HKFP Code of Ethics

HKFP’s Code of Ethics was adopted by the team on March 11, 2020, to govern all future reporting practices. Our code is shared publicly in the interests of transparency. We wish to thank Agence-France Presse, who allowed us to use their guidelines as a basis for our own.

code of ethics hkfp


Mission:

Our goal is to be the most independent and credible English-language news source in East Asia. We seek to amplify the voices of the voiceless, not the powerful. Our platform will act as a monitor should Hong Kong’s core values and freedoms be threatened. HKFP seeks to bridge the gap between Chinese and English reporting while providing a platform for critical voices that is immune from increasing political and commercial pressure.


Professional practice:

Guiding principles

  1. We should provide accurate, balanced and impartial news coverage, and correct errors quickly and transparently.
  2. We should not misrepresent information or quotes and we must report truthfully. We should be transparent about our sources of information. We will never submit a story to a source for vetting.
  3. We are answerable to only readers – our independence means we are fully resistant to censorship and self-censorship. As such, our language must be free of bias, influence and prejudice.
  4. We should honour the trust of our sources and protect their confidentiality. We should seek their informed consent and never knowingly jeopardise their safety.
  5. We should respect the presumption of innocence.
  6. We should take care when dealing with victims or relatives who are grieving to avoid further trauma. We must seek parental consent when interviewing and taking photos of children.
  7. We do not use subterfuge or manipulation to gather news unless an editor has approved an undercover investigation. We must identify ourselves as HKFP journalists unless in exceptional circumstances.
  8. We do not pay sources or use information gathered for personal benefit or financial gain.

The basics:

Accuracy

We have a responsibility to the public to report facts without deliberate omissions or selective use of material. Headlines and leads should match the body of the article and should not give a false impression of the story. Similarly, photographs and videos should not be staged or edited in a way that misleads viewers. Other multimedia such as graphics should be scaled correctly and sources should be presented transparently.

We must not passively restate material given to us; instead, we should challenge our sources and fact-check their statements. We can accurately quote a person or organisation but should highlight any inaccuracies and contradictions made in their comments.

We must not be influenced by publicity, hype, or promotional material. We should not exaggerate information and should be conservative when using superlatives such as “best,” “worst,” “biggest,” and “smallest.” In turn, we should not downplay information that is inconvenient to our piece or readers, nor ignore stories of public interest.

We must be meticulous in our reporting, including in our use of names and statistics. We have a duty to discern facts from conjecture to ensure our readers have access to the right information. We must not report rumours or unverified information—such as online chatter—and must verify material to the highest standard.

Analysis

Insight and analysis are an important part of our job, but we must take care to present opinions in a neutral manner so as to not reflect our own viewpoint. We should seek a range of analysis from trustworthy experts and avoid relying on one speaker to fit our angle or narrative.

External parties writing for our Opinion or Voices section should be mindful of our ethical code and standards.

Anonymity

Anonymous sources should be an exception, not the rule. We should be as transparent as possible in our reporting and only use anonymous sources when we have no other way of obtaining information. We should explain to readers why we could not identify the source.

Contributing writers should use their real names on the grounds of accountability, and may only be allowed a pseudonym by editors in very exceptional circumstances such as where the author’s safety or job security may be compromised.

Approval

We do not submit a text of an interview or quotes for vetting and approval, but we can contact an individual to clarify quotes or factual points. The promise of copy approval should not be used as a method to secure interviews or information. An exception may be with clearly marked “sponsored” content. (See also: Paid-for content).

Balance and fairness

We must try to contact both sides of a story and obtain comment or reaction from those facing accusations of wrongdoing. We should always consider whether the piece is truly balanced. (See also: False equivalence.)

Unless the story is especially urgent, we should give people facing accusations in an article a reasonable time to respond. A single unanswered email or phone call is not enough—if we are unable to reach a person in time, we should say so in our story and continue to try to reach them after publication, updating the article if we obtain a reaction.

