The Nine Network of Public Media Editorial Standards and Policies
- Introduction The Editorial Standards and policies set forth in this document address the primary principles and standards by which the Nine Network of Public Media evaluates content to be distributed in its broadcasts, on its website or in publications. These principles and standards primarily pertain to the criteria by which Nine evaluates content for distribution but also applies to the processes by which content is produced, either by or for Nine or any other entity whose content might be presented by Nine. Nine is responsible and accountable for the quality and integrity of the content it distributes. If Nine concludes that content fails to satisfy its overall standards of quality or any applicable standard or practice, Nine may reject the content for distribution. As a public television station, Nine is a licensee of the Federal Communications Commission and, as such, bears a non-delegable duty to assure that its broadcast program services fulfill its statutory obligations as a broadcaster. In addition, as a community licensee, Nine is directly responsible for the quality and integrity of the broadcast services it provides the people of the St. Louis region. This document is founded in the Public Broadcasting Service (“PBS”) program policies that were first adopted in 1971/72, updated in 1987 and most recently updated and adopted on June 14, 2005.
- Guiding Principles The Nine Network of Public Media is a 501 C (3) nonprofit organization that operates in the public interest by serving the needs of its community. Four fundamental principles shape the content of the programs and services Nine provides: editorial integrity, quality, diversity and community service.
- Editorial Integrity Nine’s reputation for quality reflects the public’s trust in the editorial integrity of the station’s broadcast content and the process by which it is produced and distributed. Nine is responsible for shielding the creative and editorial processes from political pressure or improper influence from funders or other sources. Nine makes every effort to ensure that the content it distributes satisfies editorial standards designed to assure integrity.
- Quality In selecting programs and other content for its services, Nine seeks the highest quality available. Selection decisions require professional judgments about many different aspects of content quality, including, but not limited to excellence, creativity, artistry, accuracy, balance, fairness, timeliness, innovation, boldness, thoroughness, credibility and technical virtuosity. Similar judgments must be made about the content’s ability to stimulate, enlighten, educate, inform, challenge, entertain and amuse.
- Diversity To meet its local needs, Nine strives to offer a wide choice of quality content. Content diversity furthers the goals of a democratic society by enhancing public access to the full range of ideas, information, subject matter and perspectives required to make informed judgments about the issues of our time. It also furthers public television’s special mandate to serve many different and discrete audiences. The goal of diversity also requires continuing efforts to assure that Nine content fully reflects the pluralism of our society, including, for example, appropriate representation of women and minorities. The diversity of public television producers and funders helps to assure that content distributed by Nine is not dominated by any single point of view.
- Service to the Community Nine’s primary commitment is to provide programs and services that elevate the quality of life in the St. Louis region. Nine believes it can best serve the community by upholding the high standards set forth by PBS and by striving to incorporate those standards in to every endeavor. It is through integrity, quality, diversity and community service that the greatest potential of public broadcasting is realized. Whether in programming, production, educational services, the website or community partnerships, Nine is guided by these values.
- Editorial Standards Precision in editorial standards is especially difficult because it is impossible to articulate every criterion that might enter into the evaluation of the quality and integrity of particular content. Moreover, a criterion considered mandatory for straight news reporting may not always be applicable to public affairs forums, documentaries or dramatic programs. Content evaluation is an art, not a science. The process requires professional judgments about the value of content in relation to a broad range of informational, aesthetic, technical and other considerations. Nine’s task, therefore, is to weigh the merits of potential content and assure that, when viewed in its entirety, the content achieves the best balance among these considerations. These Standards and Policies embody the goals of integrity and quality to which Nine aspires, recognizing that judgments about how these standards apply may differ depending on format or subject, and that not all content succeeds equally in satisfying all of these standards. NIne recognizes that the producers of informational content deal neither in absolute truth nor in absolute objectivity. Information is by nature fragmentary; the honesty of a program, website or other content can never be measured by a precise, scientifically verifiable formula. Therefore, content quality ultimately depends on each producer’s professionalism, independence, honesty, integrity, sound judgment, common sense, open mindedness and intention to inform, not to propagandize.
- Fairness Fairness to the audience implies several responsibilities. Content must neither oversimplify complex situations nor camouflage straightforward facts. Nine may reject a program or other content if Nine believes that it contains any unfair or misleading presentation of facts, including inaccurate statements of material fact, undocumented statements of fact that appear questionable on their face, misleading juxtapositions, misrepresentations or distortions. Nine will reject content if, in its judgment, the content unfairly treats people or misrepresents their views. Fair treatment of individuals generally requires that the words and actions of the people portrayed or identified are represented in a way that presents their strongest case and gives individuals or organizations that are the subjects of attack or criticism an opportunity to respond. Fairness also requires the consideration of all relevant information and points of view.
