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Student Handout

WGBH/FRONTLINE Guidelines on Journalistic Standards and Practices (Excerpted)

Note: FRONTLINE is a PBS program produced by the WGBH Educational Foundation in Boston, Mass. FRONTLINE develops documentaries which often cover controversial subject matter. WGBH/FRONTLINE journalistic guidelines are excerpted below. There are many other groups who publish guidelines. Please see the "Additional Resources" section of this guide for links to other guidelines.

Directions: Review the following excerpted guidelines. Together with your group, compare the quotation on your strip of paper to the WGBH/FRONTLINE Guidelines for Journalistic Standards and Practices. How do the guidelines reflect or not reflect the principle you identified in your quotation? In your notebook, respond to this question.


... Since publication of truthful, accurate information is the prime mission of our nonfiction national programs, it should be clear that willful misrepresentation or falsification of program content will be considered unprofessional conduct and will carry the severest consequences.

In the pursuit of truthful information, the producer must be sensitive to issues of fairness if the program is to have credibility. Truth is an elusive combination of fact and opinion, of reason and experience. ... In turn, we promise that the subject matter and the people in the program will be treated fairly.

Specifically, fairness means that producers:

a) will approach stories with an open and skeptical mind and a determination, through extensive research, to acquaint themselves with a wide range of viewpoints;
b) will try to keep personal bias and opinion from influencing their pursuit of a story;
c) will carefully examine contrary information;
d) will exercise care in checking the accuracy and credibility of all information they receive, especially as it may relate to accusations of wrongdoing;
e) will give individuals or entities who are the subject of attack the opportunity to respond to those attacks;
f) will represent fairly the words and actions of the people portrayed;
g) will inform individuals who are the subject of an investigative interview of the general areas of questioning in advance and, if important for accuracy, will give those individuals an opportunity to check their records;
h) will try to present the significant facts a viewer would need to understand what he or she is seeing, including appropriate information to frame the program; and,
i) will always be prepared to assist in correcting errors...

... Consult before Employing Hidden Cameras or Listening Devices

Depending on the circumstances, electronic listening and the use of hidden cameras and recording devices are illegal in a number of jurisdictions, and therefore should not be undertaken without the Executive Producer's approval and consultation with the WGBH Legal Department. This guideline does not apply to situations where a telephone conversation is recorded with the consent of both parties (one is sufficient in some jurisdictions) for purposes of accuracy. ...

... Avoid Misrepresentation

In general, a person whose participation or cooperation in a documentary production is sought should know the identity of the producer and why the producer is seeking the person's involvement. ...

... Do Not Pay for Testimony

It is WGBH's policy not to pay for interviews on its programs. Not only does it establish a bad precedent, but also the credibility of any interviewee who was paid is rightly called into question.