Bylines

In the interests of transparency and accountability, all of our reports carry the reporter’s name, or a joint byline if two journalists were involved. If there are safety or security concerns, we may use the HKFP staff byline. If a report was a team effort, we will state their names at the top of the article. If a colleague had a minor role in a report, we will add their name at the bottom as “additional reporting.” (See also: Anonymity.)

Complaints

We must deal with complaints quickly, calmly and appropriately when we believe they are justified and a reply is warranted. (See also: Errors.)

If a complaint refers to potential legal issues such as libel, defamation or an infringement of the law, we must ensure the complaint is made in writing and refer the matter to editors to handle before responding. We must not enter into a correspondence with the person concerned beyond acknowledging receipt of the complaint. Do not admit responsibility until the complaint has been handled by editors—though well-intentioned, our responses may be used in future legal action against the company.

HKFP will resist requests to remove content from its archive without legal justification, except in extreme circumstances such as safety concerns.

Confidentiality

We have a responsibility to protect sources, staff, freelancers and fixers and never knowingly put them in harm’s way—this duty extends to guarding against digital surveillance. We may be subject to legal consequences if we fail to do so. HKFP reporters should never turn over documents, recordings, pictures or videos to a third party. If they are compelled to do so by the authorities, they must consult an editor who will seek legal advice.

Covering HKFP

Occasionally, we must report on ourselves. When providing in-house coverage, we must apply the same standards of balance and impartiality such as including opposing views when necessary. We should not use anonymous sources in stories about HKFP.

It is acceptable to give prominence to our own winners when covering awards but we should do it factually and without self-promotion.

We can refer to our own staff in stories but must indicate that they work for HKFP. Reports about HKFP should be approved by senior editors before publication. If a story relates to a specific staff member, or if they are quoted, they should not write the story.

Children

We must take special care when interviewing, photographing or filming children who may be unprepared for dealing with the media. We should identify ourselves and explain our purpose in language they can understand. We should seek permission from a parent, guardian, teacher or another responsible individual, preferably in writing. In impractical circumstances If this is impractical—such as with reports of breaking news, disasters or conflicts—reporters must judge the value of the story and inform their seniors before publishing without parental consent. Any major intrusion into children’s lives must have sound public interest justification.

We must consider whether the story will harm or embarrass children in the future and, when appropriate, take measures to obscure their identities for their protection.

Data

Data mined must be thoroughly checked for accuracy and from a reliable source. It must be presented in a transparent and neutral way that does not indicate bias.

Elections

Media coverage of elections is an important part of the democratic process and we have a duty to ensure we deliver impartial coverage and give voice to all candidates irrespective of personal political beliefs. Our opinions or personal relationships should not influence or bleed into our work or coverage selection. Neither HKFP nor staff should openly express specific support for any candidate, including on personal, public social media accounts.

We can quote a candidate on a statement but take care not to amplify discriminatory or defamatory comments without giving the right of reply to opponents. We should challenge erroneous statistics or unverified rumours.

Opinion poll coverage should be restricted to respected institutions that have allocated significant resources to the study and should include information on methodology, the date and number of people interviewed.

Embargos

We are ethically obliged to honour embargoes once we agree to handle a story. Breaking an embargo could deprive us of receiving information from the material’s authors in the future. HKFP reporters should consult editors if they believe there is an urgent reason for publishing the story ahead of time. If another outlet breaks the embargo or releases elements of the material under an “exclusive” tag, we are no longer obliged to comply with the embargo.

Endorsements

We must not promote or endorse commercial products and interests of contributors on our platforms unless it is in our readers’ interest and marked as “sponsored.” We may report on product launches in an impartial manner if they are of genuine interest but we must be cautious not to blindly repeat manufacturers’ claims without checking the veracity of the statement. We should provide context and information about competitors. (See also: Paid-for Content).

Errors & corrections policy

HKFP must correct factual errors as quickly as possible. Journalists should openly and honestly report errors to their editors who will consider publishing a correction. Falsities, misquotes or misleading statements are among the situations where a correction may be warranted.

