The Philadelphia Inquirer: Conflicts of interest
A staff member's foremost professional obligations are to The Inquirer. As employees of The Inquirer, staff members are obliged to make certain that no outside personal, philosophical or financial interests conflict with their professional performance of duties at The Inquirer. Additionally, staff members should avoid activity that could create the appearance of a conflict with those professional duties. All interpretations as to what conduct may be appropriate in a particular situation will stem from this fundamental premise.
This policy is not intended to unnecessarily limit staff members' participation in the life of the community. They should feel free to take part in such activities as neighborhood organizations, youth organizations, school organizations, or churches, synagogues or mosques. However, staff members should recognize a need to use discretion when these activities might lead to taking sides in a public controversy, and they should not cover or make news decisions about organizations of which they are members.
Use of Inquirer connections. Staff members should not use their positions at The Inquirer to seek any benefit or advantage in personal business, financial or commercial transactions not afforded to the public generally. For example, it is improper for a staff member to write a letter of complaint to a merchant on Inquirer stationery. It is improper for staff members to refer to their Inquirer connection while attempting to purchase a personal item at a wholesale or reduced price. And it is clearly impermissible to use professional contacts to arrange any personal benefit such as a college scholarship, awarded on the basis of political connections or personal influence.
Relationships. A staff member should not write about, photograph or make news judgments about any individual related by blood or marriage or with whom the staff member has a close personal, financial or romantic relationship. A staff member who is placed in a circumstance in which the potential for this kind of conflict exists should advise his or her department head.
Editors must not hire, use as freelancers, or otherwise pay their relatives or persons with whom they have a close relationship without the written approval of the editor, managing editor or deputy managing editor.
Admissions. Inquirer staff members do not accept, for themselves, their families and their guests, free entertainment offered on the basis of the staff member's position with The Inquirer. This includes tickets to sports events, movies, theatrical productions, circuses, concerts, recitals, museums, exhibits, ice shows and other events.
In some cases, it may be a conflict of interest to obtain admission to events even if the staff member pays for the tickets or even if the public is admitted free. The test is whether the staff member is given an advantage over the public because he or she is a journalist. Following are hypothetical examples:
A local professional team is in a postseason championship series to which tickets either are unavailable or virtually unavailable to the public. A journalist may not use his or her Inquirer connection to gain the opportunity to buy tickets, and must decline the opportunity if offered by the team owners. A distinction: Sometimes sports teams award blocks of postseason tickets to companies that support them during the regular season, such as by renting boxes or by advertising in the arena. Because these tickets are distributed to media companies and nonmedia companies on the same basis, it is acceptable in such circumstances for an Inquirer journalist to obtain a ticket from PNI.
A network television entertainer videotapes her show before a live audience. Tickets to the performance are given free to the public either on a first-come, first-served basis or on the basis of a lottery. A journalist may not use his or her Inquirer connection to obtain the free tickets, and must decline the tickets if offered because of that connection.
For events in which free admission customarily is accorded to the working press, such as a press box at a sports event or a critic's ticket at the theater, a staff member may accept free admission only if he or she has been assigned to cover the event for The Inquirer.
Other staff members who attend such events for background purposes shall pay for admission. Subject to the advance approval of a supervising editor, The Inquirer will reimburse the expense.
The Inquirer expects to pay for meals served to staff members in press boxes. The sports department should arrange to reimburse professional teams or university athletic departments for these meals.
An Inquirer staff member may be assigned to attend an event, such as the opening of a museum exhibit, to represent the newspaper as a matter of civic duty. The invitation in such cases is typically also extended to a guest of the staff member. Whether admission for The Inquirer staff member and his or her guest is paid or free will depend on whether the others attending the event are paying. If those invited to the event are expected to pay, the staff member shall pay, and The Inquirer will reimburse for the expense.
Staff members may attend free events staged for the media - such as movie screenings and museum previews - only if they are assigned to cover the event, or if they are assigned to gather background information, or if they are assigned to represent The Inquirer as a civic duty.
