Sound Press Ethics

The content and conduct of the media shall be in accordance with sound press ethics (Section 34(1) of the Media Liability Act).

The Press Council determines whether the conduct of the media is contrary to sound press ethics. Its decision is based on the “Advisory rules of sound press ethics” which formed part of the Media Liability Bill of 1991, but the “sound press ethics” standard keeps pace with developments in determination of what is unethical, and adopts standpoints on new situations that arise.

“The advisory rules of sound press ethics were revised on 22 May 2013”

(Adopted at the meeting of delegates of the Danish Union of Journalists on 23-24 April 2013 and at the annual general meeting of the Association of the Danish Media on 22 May 2013).

Fundamental views

Safeguarding the freedom of speech in Denmark is closely connected with the free access of the media to collect information and news and to publish it as correctly as possible. Free comment is part of the exercise of the freedom of speech. In attending to these tasks the media should recognise that the individual citizen is entitled to respect for his/her personal integrity as well as the sanctity of his/her private life and the need for protection against unjustified violation hereof. Visible and clear guidance on how to complain of media content and conduct shoud be made available by the media.

Breach of sound press ethics also includes the withholding of rightful publication of information of essential importance to the public and compliance with outsiders’ demands for influence over the content of the media, if such compliance may raise doubt as to the freedom and independence of the media. Furthermore, a breach of sound press ethics exists if tasks that are in conflict with the present press ethical rules are imposed on a journalist.

Journalists should not have tasks imposed on them that are contrary to their conscience or convictions.

The rules cover the editorial materials published in the media. The rules also cover edited discussion contributions. If unedited discussion items are brought, visible and clear guidelines on such items should be published and an effective procedure for handling complaints of such items should be set up by the relevant medium.

The rules also cover advertisements and publicity in the printed periodical press and in the other media to the extent that specific rules governing these have not been laid down.

The rules apply to persons mentioned and depicted, including deceased persons, legal entities etc.

Content of the rules

A. Correct information

  1. It is the duty of the media to publish information correctly and promptly. As far as possible it should be verified whether the information given or reproduced is correct.
  2. The sources of news should be treated critically, in particular when their statements may be coloured by personal interest or tortious intent.
  3. Information which may be prejudicial or insulting or detract from the respect in which individuals should be held shall be very closely examined before publication, primarily by submission to the person concerned. Submission should be made so as to give the person concerned a reasonable time to reply.
  4. Attacks and replies should, where this is reasonable, be published together and in the same way. This particularly applies to insulting or prejudicial statements.
  5. A clear distinction shall be drawn between factual information and comments.
  6. The form and content of headlines and subheadlines shall be substantiated by the article or publication in question. The same rule shall apply to newspaper placards.
  7. Incorrect information shall be corrected on the editors’ own initiative, if and as soon as knowledge of errors of importance in the published information is received. The correction shall be given in such a form that the readers, listeners or viewers may easily become aware of the correction.

B. Conduct contrary to sound press ethics

  1. Information which may violate the sanctity of private life shall be avoided unless an obvious public interest requires public coverage. The individual is entitled to protection of his/her personal reputation.
  2. Suicides or attempted suicides should not be mentioned unless an obvious public interest requires or justifies public coverage, and in that case the coverage should be as considerate as possible.
  3. Victims of crimes or accidents shall be paid the greatest possible regard. The same rule applies to witnesses and the relatives of the persons concerned. Consideration and tact shall be shown in the collection and communication of pictorial material, including amateur photos.
  4. A clear distinction shall be drawn between advertising and editorial content. Text, sound and images generated by direct or indirect commercial interests should be published only if a clear journalistic criterion calls for publication.
  5. Special regard should be paid to children and other persons who cannot be expected to realise the effects of their statements or other involvement. Parental consent should be obtained before the publication of interviews or the like when indicated by the nature of the subject and the minor’s age.
  6. At the collection or publication of information, the confidence, feelings, ignorance, lack of experience or lack of self-control shoud not be abused.
  7. Clandestine recordings should only be published if the persons involved have given their consent, or if the interests of society clearly supersede the claim for protection of the individual and it is not possible, or only possible with great difficulty, to obtain the necessary journalistic evidence in any other way.
  8. Statements published in digital media will often be available long after their publication. Upon request to the medium, the availability of such previously published sensitive or private information may be hampered if possible and deemed reasonable.

C. Court reporting

  1. The general Press Ethical Rules mentioned under A and B shall also apply to court reporting.
  2. The rules for court reporting shall also apply to the preliminary steps of a lawsuit or a trial, including the consideration of criminal cases by the police and the prosecution.
  3. Court reporting should be objective. At any time during the preliminary stages and the hearing by the court, the journalist should aim at a qualitatively equal representation of the points of view of the parties (in criminal cases the points of view of the prosecution and the defence, respectively).
    Coverage of a criminal case should be followed up by an account of the conclusion of the case, whether this takes place in the form of a withdrawal of the charge, acquittal, or conviction.
  4. Family circumstances, race, ethnicity, nationality, creed, sexual orientation or membership of organisations should only be mentioned when relevant to the case.
  5. As long as a criminal case has not been finally decided or the charge withdrawn, no information may be published which may obstruct the clearing up of the case, nor may pronouncements to the effect that a suspect or accused is guilty be published. When reporting on a criminal case, it shall clearly appear whether a suspect or an accused has declared himself or herself guilty or not guilty.
  6. To the greatest possible extent, a clear objective line shall be followed in deciding which cases are to be covered, and in which instances the names of the persons involved are to be given. The name or any other identification of a suspect or an accused should be omitted if no public interest calls for the publication of the name.
  7. Caution should be exercised in publishing statements to the effect that information has been laid with the police against a person mentioned by name. Such information should as a rule not be published until the information laid has resulted in the intervention of the police or the prosecution. However, this rule shall not apply to statements referred to by the person informed against, or if the information laid is already widely known or is of considerable public interest, or if under the existing circumstances it must be assumed that the information laid was well-founded.
  8. A suspect, an accused, or a convicted person should be spared from having attention called to an earlier conviction if it is without importance in relation to the offence concerning which he/she is now suspected, charged, or convicted. Previous criminal charges against a named person should not, as a rule, be mentioned in connection with other news.

