THE TRUTH MUST BE RESPECTED
In order to respect the truth, scrupulous attention must be paid to the reality of the facts. Observed facts can be misleading, even when you see them with your own eyes. It is important to take the time to understand what you are seeing to ensure that you do not misinterpret the true meaning of your observations.
Example: I see a man hit another man in the street. It seems to be obvious what is happening: I can see an assailant and a victim. But is there something else going on here that I cannot see?
THE IDENTIFICATION PROCESS
There is a methodical procedure that should be followed in order to identify the truth behind the facts observed and to report them as truthfully as possible.
When you are observing the facts directly:
- Keep in mind that you are only seeing fragments of the truth,
- Question the true meaning behind what you are seeing,
- Compare your observations with those of other witnesses (“Did you see what I saw? I’m not sure I got a good enough look: what did you see?”),
- Place the facts in chronological order,
- Put the facts in context,
- Write the facts without picking and choosing, truncating or interpreting them.
- Have your article proofread to ensure that its content is not misleading.
When you are observing the facts indirectly:
- Verify the reliability of witness testimonies,
- Cross-check the claims made by witnesses,
- Ask officials for their point of view,
- Use precautionary wordings: “According to the police…”, “According to a witness…”.
THE TRUTH MUST BE SOUGHT
When individual or collective interests stand in the way of identifying the truth, the journalist is bound by a civic duty to seek it out. However, the search for the truth does not justify the use of any and all means available. Respecting privacy and human dignity are key standards that must be followed by professional journalists. Besides, in public interest affairs, looking for the truth is a legitimate goal, but journalists are neither police officers or judges, so their means of investigation are limited. They must be aware and accepting of this.
Each time that someone deliberately prevents you from finding the truth, counter their cover-ups with transparency.
- Ask for explanations by post.
- Explain the difficulties you are facing to your readers.
- Maintain a planner detailing your research.
- Archive evidence that you are acting in good faith.
- Correct your errors.
- Acknowledge your mistakes.
DO NOT BECOME OBSESSIVE!
Sometimes, seeking the truth can become an obsession for a journalist, especially when lots of obstacles have been placed in their way. The desire to find it brings with it a risk of distorting it yourself if what you uncover goes against the readers’ expectations. The risk of this is especially high where the journalist neglects his or her obligation to remain impartial in favour of a hypothesis: if the journalist omits the facts that he or she has uncovered because they do not back up his or her theory, the journalist is acting dishonestly. There is no absolute truth.