Staff members may not arrange for their families or friends to accept free admission to an event, even if the staff member is covering the event. Guests who accompany staff members who are on assignment shall pay for their admission. Subject to the advance approval of a supervising editor, The Inquirer may reimburse the expense for individuals accompanying a staff member.
The cost of meals and nightclub admissions or cover charges incurred in the course of professional duties shall be paid by The Inquirer. Staff members may encounter situations where it is socially awkward, or even impossible, to pay for a meal or entertainment; in such situations, they should exercise good judgment in deciding how far to press an insistence on paying, with the clear understanding that such situations are rare.
When an institution refuses The Inquirer’s request to pay for a staff member's meals or admissions to a public event, The Inquirer will make an appropriate donation to charity and notify the institution that it has done so.
Gifts. Staff members do not accept business-connected gifts, free rooms, sample merchandise, special reduced rates, funds provided by gaming establishments and race tracks, or any other low-pay or no-pay arrangement.
A gift of insignificant value - a calendar, pencil, key chain or similar item sent out routinely by a corporation, for instance - may be accepted if sending it back would be awkward. All other gifts, however, should be returned to the donor with the explanation that it is a violation of Inquirer policy to accept gifts.
Bottles of liquor or wine shall be considered gifts of more than token value and may not be kept.
When it is impractical to return a gift, the item is given to charity and the donor advised of the reason.
Travel. Free or reduced-fare trips may not be accepted except in the most rare circumstances and then only with approval of the editor, managing editor or deputy managing editor. Transportation necessary to the performance of a staff member's professional duties shall be paid for by The Inquirer in all possible cases, including transportation provided by government or military agencies.
Staff members should not use Inquirer connections to solicit junkets or special press rates for fares from airlines, auto-rental firms, hostelries, travel organizations and the like.
In an emergency situation, staff members are encouraged to use common sense and discretion with regard to travel arrangements. For example, if the only transit available to a disaster or military action is by Army helicopter, a staff member trying to cover that story should use the transportation and inform a supervisor as soon as possible.
If an airline declines to accept payment for a so called inaugural flight, the flight should not be taken.
Review books and recordings. Books and recordings sent to The Inquirer for review purposes are accepted as news releases. They are not for the private use of Inquirer staff members, and they may not be sold for any reason or under any circumstances.
Individual books and recordings may be kept by the persons assigned to review them. If a distributor requests that a videotape be returned, we will do so.
A specialist on The Inquirer staff may retain works that might be of particular use as a reference.
Books and recordings that are not reviewed or that are returned to The Inquirer by the reviewer shall, because of the expense and difficulty of sending them back to the distributor, be made available to a public or charitable institution.
Books and recordings that are of insignificant value and are not desired by public or charitable institutions may from time to time be made available to anyone on the staff who wants them.
Computer materials. Staff members should not make unauthorized copies of material for computers, including software and related documentation, that is write-protected, copyrighted or otherwise restricted.
Outside employment. The first obligation of staff members is to perform the duties for which they are employed by The Inquirer. Any outside employment that would interfere with those duties should not be undertaken.
A staff member may not receive payment from anyone or any organization that he or she might he expected to cover or make news judgments about.
Any regular or continuing employment for anyone other than The Inquirer should be reported in writing to the staff member's department head.
Writing, editing or taking pictures for another local newspaper or a local magazine is considered to be in conflict with duties for The Inquirer and should not be undertaken. Work in publicity or public relations is not permissible.
The Inquirer exerts first claim on its employees' professional skills and time. Staff members must make sure that any outside employment does not lessen either the quantity or quality of their work for The Inquirer.
Honoraria. Accepting an honorarium for making a speech or providing consulting services is a form of employment. Thus, a staff member should take care not to receive payment from anyone or any organization that he or she might be expected to cover or make news judgments about.
