reports prepared not by journalists but by individuals working for hospitals and medical clinics; and
Whereas, the use of video press releases and similar devices is one of the more prevalent examples of public relations masquerading as journalism; and
Whereas, some news organizations are failing to cite the source of these reports, thus creating an impression that the news organization produced them; and
Whereas, some news organizations accept payment for special treatment; and
Whereas, such arrangements or sponsorships blur the essential line between marketing and journalism; and
Whereas, the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists calls upon journalists to Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two; to avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived; to remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility and to deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests; and
Whereas, the Association of Health Care Journalists has also expressed its concern about these practices;
Therefore, be it resolved that the Society of Professional Journalists in convention assembled joins with the Association of Health Care Journalists in calling on news organizations to take the following steps to avoid unethical hospital partnership deals that interfere with independent news coverage of health care:
1) News organizations should fully disclose the source of any editorial information not independently gathered, whether video, audio, photograph or print material.
2) News organizations should not favor advertisers or sponsors over competing health-care providers when choosing sources or story topics and should strive to employ a wide variety of sources.
3) News organizations should develop guidelines for the public disclosure of sponsors and advertisers. These guidelines should prohibit news personnel from appearing in or participating in sponsored programming or advertisements.
Furthermore, the Society joins with the Association of Health Care Journalists in saying these are matters of journalism ethics, expressing no opinion on the legality of these partnerships, and not calling for government regulation of them.
Submitted by the Ethics Committee
Resolution No. 5
Academic administrators support for student media
Whereas, accreditation of journalism programs in U.S. colleges and universities signifies adherence to standards of excellence in teaching, scholarship and service; and
Whereas, student media at schools with accredited journalism programs should receive protections embodied in the Campus Media Statement of the Society; and
Whereas, journalism-program administrators have an ethical responsibility to uphold student media rights;
Therefore, be it resolved by the Society of Professional Journalists in convention assembled that SPJ urges the Accrediting Council for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications to consider requiring administrators of accredited programs to demonstrate how they have protected the First Amendment rights of student media as part of the accrediting process.
Submitted by Mead Loop, campus chapter adviser at large, and Neil Ralston, vice president for campus chapter affairs
Resolution No. 6
Rights and responsibilities of journalists and police
Whereas, the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States clearly prohibits government actions that abridge freedom of press and speech; and
Whereas, law enforcement agencies have a responsibility to protect those First Amendment rights; and
Whereas, the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists calls for journalists to be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable; and
Whereas, the news media have a special responsibility in American society to keep a watchful eye on actions that may limit free speech or inhibit public dissent; and
Whereas, the news media have a clear and urgent duty to keep citizens informed about public events and the widest possible range of views, to ensure that the electorate is well informed during political campaigns; and
Whereas, the changing universe of the news media now embraces not only representatives of traditional print and broadcast outlets, but a widening spectrum of independent journalists; and
Whereas, in order to discharge their professional duties, journalists must be physically present at demonstrations where protesters come into conflict with law enforcement agents; and
Whereas, the Society of Professional Journalists recognizes the need of law enforcement agencies to exercise their duties to ensure public safety; and
Whereas, law enforcement authorities arrested and cited more than 20 journalists who from all available evidence were legally performing their duties at both the Republican and Democratic national conventions of 2008; and
Whereas, there have been reports of law enforcement agencies seizing materials belonging to independent journalists relevant to performing duties; and
Therefore, be it resolved that SPJ, the oldest and most active organization dedicated to defending the rights and responsibilities of journalists, condemns actions that violate the very Constitutional rights that law enforcement agencies are sworn to protect.
Submitted by the Northern California Professional Chapter
Resolution No. 7
Laws to protect student media from censorship
Whereas, student reporters and editors in all media should have the same First Amendment freedoms as their professional colleagues; and
Whereas, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled that administrators at universities in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin could review student articles before publication if their student-run newspapers are published by the university; and
Whereas, the Campus Media Statement of the Society of Professional Journalists declares, Our student media are designated public forums and free from censorship and advance approval of content. Student media are free to develop editorial policies and news coverage with the understanding that students and student organizations speak only for themselves. Administration, faculty, staff or other agents shall not consider the student media's content when making decisions regarding the media's funding;
Therefore, be it resolved by SPJ in convention assembled, that states should enact legislation applying to high schools and colleges that embodies these principles.
