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Mediacheck: "Kremenchutska Hazeta" website has violated several paragraphs of the Code of Ethics while covering a lawsuit

01.06.2022, 10:37
Photo: Kremenchutska Hazeta
Photo: Kremenchutska Hazeta

After a short break taken due to the war, Detector Media and the Institute of Mass Information have renewed the complaint mechanism for low-quality journalistic content that violates the law and professional standards. A special form for filing a public complaint has been posted on the websites of Detector Media and the Institute of Mass Information. Anyone may file a complaint; anonymous complaints are not taken into consideration. This mechanism serves to provide prompt advice on media violations. If the submitted content indicates a difficult situation, the organizations submit the complaints to the Commission for Journalistic Ethics and the Independent Media Council.

Conclusion №135 on the content from "Kremenchutska Hazeta" website, titled "It became known how builders and officials were cashing in on the creation of a cardiac surgery service in 'Kremencutska' hospital"

I. Information on the complaint and the contested material

1. On October 19, 2021, the Mediacheck Initiative received a complaint from a citizen who considered the content to be unbalanced and pointed out that the investigation's theory was presented in it as a fait accompli.

2. The contested content was published on October 19 in the sections "News" and "Kremenchuk and Regions," with Lazor Lesnin mentioned as the author. The content starts with photos of building materials stacked in a dark corridor next to a tripod for filming equipment.

3. The content tells about a trial concerning the extension of the criminal proceedings validity period for the embezzlement of money allocated for the construction of the hospital.

ІІ. Standards of journalistic ethics that regulate this area of ​​public relations

Code of Ethics for Ukrainian Journalists (as amended in 2013):

  • "Coverage of trials must be impartial towards the accused. A journalist cannot call a person a criminal before the according court decision is made" (paragraph 4).
  • "Respect for the public's right to complete and objective information about facts and events is the first duty of a journalist ..." (paragraph 6).
  • "Editorial processing of materials, including photos, texts, headlines, the consistency between the video and the text, etc., should not falsify the content…" (paragraph 8).
  • "… Dissemination of information containing bias or unfounded accusations is inadmissible" (paragraph 9).
  • "Opinions of opponents, including those who have been the subject of journalistic criticism, must be presented in a balanced way. The assessments of independent experts must also be presented" (paragraph 10).

III. Assessment of the reviewed content

1. When informing the audience about a court decision, the journalist should explain the content of this decision, paying particular attention to whether it concerns the procedural aspects of the case or its substance, whether it is final, and so on.

2. Limits of consideration. The initiative, due to its competences, is only reviewing the specific media content, so this conclusion is not a confirmation of the rightness of the law enforcement party or other participants of the criminal proceedings mentioned in the content.

3. Balance. The content in question mentions the participants in the criminal proceedings, in particular the company "Firma Budivelny Dvir" (there is also a link to an online database where this company is mentioned as "LLC 'Firma BD,'" the names and patronymics of the CEO and other people working at the company are also available). Then, the content mentions the Department of Housing and Communal Services of the Kremenchuh City Council Executive Committee, the Kremenchuh City Department of Capital Construction, and the non-commercial medical enterprise "Kremenchuh Intensive Care Hospital," which, according to the investigation, were involved in the money embezzling. The criminal proceedings may have a very negative effect on the reputation of these organizations, so the coverage of this situation needed to be balanced, i.e. to include a presentation of their position as well, but their position is not mentioned in the content, nor is it stated whether the publication tried to ask about it. This is a violation of the professional standard of balanced presentation of information.

4. Comprehensiveness. Lack of balance is also a violation of the standard of comprehensiveness of information. In addition, the content does not explain that this court decision was made in the form of an approval and is procedural – it only concerns the extension of the investigation period and does not establish the facts or (absence of) guilt. On the contrary, the text of the article in question conveys the position of the investigation, which believes that there was a "misappropriation of budget funds during construction work," without explaining that this is not the court's position in this case. Instead, at the beginning of the content, it is stated: "According to the court ruling..." From these words it is possible to draw a false conclusion that this is the position of the court and not the investigators. This is despite the fact that the court's ruling to extend the investigation period can not include an assessment of the guilt (or innocense) on principle. Such nuances are not obvious to an average reader who has not studied law. Thus, the professional standard for comprehensive presentation of information has been violated.

5. Regarding the headline. It is articulated as if the officials and builders' wanton actions "became known." It has already been explained above that the content gives the false impression that the facts of embezzlement have been established in this court decision. Although the text of the content states that the decision only concerned the extension of the investigation period, the title gives the impression that the crime has already been proved, i.e. the headline does not correspond to the content of the material. And this is a violation of paragraph 8 of the Code of Ethics.

6. Impartiality of the content in the context of the trial. Although no criminal charges are being considered in substance, the court process is already underway. According to the Initiative, after the start of criminal proceedings, the media cannot be so harsh in their rhetoric about the alleged offenders, unlike when a potential offense has just been reported to the press and it is not yet known whether this information will lead to criminal proceedings. It is substantiated above that the material gives a false impression of proven offence, although the court ruling is purely procedural. It is obvious that this material is biased against the participants in the criminal proceedings, so paragraph 4 of the Code of Ethics is also violated. Paragraph 9 of the Code does not apply to this case, because paragraph 4 is a special rule and takes precedence.

The Mediacheck Initiative believes that 'Kremenchutska Hazeta' website's news item titled "It became known how builders and officials were cashing in on the creation of a cardiac surgery service in 'Kremencutska' hospital" violated paragraphs 4, 6, 8 and 10 of the Code of Ethics for Ukrainian Journalists.

This conclusion cannot serve as a confirmation of the rightness of any of the parties in the relevant litigation.

May 31, 2022

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