In any borderline case, it is best to decline the honorarium. It is not an acceptable solution to accept an honorarium under questionable circumstances and then donate the money to charity. It might be acceptable to ask an organization to make a donation directly to a charity in lieu of paying an honorarium.
It is generally permissible for a staff member to accept reimbursement for the expense of traveling to make a speech, whether or not an honorarium is involved. Note, however, that an honorarium may come in forms other than cash. An expense-paid trip to a resort - especially when the speaker is allowed to bring a guest - is construed as a form of payment whether or not an honorarium is involved.
Freelancing. Staff members may undertake freelance writing, photography or editing that is not in competition with The Inquirer so long as the assignment does not conflict with activities planned by or under way for The Inquirer.
Because The Inquirer competes with local, national and international media, staff members must notify their department heads before undertaking any freelance assignments.
Investments and personal business activities. A staff member should not enter into a business relationship with a news source. A staff member should not invest in a business if the financial interest could be expected to come into conflict, or be perceived as being in conflict with the staff member's duties.
Staff members with investments or stock holdings in corporations should not make news decisions that involve those corporations, and they should also be aware that an investment in a similar or competing company or field could constitute a conflict. Although this guideline should not be considered a barrier against staff members' owning stock, investments in mutual funds might frequently be the better course. If staff members are assigned to, or find themselves covering a story in an area where they have investments. they should immediately tell their department heads and suggest that they disqualify themselves.
Advocacy. Staff members should be careful not to offend or give wrong impressions to members of the public by blatantly espousing or expressing viewpoints on public issues.
Such actions as wearing an antiwar button, publicly espousing a cause, or festooning an Inquirer workspace with one side's placards during a campaign can create a perception, intended or not, of partiality.
Staff members should refrain from signing petitions or otherwise identifying themselves with public issues.
Political activity. Staff members are encouraged, even urged, to exercise their franchise as citizens to discuss matters of public interest and to register and vote in referendums, primaries and general elections. But because their profession requires stringent efforts against partiality and perceived bias, staff members should not be involved in any political activity beyond that.
In no circumstances may a staff member work or act as an adviser, for pay or as a volunteer, in a political campaign or organization. Any request for a leave of absence to join in partisan activity will not be granted. If a person to whom a staff member is related by blood or marriage, or a close friend, is involved in a political campaign or organization, the staff member should refrain from covering or making news judgments about that campaign or that issue.
Radio and television appearances. Participation in public affairs programs on radio and television by Inquirer staff members is generally permissible. However, staff members should seek advance approval from an appropriate editor.
Staff members, whose work for The Inquirer is expected to meet high standards of fairness and impartiality, should demonstrate a comparable commitment to those standards when on the air. Staff members may not participate in on-air commercials, nor may they disclose news developments that they have not reported in The Inquirer.
A staff member should not enter into a commitment for regular involvement with a radio or television station or network without prior approval of the editor, managing editor or deputy managing editor.
Internet communications. Inquirer journalists should mention their Inquirer affiliation only in communications relating to their Inquirer duties. Freelance contributors may mention The Inquirer only when pursuing an Inquirer assignment, and they should make their freelance status clear.
Everyone should keep in mind that the Internet is a public forum. Therefore, People mentioning their Inquirer affiliation should be very careful not to express opinions that would compromise their impartiality in covering the news.
Application. These standards are applicable to staffers acting in the line of duty - including editorial writers, columnists and critics - and to everyone else whose work appears in The Inquirer, unless the advocacy nature of that work, as in the case of a Commentary Page piece by a partisan spokesman, is clearly identified.
A staff member on leave of absence remains subject to these policies.
Editors are expected to make freelancers aware of these policies.
Court and the law
The U.S. Constitution provides for both freedom of the press and a fair trial for defendants. In those extraordinarily rare situations when those rights are perceived as being in conflict, The Inquirer takes the position that all other possible measures to ensure a fair trial must be found wanting before closing a judicial proceeding or subpoenaing a journalist should even be considered.
