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Code of Ethics

The MEAA Journalist Code of Ethics was created by journalists in 1944 to promote basic values for the Australian media industry, in order to uphold and maintain community confidence and participation in the media. 

Today the Code of Ethics is more important than ever before, as we battle disinformation and a lack of public trust. Journalists search, disclose, record, question, entertain, comment and remember. They inform citizens and animate democracy. They scrutinise power, but also exercise it, and should be responsible and accountable.

 By upholding the code, MEAA members uphold respect for truth and the public’s right to information in a responsible and ethical manner.

MEAA Journalist Code of Ethics

MEAA members engaged in journalism commit themselves to:

  1. Honesty
  2. Fairness
  3. Independence
  4. Respect for the rights of others

Journalists will educate themselves about ethics and apply the following standards:

  1. Report and interpret honestly, striving for accuracy, fairness and disclosure of all essential facts. Do not suppress relevant available facts, or give distorting emphasis. Do your utmost to give a fair opportunity for reply.
  2. Do not place unnecessary emphasis on personal characteristics, including race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, sexual orientation, family relationships, religious belief, or physical or intellectual disability.
  3. Aim to attribute information to its source. Where a source seeks anonymity, do not agree without first considering the source’s motives and any alternative attributable source. Where confidences are accepted, respect them in all circumstances.
  4. Do not allow personal interest, or any belief, commitment, payment, gift or benefit, to undermine your accuracy, fairness or independence.
  5. Disclose conflicts of interest that affect, or could be seen to affect, the accuracy, fairness or independence of your journalism. Do not improperly use a journalistic position for personal gain.
  6. Do not allow advertising or other commercial considerations to undermine accuracy, fairness or independence.
  7. Do your utmost to ensure disclosure of any direct or indirect payment made for interviews, pictures, information or stories.
  8. Use fair, responsible and honest means to obtain material. Identify yourself and your employer before obtaining any interview for publication or broadcast. Never exploit a person’s vulnerability or ignorance of media practice.
  9. Present pictures and sound which are true and accurate. Any manipulation likely to mislead should be disclosed.
  10. Do not plagiarise.
  11. Respect private grief and personal privacy. Journalists have the right to resist compulsion to intrude.
  12. Do your utmost to achieve fair correction of errors.

Guidance Clause: Basic values often need interpretation and sometimes come into conflict. Ethical journalism requires conscientious decision-making in context. Only substantial advancement of the public interest or risk of substantial harm to people allows any standard to be overridden.

N.B.  Under MEAA’s rules, registered with the Fair Work Commission, MEAA’s Journalist Code of Ethics only applies to MEAA Media’s journalist members. MEAA can undertake no action or investigation that involves individuals who are not MEAA members. MEAA cannot investigate media outlets, publications, programs or social media posts.

MEAA Guidelines on Reporting Hate Speech and Extremism

N. B. These are guidelines only. They are designed to be read alongside, but not replace, the MEAA Journalist Code of Ethics. They are an editorial aid for journalists. The ethical complaints processes of the MEAA Journalists Code of Ethics are not applicable to these guidelines.  Download a .pdf of the Guidelines here.

The rise of extremism and the increasing use of hate speech place journalists in a difficult position: how should we report these issues, should we resist efforts to co-opt us, what role does “balance” have to play, should we seek to protect our audience?

MEAA is concerned at the rise of hate speech in Australia. Racist attitudes and hate speech pose a threat to democracy, a free media and racial equality.

Under their Journalist Code of Ethics, MEAA Media members have a responsibility to report responsibly on matters of race, religion, culture and ethnicity. These guidelines are designed to work with, but not exclude, the MEAA Journalist Code of Ethics.

They are based on the National Union of Journalists (UK and Ireland)’s Guidelines on reporting on race (2014). The guidelines are also informed by Media Diversity Australia’s industry forum, held in partnership with MEAA, in the fortnight after the Christchurch shootings on March 15, 2019.

