On February 12, Tabula dismissed one of its journalists due to the publication of an incorrect information on its webpage, deleted the material and made apology.
According to the explanation of the editorial staff, Tabula is loyal to the standard of perfectly accurate and undistorted conveyance of information, so it couldn’t allow a shadow was cast on the reputation on all the staff members because of a mistake made by single journalist.
This is not the first time when a Georgian media outlet made a mistake. However, this was the first time when an employee was dismissed because of a mistake.
What are the standards Georgian media outlets resort to in case a mistake is made in the material, how the responsibility is shared between the members of editorial staff, and what kind of sanctions should be for that matter- these are the issues Media.Ge discussed with representatives of Tabula, Netgazeti, TV company Maestro, and the Charter of Journalistic Ethics. Here are their responses on the questions put by Media.Ge
- Who’s responsible in case of a mistake in the story/article? (how the responsibility is supposed to be distributed between various links of editorial staff?)
Tamar Chergoleishvili ( editor of Tabula): the responsibility falls totally upon the editorial staff.
Maia Metskhvarishvili ( editor of the Netgazeti): it goes without saying that a journalist preparing the material is responsible for the accuracy of the facts published in the article. In this case the editor supervising the journalist or editing the material, is responsible too.
Media outlets have working regimes, when the journalist on duty performs the functions of a producer or editor in night hours, however that circumstance doesn’t relieve the editor of the responsibility. Of course, when you entrust publication of a material to a journalist, it means that you, as an editor, trust that journalist. If he/she doesn’t live up to the expectation, the reader doesn’t care. It’s a situation when both the journalist and the editor are responsible for the product- here, in the Netgazeti, we have an equal sharing of the responsibility.
Nino Zhizhilashvili ( head of Maestro info service): depends on the scale of a mistake. I think that the editor and producer, the one responsible for the publishing of information is also responsible for the mistake. If a journalist conveys an unverified information during a live air, the editor and producer cannot do anything in this situation. That’s the case the journalist is one being responsible. If the editor has read the material, but s still overlooked the mistakes, in this case the responsibility falls upon the editor, but on the journalist as well.
It also depends on the type of a mistake; was it an incorrectly written name or a distorted fact.
Tamar Rukhadze ( executive director of the Charter of Journalistic Ethics): In general, the responsibility for a mistake in a story/article falls upon both the editor(the responsible or the chief editor) and the journalist. Each case is different, and depends on several factors, e.g. the rules established in the organization, the way the duties and responsibilities are distributed, the preconditions or circumstances of the mistake, and the responsibility share of the participants in the mistake.
There can be a situation when an editor has greater degree of responsibility than journalist. For instance, if a beginner journalist is writing an important material under your supervision and a mistake slips in, the responsibility in this case falls totally on you, not upon the journalist.
- How a mistake made in the story/article should be corrected?
It should be corrected by correcting the information and an apology.
Maia Metskhvarishvili: when a mistake is made, the material should be corrected in the first place. The key point here is the reader that has been misled. It’s necessary that the issue is resolved- the reader is provided an explanation as to what’s happened. In that kind of situation we never remove or correct the material without adding comments to it first- what’s been said in the beginning and what’s been corrected. If the major part of an article consists of significantly wrong information, and will be removed from the webpage, the editorial staff should as well explain that to the reader.
We didn’t invent those standards- there is the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics, and the majority of our editorial board is its signees, including me, as an editor. The Charter itself also has an article prescribing that the editorial staff has a liability to correct significantly wrong information, and provides guidelines for the correction.
Nino Zhizhilashvili: there are classic methods of mistake correction- you must say that you have made a mistake, it’s very simple and nothing to be ashamed of. When you err, it’s a more appropriate behavior would be to correct it rather than to assume the responsibility. That allows you to compensate for the mistake made.
Depending on the damage inflicted on the party; if there is a mistake in the name or the title of a person, in this case the journalist can make apology him/herself. But if an article hurt smb’s pride, or inflicted a moral damage, than you can satisfy the request of the aggrieved party- by preparing an explanatory story or article.
Tamar Rukhadze: Article 5 of the Charter prescribes correction of a mistake in a material- the media is obliged to correct fundamentally wrong information misleading the society. The given article imposes upon journalists and editors the responsibility to honestly declare publication of an incorrect information and to correct it. Preparation of another story or article in which the incorrect information is substituted with the correct one, but without preliminary announcement of the mistake made, is unacceptable.
- What sanctions should the editorial staff impose both on journalist and the editor? ( should they dismissed an employee?)
Tamar Chergoleishvili: it’s up to the editorial staff what sanction to use. That depends on the damage inflicted on the publishing company. A situation with an incorrectly written name, or an orthographic mistake or being late for work is one thing, and a mistake as a result of which a shadow is cast of the reputation of the whole company is another thing. That concrete mistake [Tabula Admitted Mistake and Dismissed Journalist-Media.Ge]I’ve considered as the second situation, so I made the difficult decision of dismissing the journalist responsible. I believe that will be an effective sobering factor for other journalists of Tabula. My opinion is that they’ll pay a closer attention to the verification of information they write.
Maia Metskhvarishvili: All that is the subject of internal regulations, negotiations, and agreement. When a contract is made, it should stipulate for the responsibilities- circumstances under which the contract may be abolished. If a contract provides for the dismissal of a journalist in case of a mistake of his/her part, and both sides sign it- in this case it’s possible. In our case, we issue a warning for the first incident, and in case of the recurrence there can be a dismissal.
If a journalist makes a mistake due to his/her lack experience, or for some technical reasons, we don’t impose a sanction upon that journalist if it’s the first time, as our agreement doesn’t provide for that. If I, as an editor, had selected staff members that systematically make mistakes, then the greater portion of responsibility would fall upon me.
Previously, our webpage didn’t specify under the materials the names of the author journalists - I’ve never evaded the responsibility for the mistakes made by reporters.
Correction of mistakes should be oriented towards the reader, not to please somebody. If that requires dismissal of a journalists- fine, but I think there are other ways to settle the issue.
Nino Zhizhilashvili: you can reprimand a journalist, or impose a pecuniary sanction. In case of the recurrence a dismissal may be an option too, but that is stipulated by certain contracts- each case in different. I think a journalist shouldn’t be dismissed for just one mistake, but, of course, that depends on the mistake itself.
Tamar Rukhadze: the sanction depends on the decision made by the company’s management. There is no mandatory sanction for a mistake. Perhaps, a mistake itself determines the strictness of the sanction, and each company calculates the damage caused by the mistake in its own way.