In principle, The Inquirer takes the following positions regarding the courts, lawyers and law enforcement authorities. The procedures to follow in many circumstances in these areas are detailed in the Pennsylvania First Amendment Coalition's Media Survival Kit, which is available to all staff members. Staff members should follow the procedures outlined in the Media Survival Kit if any of the situations covered in it arise, and they should inform a supervisor at the earliest possible opportunity. The New Jersey Department of the Public Advocate's pamphlet on the provisions of the New Jersey Open Public Meetings Law is available to staffers in New Jersey.
Court proceedings The press has a constitutional right to attend and report on court proceedings. A staff member who hears that a hearing is to be closed should object in writing and ask to be heard through counsel. If a staff member is present when a hearing is closed or a motion to close is made, he or she should object orally and ask to be heard through counsel before any closed proceeding begins.
Public records. Public business should be open to the public's inspection. This position is substantially supported by the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, the Pennsylvania Open Records Act and the New Jersey public records law. Any denial of access to public documents or criminal records in violation of these statutes should be brought to the attention of the deputy managing editor.
Public meetings. The public has a right to know the formal actions of policy makers at every level of government and the discussions preceding such actions.
The latest Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, which took effect Jan. 3, 1987, requires that agencies both deliberate and vote in public. This was a very important change. The previous law had been interpreted to mean that an agency was required only to vote in public; thus, public officials often conducted their discussions in private, coming into public view only to vote. "Deliberation" is now defined as "the discussion of agency business held for the purpose of making a decision." How far this expansion of the law reaches is undecided.
Although the 1987 law is stronger than the previous law in terms of requiring public discussions, it also provides for a greater number of exceptions to the openness requirement. The 1987 law provides a greater number of reasons to conduct executive sessions (for example, to consider the purchase of real estate and to discuss pending or threatened litigation) and permits such sessions to interrupt an open meeting, or to be held at the end of a meeting or at an announced time in the future.
The 1987 law specifically provides that recording devices may be used by people attending the meetings, subject to the agency's rules for maintaining order.
In New Jersey, meetings of public bodies at which any business affecting the public is discussed or acted on must be open to the public. However, public bodies may vote to close a meeting to discuss such items as pending or anticipated litigation, collective bargaining negotiations, the purchase or lease of real estate and personnel matters.
Photographs in or near courtrooms. Photographic coverage of court activities is a legitimate aspect of the press' right and obligation to report on judicial proceedings.
However, Pennsylvania and federal courts restrict the taking of photographs, and Inquirer staff members are obliged to abide by these rules. In Pennsylvania state courts, photography is prohibited in the courtroom and in the area immediately surrounding the entrances and exits to the courtroom. In the federal court in Philadelphia, no cameras are permitted on the floors on which the courtrooms are located.
New Jersey court regulations generally allow camera coverage of courtroom proceedings. However, jurors, victims under 18 and witnesses under 14 may not be photographed, and juvenile and domestic-relations cases are off-limits. A trial judge may prohibit cameras in other instances, but such a ruling can be appealed immediately.
Prior restraint. One of the hallmarks of press freedom is the prohibition against judicial orders preventing publication of what transpires in open court. Any such order should be objected to immediately and promptly pursued by counsel.
Gag orders. Judicial restrictions on participants discussion of a case limit coverage of matters of public interest and importance. A journalist should promptly notify his or her editor to determine whether legal action should be taken.
Search warrants. Newsroom materials should be inviolate from government inspection. The US. Privacy Protection Act of 1980 reflects that position, protecting The Inquirer from searches by local, state or US. agencies except under extraordinary circumstances. A search warrant should be received only by the ranking editor, and further communication should be only between the editor and the officer in charge. Staff members should not attempt to interfere with the execution of a search warrant.
Recordings. Pennsylvania law prohibits recording a telephone or face-to-face conversation without consent of all parties. New Jersey has no such prohibition, but staff members should generally inform anyone whom they wish to record.