When issuing a correction, we will publish at the bottom of the article:

  • The day or time of the correction.
  • The information which was corrected.
  • An apology and, if appropriate, an explanation.

If new information or a development emerges which contradicts a story or affects its facts, we may consider writing a follow-up story or add an update at the bottom of the original piece.

If necessary, we may withdraw a story from the website and replace it—at the same URL—with an explanation.

False equivalence

We should not give false equivalence to both sides of an issue when one is demonstrably false, such as climate change denial.

Grief, trauma and suicide

We must take care when reporting on personal grief, shock or trauma.

When reporting on death, we must seek confirmation by officials or an authorised spokesperson with direct knowledge of the situation. We must ensure we know how the source has knowledge of the death to avoid reporting hearsay. If a trustworthy media outlet reports the death of a public figure using an identified source, we can pick up the story with approval from editors and cite the outlet. Otherwise, independent confirmation must be sought, as we seek to ensure the news is known to the immediate family first.

We follow the Hong Kong Journalists Association guidelines on reporting on suicide. We should avoid excessive detail about the method used in suicide, and should avoid publishing before official confirmation of the suicide, oversimplifying or speculating on the reason behind it, sensationalising details in the headline or story, overemphasising the problem of suicide as an “epidemic,” or prominently placing stories related to a suicide death on HKFP platforms. We should obtain quotes from a mental health expert for an extended article about suicide. At the bottom of any story involving suicide, we should include a link to a website or hotline which supports people at risk. We should not say a person “committed suicide,” which is a dated reference to when suicide was criminalised. We should instead state that a person “took their own life,” “killed themselves,” or “died by suicide.”

False or careless reporting on death can cause unnecessary distress and is damaging to HKFP’s reputation. Enquiries must be made with sensitivity and publication handled with care. We should not intrude into a grieving person’s privacy unless they indicate a desire to talk. We do not do “death knocks.”

We must not directly or indirectly identify sexual assault victims unless permission has been granted and we are legally able to do so. Reporters must consult editors if they believe there is reasonable justification to identify victims.

On stories relating to domestic violence, we will include links to a support website or hotline information.

Graphic imagery

We must consider carefully when and how we present graphic images or video. Editors must consider whether it adds to the understanding of a story, and should resist including something simply to appeal to morbid interest. We will usually pixelate or exclude instances of dismembered limbs, mutilated bodies, executions, or the moment of death. We must consider whether imagery may cause distress to viewers or the victim’s family or damage the dignity of those involved.

We must add a prominent warning for viewers if we choose to publish graphic content of a violent or sexual nature. Staff are encouraged to enquire about HKFP’s mental health options and read the Dart Center’s resources on handling graphic imagery.

Hate speech and incitement to violence

We must be careful when repeating offensive language such as hate speech, racial slurs, derogatory comments and incitements to violence unless there is genuine editorial reason to do so—for example, when it involves a public figure. We should put the comments into context and solicit reactions. We should warn our audience about the content of the speech. Such reports should be submitted to senior editors for approval.

We do not censor profane language, as we believe our readers are able to handle such words on the rare occasions when they are used in the context of news reporting.

HKFP email and phone

HKFP employees should only use their HKFP email account for work-related correspondence unless doing so would compromise the safety or confidentiality of a source. All professional communication should be done through a secure HKFP phone or laptop. Any other personal correspondence should be carried out using a personal email account or device.

Interviews

We must explain the circumstances of the interview and lay out ground rules, such as speaking on the record, to those concerned from the outset. We should bear in mind that not all interviewees may understand the differences between different levels of attribution—thus, we should explain where necessary. (See also: Approval).

We should not mislead readers into thinking an interview was conducted face-to-face when it was done electronically. In order to avoid this, we should state how it was done—for example, by telephone, Skype, email or WhatsApp messenger.

Law and legal liability.

Breaking the law can be extremely damaging to our reputation and expose us to lengthy and expensive legal action.

We must respect the law and not resort to illicit means such as theft, hacking or electronic surveillance to obtain information. We can report on documents of questionable legal origin such as leaked classified material with the approval of editors, but we must take care so as to not open ourselves up to potential legal action.