Historical development

1960    The code “Sound press ethics in the coverage of criminal cases” is adopted by the Danish Newspaper Publishers’ Association.

The code concerns itself in particular with legal and criminal matters. It also contains guidelines for the reporting of accidents, including the collection and reproduction of pictorial material, and rules dealing with the coverage of suicide and attempted suicide.

1964    Establishment of the Danish Press Council.

At the instance of the Danish Newspaper Publishers’ Association, a council is set up to ensure that the rules adopted in 1960 are observed. The Danish Press Council consists of four members with a lawyer as chairman and three expert members, all nominated by the Danish Newspaper Publishers’ Association.

1968    Competence of the Danish Press Council expanded.

The competence of the Danish Press Council is expanded so that it also covers serious offenses outside criminal reporting as such. The Danish Newspaper Publishers’ Association adopts the rules in accordance with the recommendation of the Press Council

1974    Revision of the rules commenced.

The Danish Newspaper Publishers’ Association sets up a committee to revise the basic rules in accordance with the Penal Code Council’s statements on the sanctity of private life (Report No. 601/1971). The committee consists of the chairman, Supreme Court Attorney Børge Koch, and representatives of the Association, the Danish Journalists’ Union and Danmarks Radio (the Danish Broadcasting Corporation). It is the wish of the Danish Journalists’ Union that rules be laid down “that can safeguard the conditions necessary for freedom of speech, free access to collect and publish information and news”, and rules to safeguard the integrity of journalists in connection with the exercise of their assignments.

1977    The report “Information concerning and draft of rules for sound press ethics and the brief of the Press Council” is released.

The committee set up in 1974 releases its report. The report contains drafts of advisory press ethical rules and the brief of the Press Council. It is proposed that the Press Council be established with 6 members: one chairman appointed by the President of the Supreme Court, one member appointed by the Danish Newspaper Publishers’ Association, one member appointed by Danmarks Radio, two members appointed by the Danish Journalists’ Union, and one public representative appointed by the Ombudsman of the Danish Parliament.

1981    The Danish Newspaper Publishers’ Association adopts the committee’s proposal for press ethical rules (“sound press ethics”).

The Danish Journalists’ Union and the Danish Newspaper Publishers’ Association are unable to reach an agreement on the committee’s proposal regarding the principles of “non-information” and journalists’ integrity, so only the Danish Newspaper Publishers’ Association accedes to the rules governing the Press Council. The rules are advisory and contain three sections: correct information, conduct contrary to sound press ethics, and court reporting.

1985    Release of the Media Commission’s Final Report No. 1029/1985.

The Commission’s deliberations include proposals for the introduction of uniform press ethical rules and the foundation of a common complaints board for all mass media. This board is to be competent to issue orders for publication of corrections, reproofs etc.

1986    Appointment of the Media Liability Committee.

The brief of the Committee is, amongst other things, to examine the possibility of establishing a new body to be in charge of functions that were formerly the province of the Corrective Statements Board, the Press Council and the Radio Council. The Committee consists of a chairman, Justice of the Supreme Court Else Mols, and representatives of the Association of the Danish Specialist Press, the Danish Magazine Publishers’ Association, the Danish Newspaper Publishers’ Association, the General Directorate of the Royal Danish Post Office, the Danish Journalists’ Union, Danmarks Radio, TV 2, the Danish Bar and Law Society, the Ministry of Justice and the Prime Minister’s Office.

1990    The Media Liability Committee releases Report No.1205/1990, which includes “Advisory rules of sound press ethics”.

The Committee emphasises in its report that detailed ethical rules should not be incorporated directly in the Act. They are an expression of the media’s own ethical standards. New situations may arise, and an ethical standard may be affected by the change of views over time. Finally, ethical regulations should be advisory only. The Committee therefore proposed that the Act should contain a general clause according to which the content and conduct of the media shall be in accordance with sound press ethics. It is a matter for the Press Council to determine whether conduct has been contrary to sound press ethics in an individual instance. Such determination shall not be entirely independent, since the Committee’s proposed “Advisory rules of sound press ethics” are to form the basis of what “sound press ethics” means in detailed terms. The Committee’s proposal for advisory rules was based on the rules adopted by the Danish Newspaper Publishers’ Association in 1981, but incorporated the principles of “non-information” and the integrity of journalists that the Danish Journalists’ Union had wished to be included.

1991    Adoption of the Media Liability Act (Act No. 348 of 6 June 1991).

The bill is in accordance with the rules of sound press ethics proposed by the Media Liability Committee. “Advisory rules of sound press ethics” forms an annex to the bill (Bill 132 of 6 February 1991).

1992   Appointment of the Press Council; entry into force of the Media Liability Act.

As a complaints authority, the Press Council is briefed to discharge the functions

hitherto the province of the Danish Press Council, the Corrective Statements Board
and the Radio Council. The Press Council will consist of a Chairman and Deputy
Chairman to be appointed upon recommendation by the President of the Supreme
Court, two members to be appointed upon recommendation by the Danish
Journalists´ Union, two members be to appointed to represent the editorial
managements upon recommendation by the media, and two members to be
appointed as public representatives upon recommendation by the Danish Council for
Adult Education.