24. Social responsibility

Journalistic practice has become muddled due to the development of new forms of media resulting from new technologies. This is the downside of the internet: today there are as many sources of “news” as there are individuals on social media, and there are more amateurs disseminating information than there are news professionals. Genuine journalists need to increase the demanding criteria of their profession.


Journalists are social actors but not political actors in the common meaning of the term, although their social role has a political impact. The values that form the basis of their professional activity are the values of universalism: peace, democracy, freedom, solidarity, equality, education, human rights, women’s rights, children’s rights, social progress, etc. Their writing therefore contributes to social and political transformations.

While advocating these universal values, journalists never advocate categorical, sectoral, individual or partisan interests. Otherwise, they end up blurring boundaries, sacrificing their freedom and compromising the trust that readers attach to their independence.

If journalists join a political party, which is their right as citizens, they must refrain from using their position to benefit their party and, in particular, from relaying the positions adopted by their party in their newspaper. Editorial charters prevent deviations by preventing journalists who are members of a political party or union from being involved in the coverage of news concerning that party or union, in particular.


It is often the case that journalists who advocate the values of humanism are led to openly oppose powers that flout or deny those values. Sometimes they pay for such opposition, with their lives. However, even in the case of extreme stress, they cannot break the ethical rules that require them to respect all convictions, all beliefs and all forms of expression, including those that aim to muzzle their own. Advocate journalists who are committed to universal values make it a point of honour to give a voice to their opponents and to show tolerance towards them in their analyses and comments.


  • The Charter of Professional Duties of French Journalists (1918).
  • The American Journalists Association Code of Ethics (1926).
  • The British National Union of Journalists Code of Conduct (1938).
  • The International Federation of Journalists Declaration of Principles on the Conduct of Journalists, known as the “Bordeaux Declaration” (1954).
  • The Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Journalists, known as the “Munich Declaration” (1971).
  • The German Press Code (Pressekodex, 1973).
  • The UNESCO Mass Media Declaration (1983).
  • The Council of Europe Resolution on the Ethics of Journalism (1993).

“Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion…”. 

Just like Pompeia, Julius Caesar’s second wife whom he abandoned because of a rumour of adultery, journalists must be above suspicion. Their social responsibility means that their professional integrity can never be questioned. This requirement includes not only respect for privacy, respect for the dignity of individuals, the rejection of unfair methods, refusal to promote particular interests contrary to the public interest, as well as the prohibition of any form of collusion or compromise.


All of this sets the bar high for professional journalism, but that is precisely what makes the status of journalists great, at least according to Seneca: “Magnam fortunam magnus animus decet”, “A great mind becomes a great fortune…