We must respect the presumption of innocence—this means we avoid suggestions that an arrested or charged person is guilty. And for contempt of court reasons, we must avoid suggestions they are innocent. [See also: HKFP’s court reporting guides].

Staff should keep files, notes and correspondences relating to important stories for seven years.

Race, religion, sexual orientation, disability and identity

We do not mention someone’s race, religion, sexual orientation or disability unless it is pertinent to the story. We do not mention a criminal suspect’s ethnic background unless it is a relevant descriptor in identifying them. We can mention a person’s nationality, age and profession. We can describe an individual’s appearance as part of the story, however, avoid using stereotypes such as “sexy” or defamatory terms such as “ugly.” A person whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth is known as transgender. We respect a person’s preferred pronouns if they indicate such a desire. We say sexual orientation, not preference. [See also: HKFP’s Style Guide].

Rumours

In a time of fast-paced digital information sharing, we have a responsibility to avoid spreading rumours and should be diligent in attempting to authenticate information. When we cannot, we should state: “HKFP has been unable to independently verify the claim.” We should be careful with our language, for example, “A bystander said he saw the arrest” instead of “A bystander saw the arrest.”

We can report on stock market reactions to rumours but should try to verify with concerned parties—for example, checking a takeover bid with relevant companies. If we are unable to do so, we should highlight that the rumour is unverified. We should take steps to protect the identities of market sources who confirm rumours as they may be liable to regulatory or legal action whilst reporters are not, though we should approach their information with the appropriate scepticism.

Paid-for content

HKFP often works with carefully selected and relevant advertisers who wish to reach our audience or support our mission. Content which is paid-for must be clearly marked in the interests of transparency. We carry several types of partner content, including:

  • Banners ads: Google-managed and HKFP-managed banner ads which run across each page of the website.
  • Shopping referral links: Referral links to sites such as BookDepository.com may be embedded in articles and declared—HKFP receives a cut of any sales.
  • Advertorials: Original advertorial content which has been reviewed by a paid advertiser or donor is marked as “sponsored” in multiple places.
  • Partnerships: Content in which HKFP has worked with a paid advertiser or donor, but had complete editorial independence, without review, is marked as a “partnership.”
  • Media partnerships: HKFP helps to promote key media/artistic/charitable events which are of interest to staff/readers or we wish to support. Paid listings will be marked as “sponsored.”

Quotes

We do not alter quotes or manipulate their meaning. We must not cherry-pick or split up quotes in a way that misrepresents or decontextualises the speaker’s comments. We never submit quotes for vetting but we can contact a person to clarify any factual points or unclear comments. We should quote verbatim and indicate when a speaker has misspoken. We should correct grammatical mistakes or speech errors by paraphrasing, partial quotes, square brackets or ellipses in moderation.

We must take care while translating in order to convey the speaker’s meaning and tone. We cannot use interpretative flexibility to justify clumsy or inaccurate translation. If a speaker has omitted a word or made an error, we should reflect this in our translation using the above methods. If there is any room for doubt, such as gender pronouns, we should try to clarify the quote, write around it or omit it entirely. If there are doubts over a translation, staff should consult the team as a whole.

Science breakthroughs

We must take care to not hype scientific or medical “breakthrough” announcements from pharmaceutical companies or researches as this may give false hope to audiences and rarely have an immediate impact on the condition concerned.

Sources

We must be transparent with our sources of information and credit authors when we use their material. Press releases, government handouts, pool feeds and local media reports should be clearly identified as such. [See also: HKFP’s 20 Principles of Sourcing].

Subterfuge

We do not conceal or misrepresent our identities unless failing to do so threatens our personal safety. If a reporter believes there is a justified reason for them to go undercover, they must consult editors. We should not record or film people with hidden equipment without their knowledge in a private setting unless we believe it is overwhelmingly in the public interest.

