A Final Word on “Opinion”
All of the ethical standards outlined above relate to factual reporting, where it is important for journalists to commit themselves to work accurately and impartially, setting aside their own views or any other partisan interests and weighing up the facts as fairly and objectively as possible.
Reporting the news includes fair and fact-based analysis, but it precludes journalists from inserting their own opinions without clearly flagging that.
However, journalism can and does include the writing of opinion pieces, often in the form (for example) of regular columns or pieces of “editorializing.” Opinion can be included where it is clearly marked and where it does not interfere with or influence the reporting.
However, although they are opinion pieces, it is wrong to assume that they are not bound by any of the usual ethical standards of journalism.
The common cry is, “This is an opinion piece. It’s my opinion. I can write whatever I want.”
This is not the case. There is bad opinion writing and good opinion writing, and journalists would do well to leave the bad opinion writing to someone else.
Bad opinion writing will misrepresent the facts, misrepresent the views of others, mislead in the way it draws conclusions, and use inflammatory or intemperate language to whip up emotion and cloud the ability of readers to make their own judgments.
A journalist who writes an opinion piece is given the license to provide his/her own views and selectively highlight the evidence, issues, or facts that he/she personally considers to be the most significant and the most telling. An ethical journalist who writes an opinion piece will still ensure the piece has integrity.
When contributing an opinion article, these are the questions you should ask yourself:
- Is everything that I have presented in my opinion piece as a “fact” accurate?
- Have I transparently declared any conflicts of interest or vested interests I may have in relation to the issue I am expressing an opinion on?
- Have I considered any undue harm or offense my work may cause and looked for ways to minimize it that do not undermine the integrity of the work?
- Have I favored sound arguments and evidence over rhetoric and bombast in the way the work is constructed?