Resolution No. 8
Protecting human rights and journalism everywhere
Whereas, the forces of tyranny and oppression are on the march in much of the world, and journalists are on the front lines in this battle;
Whereas, some of the latest examples come from Russia, where this week two journalists were killed: Telman Alishayev by unidentified assassins and Magomed Yevloyev while being taken to a police precinct by officers; and
Whereas, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported in June that at least 82 journalists fled their native countries under threat or harassment in the last 12 months, in most cases literally running for their lives, that 51 fled after being assaulted, threatened with violence, or threatened with death, that 19 fled after severe harassment such as police surveillance, repeated interrogations, and sporadic detentions, and that 12 fled from threat of imprisonment; and
Whereas, British reporter John Ray of Independent Television News was roughed up and detained by police at a Beijing protest during the Olympics, without any apparent justification; and
Whereas, there have been many other such instances around the world;
Therefore, be it resolved by the Society of Professional Journalists in convention assembled, that journalists should play a leading role in resisting the forces of tyranny and oppression; that authorities worldwide should respect the fundamental human right of freedom of expression, as outlined in Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and recognize that the practice of journalism is essential to protection of this right, which the Declaration says includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
Resolution No. 9
On privacy, and openness in birth announcements
Whereas, the nation has become increasingly concerned with personal privacy over the last several decades; and
Whereas, this concern has been expressed in federal legislation such as the Drivers Privacy Protection Act and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, both of which have limited the flow of valuable information traditionally in the public sphere; and
Whereas, in another manifestation of this trend, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children publishes a handbook discouraging parents from publicizing the birth of newborns by balloons and signs at home, saying the practice could facilitate the abduction of infants; and
Whereas, the Center also urges hospitals to stop gathering or providing to the news media information about newborns that could similarly facilitate abductions; and
Whereas, hospitals have begun acting on this recommendation; and
Whereas, the Center found that from 1983 until July 2008 only 254 infants younger than six months old were abducted in the United States, and most were returned to their families unharmed; and
Whereas, the Center has been able to identify only a handful of cases in which it believes birth notices were used to locate the infants who were abducted; and
Whereas, the U.S. prides itself on being an open society, one in which the free flow of information is enshrined in the First Amendment and numerous laws protecting public access to records, including those regarding births; and
Whereas, the public announcement of births is important news for the public, affirming the future of a community and offering practical opportunities for neighbors and friends to acknowledge and aid new parents;
Therefore, be it resolved by the Society of Professional Journalists in convention assembled, that hospitals and parents should be wary of excessive fear, and should continue opting for openness in publicly celebrating the birth of newborns.
Resolution No. 10
Thanks to President Clint Brewer
Whereas, Clint Brewer has set an example for all journalists through his presidency of the Society of Professional Journalists in 2007-08, and
Whereas, Brewer has long been an advocate and a living example of the value of truth, talent and energy in journalism, and
Whereas, Brewer has worked to assure the Society of Professional Journalists' pre-eminent position among journalism organizations, both in membership, which increased during his tenure, and in programming; and
Whereas, Brewer has given selflessly of his time and talents for the benefit of the Society and its members,
Therefore, be it resolved that the Society of Professional Journalists, in convention assembled, commends Clint Brewer for his dedication, hard work and sacrifice, and express its gratitude for a job well done.
Resolution No. 11
Thanks to SPJ Headquarters staff
Whereas, the Society of Professional Journalists' headquarters staff has devoted years of planning to the staging of this annual convention, and
Whereas, the annual effort culminates in packing up and moving virtually the entire headquarters to another city, and
Whereas, managing a convention such as this involves long hours and little sleep, and staff members have carried out their duties with great skill, good cheer and selfless dedication;
Therefore, be it resolved that the Society of Professional Journalists, in convention assembled, express its sincere appreciation for the dedication of the SPJ headquarters staff, and Executive Director Terry Harper, who leads the staff even as he undergoes serious medical treatment.