Terrorism and mass shootings

We can identify the suspects or perpetrators of mass shootings or acts of terror but we should not give them a platform, publish “manifestos” or give elongated biographies, as such publicity may encourage further atrocities. We use the Guardian’s definition of “terrorism” as acts directed against victims chosen either randomly or as symbols of what is being opposed. We must take care not to glorify or give undue prominence to murderers or other violent criminals, and ensure that appropriate coverage is given to their victims as well


Personal conduct:

Conflicts of interest

HKFP journalists must declare any conflict of interest that may influence their work to editors and, when necessary, excuse themselves from relevant reporting. This extends to covering family members or anyone with whom they have a close personal relationship.

Freelance work

HKFP journalists must seek permission from management before engaging in a freelance assignment. They must not accept work that affects their availability to work for HKFP, that threatens to damage our reputation or conflicts with our ethical standards. The assignment must not be for an HKFP competitor.

Hospitality

We must not accept hospitality, gifts or other benefits from sources or contacts—except for items of minimal value in unavoidable circumstances—as this may undermine our reputation for impartiality.

HKFP reporters must never use their position for their own private benefit or that of others. We must not benefit financially from information obtained nor pass on information for financial gain. Occasional drinks and meals are an acceptable part of our profession but we should try to invite rather than be invited. We do not pay sources for information but, depending on the circumstances, we may offer HKFP souvenirs as a thank you.

Any items loaned to reporters for review or test purposes should be declared to editors and returned within 72 hours—long term or indefinite loans are not allowed. HKFP reporters may accept complimentary books, tickets or invitations to events or meals if they relate to coverage of a particular story, their work as a journalist (for example, conference invitations) or are networking opportunities (for example, consular events.) When in doubt, consult an editor.

Impartiality

HKFP’s reputation for impartiality rests upon the fair treatment of our sources and the professional reputations of our journalists. Staff should avoid conflicts of interest and the appearance of such conflicts. Our team should avoid activism or attending protests in a personal capacity, expressing support for an election candidate or party, or openly advocating a viewpoint that could bring HKFP’s impartiality into question. [See also: Freelance work; Conflicts of Interest; and HKFP’s social media policy.]

Public speaking and media interviews

HKFP journalists who agree to speak to other news media or at events which require public speaking should adhere to the company’s rules of impartiality and fairness. We should research the reputation of a media outlet before accepting interview requests and avoid situations where our words could be taken out of context or used for propaganda. We must assume everything is on the record and must not let our guard down. Our journalists should not scoop themselves by providing exclusive or breaking news information that we are already set to cover on HKFP. We should be careful in giving opinions that might raise concerns about our impartiality—such as declaring support for candidates, or publicly indicating who you wish to vote for—and avoid speculation by providing analysis and facts. We must avoid defamatory or contentious statements that could damage HKFP’s reputation. We must be prepared to deal with loaded questions and not disclose confidential information about the company.

Plagiarism

We do not plagiarise and must be transparent in identifying our sources of information, whether in text, images or other multimedia. We must clearly identify and credit external material from others including interview pick-ups and media reports. We must not violate copyright and use non-authorised material from third-parties. HKFP journalists face disciplinary action for instances of plagiarism or patchwriting.

Safety and security

The safety, security and mental health of our staff are of utmost importance. Staff should follow HKFP’s internal security and safety guidelines, including those on protest safety and reporting during a virus outbreak. Staff may enquire about HKFP’s health coverage and mental health options.

Social media use

HKFP staff should adhere to the company’s social media policy and the newspaper’s principles of impartiality.


Funding and assets:
  • HKFP will publish details of its income and outgoings in an Annual Report and Transparency Report.
  • Those who donate money or gear to HKFP can expect their contribution to remain confidential unless they agree to publicity. Their personal details will be stored securely.
  • HKFP will refuse any donations from any contributor who seeks to interfere in our editorial independence or output. We are also committed to refusing donations from any government.
  • We will only ever accept a donation of money or gear from a grant-making body or institution if they agree in writing never to interfere in our editorial independence or output.
  • Should HKFP Ltd. be dissolved, its assets will be donated to a newsroom of a similar size and mission.

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