It is also worth acknowledging the Australian Press Council’s advisory guidelines on:

Ethical Journalism

  • Media freedom is underpinned by ethical reporting. Hate speech is antithetical to ethical journalism.
  • Every day, vigorous journalism provokes. At times, it can offend or insult – that is the nature of public debate. Because vigorous journalism is provocative, or because it can offend or insult at one time, that does not mean it intends to vilify. However, journalism that intends to vilify on the basis of race deserves to be condemned, particularly as it is outside what is considered ethical journalism.
  • All MEAA Media’s journalist members are by bound by MEAA’s Journalist Code of Ethics. Only MEAA Media members can be investigated by MEAA’s National Ethics Committee for alleged breaches of the Code. The Code was first developed in 1944. The code was reviewed and updated in 1984 and again in 1999, when subject to a major review between 1994 and 1998 leading to the current Code being instituted in 1999.
  • The Code is acknowledged by many media outlets across Australia in their editorial codes of practice/conduct.
  • Clause 2 of the MEAA Code says: Do not place unnecessary emphasis on personal characteristics including race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, sexual orientation, family relationships, religious belief or physical or intellectual disability.
  • MEAA Media members should have the right to withhold their labour on the grounds of their obligations under the Code if their employers are providing a platform for racism or hate speech.
  • Support your work colleagues who may be subject to hate speech and ensure a safe workplace. Don’t allow your workplace to promote hate speech that makes work colleagues feel uncomfortable or targeted.
  • Editors must ensure that the coverage of race is placed in a social and ethical context that observes the relevant Australian Press Council guidelines.

General Guidelines

  • Only include a person’s race, religion or ethnicity if it is relevant — would you mention race if the person was white?
  • Avoid emotive or pejorative terms to describe groups of people, especially in contexts where there can be a conflation of ethnicity, race, religion and criminality.
  • Avoid outdated terms that offend, e.g. “half-caste”, “natives”, “coloured”, or “queue jumpers”. Instead, ask people how they choose to define and describe themselves.
  • Do not assume cultural background from a person’s name – check with them or their community. Only report it when it is relevant.
  • Strive for diversity and balance in your reporting, especially on social issues. Investigate the treatment and experiences of the people you interview. Remember that within communities there are diverse opinions, experiences, and treatment.
  • Exercise care, balance and proportionality when covering race issues.
  • Do not publish or broadcast comments that contain racist hate speech.
  • Be sensitive to religion and culture – for example, there is only one place called Mecca.
  • Check the MEAA’s Journalist Code of Ethics for guidance.
  • Discuss the matter with your colleagues and, if need be, your union representative.
  • Federal and state legislation has various interpretations of hate speech. Be aware of and inform yourself of these (see further resources at the end of these guidelines).
  • The Racial Discrimination Act makes it “unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private if the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or group of people; and the act is done because of race, colour, or national or ethnic origin…”

Reporting Racist Organisations

  • Consider if it is necessary to report on racist or extremist organisations – do not do so merely for the sake of “balance” or allow your journalism to provide a platform for their views. Our job is to report the truth, not provide false balance.
  • As with any reporting, check the claims made by such organisations and their members. Do not allow the untrue claims of such organisations to go unchallenged.
  • If you feel uncomfortable about covering racist organisations, get advice from MEAA.

Extremist Violence

  • Extremists seek to use the media as a platform for their actions. Do your utmost to prevent this.
  • Do not broadcast violent footage or publish an extremist manifesto to get clicks and page views.
  • Ask yourself if it is necessary to identify perpetrators and, if so, how much?
  • Ask if you are giving the same context to a non-white or overseas-born perpetrator of extremist violence as you would to a white or Australian-born perpetrator of such violence.
  • Are you treating the victims as fairly as you would anyone else in the community or are you treating people differently because of ethnicity, religion or cultural differences?
  • Extremists seek to use the media as a platform for their actions. Do your utmost to prevent this and don’t allow yourself to be used to promote extremist views or hate speech.

Reporting Immigration and Asylum

  • Use the term “immigrant” with caution – it is sometimes wrongly used to describe people born here.
  • Australia is a signatory to international laws that make us obligated to protect the rights of people seeking asylum. It is not illegal for people to seek asylum, no matter the way in which they travel to Australia. Once their claims are investigated, asylum seekers may be recognised as refugees.
  • Australia’s Customs and Immigration activities have been militarised in the name of border security. Wartime secrecy provisions have been implemented to stop information.

Additional Resources

Federal and state racial/anti-discrimination legislation

Download a .pdf of the Guidelines here.


MEAA Guidelines on Reporting Hate Speech and Extremism – Published March 2020. Authorised by Paul Murphy, Chief Executive, MEAA, 245 Chalmers Street, Redfern NSW 2016.