navigation bar U.S. Diplomatic Mission to GermanyAbout the USASitemapSearch Deutsch

The Media in the United States > Media Ethics
| Freedom of the Press | Media Ethics |
| Magazines | Radio | Television | Online Journalism

What kind of information materials are available?
CD: Texts available on CD version.Texts available in multiple languages.

FAIR - Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting
Foundation for American Communications (
Freedom Forum
Media Alliance
Media & Ethics (IIP) CD
The News Media & The Law (Magazine of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press)
Organization of News Ombudsmen
Pew Center for Civic Journalism
Pew Research Center for the People & the Press
Poynter Media Ethics Bibliography
Project for Excellence in Journalim & Committee of Concerned Journalists
 Reliable Sources (CNN Program Transcripts)
RTNDA Ethics (Radio-Television News Directors Association)
Seeking Free and Responsible Media (IIP) CD
U.S. Media Law (Cornell University Legal Information Institute
Watchdog Journalism Project (Nieman Foundation)

Original Documents
APME Code of Ethics (Associated Press Managing Editors)
ASNE Statement of Principles (American Society of Newspaper Editors)
ASME Best Practices for Digital Media (American Society of Magazine Editors)

Codes of Ethics from U.S. News Organizations

Handbook of Independent Journalism 2006 (IIP)
Journalist's Creed (National Press Club)
Online Ethics Codes Examples
RTNDA Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct (Radio-Television News Directors Association)
Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics

Link Lists
Yahoo - Media Ethics and Accountability

U.S. Constitution

The investigative journalism and the "watchdog" role developed by the American press in the 1960s and early 1970s gave way to increased attention to "journalism ethics." During the Vietnam War, the press played a major role in accelerating the U.S. exit from an unpopular war. During the Watergate investigation, two persistent reporters from the Washington Post, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, succeeded in uncovering facts that led to the resignation of President Nixon. There was, however, also a feeling that the press sometimes went too far, crossing the fine line between the public's right to know and both the right of individuals to privacy and the obligation of the government to protect national security. In many cases, the courts have decided when and if the press has overstepped its rights. In 1971, the government tried to stop the New York Times from publishing a secret study of the Vietnam War known as the Pentagon Papers, claiming that publication would damage national security. But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that since the government could not demonstrate the extent of the damage to national security, the newspapers should be free to publish the information.

Faced, however, with polls showing decreasing credibility in press reports, media organizations throughout the 1980s placed renewed emphasis on ethics, taking advantage of such vehicles as codes, news councils and ombudsmen. Journalistic codes of ethics have been in use in the United States since 1923. The American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) approved the first such code; followed by the Society of Professional Journalists/Sigma Delta Chi and the Associated Press Managing Editors. These voluntary ethical codes of the three major newspaper professional organizations offer important guidelines, calling on journalists to perform with intelligence, objectivity, accuracy and fairness.

One of the most important issues for American journalists, however, remains the conflict between two deeply held beliefs: the right to know and the right to privacy and fair treatment. It is not a conflict that can be resolved with a single formula, but only on a case-by-case basis. Although the First Amendment protects the press from government interference, the press does not have complete freedom. There are laws against libel and invasion of privacy, as well as limits on what reporters may do in order to get a story. Television news journalists operate under an additional restriction called the Fairness Doctrine. Under this rule, when a station presents one viewpoint on a controversial issue, the public interest requires the station to give representatives of opposing viewpoints a chance to broadcast a reply. The U.S. court system, state and federal legislatures, regulatory bodies, the public and the media will all continue to have a hand in shaping how such legal and ethical issues are handled.

Texts are abridged from U.S. State Department IIP publications and other U.S. government materials.
Any reference obtained from this server to a specific commercial product, process, or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement by the United States Government of the product, process, or service, or its producer or provider. The views and opinions expressed in any referenced document do not necessarily state or reflect those of the United States Government.
US Embassy
U.S. Diplomatic Mission to Germany
/Public Affairs/ Information Resource Centers 
Updated: December 2008