- Accuracy The honesty and integrity of informational content depends heavily upon its factual accuracy. Every effort must be made to assure that content is presented accurately and in context. Programs, websites and other content containing editorials, analysis, commentary and points of view must be held to the same standards of factual accuracy as news reports. A commitment to accuracy includes a willingness to correct the record if persuasive new information warrants a correction and to respond to feedback and questions from audiences. Nine will strive to verify the accuracy of content in its productions. Producers of informational content must exercise extreme care in verifying information, especially as it may relate to accusations of wrongdoing, and be prepared to correct material errors. Nine will reject content that, in its judgment, fails to meet Nine’s standard of accuracy.
- Objectivity Along with fairness and accuracy, objectivity is the third basic standard by which Nine evaluates the content it distributes. Objectivity encompasses more than the neutral presentation of news and information. Objectivity also refers to the process by which a work is produced, including work that involves analysis or, as a result of reporting, arrives at conclusions. Those who develop content for public broadcast must enter into any inquiry with an open mind, not with the intent to present a predetermined point of view. Beyond that, for a work to be considered objective, it should reach a certain level of transparency. In a broad sense, this spirit of transparency means the audience should be able to understand the basics of how the producers put the material together. And when controversy is anticipated, producers should prepare to help audiences understand editorial decisions, particularly regarding anonymous sources of information. In the spirit of transparency, producers should be able to explain the derivation of a point of view. One aspiration implicit in the idea of transparency is that an audience might appreciate and learn from content with which it also might disagree. Opinion and commentary are different from news and analysis. When a program, segment or other content is devoted to opinion or commentary, the principle of transparency requires that opinion be clearly labeled as such. Any content segment that presets only like-minded views without offering contrasting viewpoints should be considered opinion and should identify who is responsible for the views being presented.
- Balance Nine seeks to present, over time, content that addresses a broad range of subjects from a variety of viewpoints. Nine may, however, choose to consider not only the extent to which the content contributes to balance overall, but also the extent to which specific content is fairly presented in light of available evidence. Where appropriate, Nine may condition acceptance of content on the producer’s willingness to further the goal of balance by deleting designated footage or by including other points of view on the issues presented or material from which the public might draw a conclusion different from that suggested by the content. Material to be added may range from a few words, to a complete content segment, to an added episode in a series of programs, to the production of an entirely separate, new program. For online content, links to credible, high-quality, related resources may be used to provide access to additional information or viewpoints.
- Responsiveness to the Public Nine’s commitment to the community it serves includes accountability and responsiveness. Nine will answer audience questions and respond to criticisms about programs and content. Public feedback will be labeled as such, and standards – such as those relating to obscenity or personal attacks – will be applied.
- Courage and Controversy Nine seeks content that provides courageous and responsible treatment of issues and honest reporting of social, political, and economic tensions, disagreements and divisions. The surest road to intellectual stagnation and social isolation is to stifle the expression of uncommon ideas; today’s dissent may be tomorrow’s orthodoxy. The ultimate task of weighing and judging information and viewpoints is, in a free and open society, the task of the audience. Therefore, Nine seeks to assure that its overall content offerings contain a broad range of opinions and points of view, including those from outside society’s existing consensus, presented in a responsible manner and consistent with the standards set forth in these Standards and Policies.
- Experimentation and Innovation Nine seeks content that is innovative in format, technique or substance. The absence of commercial considerations accords Nine the freedom to experiment in ways not always tolerable in the commercial environment. Though standards of quality, substance and public service always prevail, the potential for innovation can be fully realized only if Nine is bold enough to take occasional risks.
- Exploration of Significant Subjects Unlike their commercial counterparts, public television stations do not sell time for profit and are, therefore, free from the constraints that compel commercial broadcasters to pursue the largest audience. Nine seeks programs that explore significant subjects even if those subjects or their treatment may not be expected to appeal to a large audience.
- Unprofessional Conduct Nine expects producers to adhere to the highest professional standards. Nine may reject content if Nine has reason to believe that a producer has violated basic standards of professional conduct. Examples of unprofessional conduct by a producer include such things as plagiarism, fabrication, obtaining information by bribery or coercion, insensitivity to tragedy or grief, and real or perceived conflicts of interest such as accepting gifts, favors or compensation from those who might seek to influence the producer’s work.
- Objectionable Material Responsible treatment of important issues may sometimes require the inclusion of controversial or sensitive material, but good taste must prevail in Nine content. Morbid or sensational details, or material that is gratuitously offensive to general taste or manners (e.g., extreme violence, racial epithets, strong language, nudity, sexism), should not be included unless it is necessary to an understanding of the matter at hand. Questions of taste cannot be answered in the abstract, but when specific problems arise, they must be resolved in light of contemporary standards of taste, the state of the law and the newsworthiness and overall value of the material. If Nine concludes that the exclusion of such material would distort an important reality or impair the content’s artistic quality, Nine may accept the content, provided it carries appropriate notice to the viewer. Conversely, Nine may reject content that, in its judgment, needlessly contains objectionable material that compromises the content’s quality or integrity.