The leaders of the Journalists’ Union of Kazakhstan and the Head Editors’ Club presented on 30 October an ethics codex for Kazakh journalists that is intended as an “instrument of self discipline and moral and ethical orientation” to facilitate “gaining trust and respect for journalists and the mass media.” The original document was developed by the ministry of culture at Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev’s direction, but the journalists adopted a version that eliminated one of the worst clauses and, according to the chairman of the union of journalists, Saytkazy Matayev,” is satisfactory to the entire journalistic community.”
The adopted version of the codex stipulates:
1. Professional Duty
1.1. A journalist acts in the interests of the profession, freedom of speech and information, and maintaining internal political stability, inter-faith and inter-ethnic harmony, national information security, and social morals.
1.2. A journalist is accountable in name and reputation for the veracity of reports propagated under his signature, pseudonym, or anonymously with his knowledge and consent.
2. Social Accountability
2.1. A journalist facilitates the strengthening of society’s moral and ethical principles.
2.2. A journalist is aware of his responsibility and strives to ensure that his activities do not harm society’s interests.
2.3. A journalist refrains from publishing or spreading incomplete information or indicates that the report has not been verified to avoid destabilizing the social order or inciting social discord.
3. Honesty and Impartiality
3.1. A journalist adheres to the principles of honesty and impartiality and rejects any attempts at outside pressure.
3.2. A journalist uses legal methods to obtain information and does not put pressure on sources of information.
4. Reliability and Objectivity
4.1. A journalist adheres to the principle of objectivity and impartiality.
4.2. A journalist takes into account the complete spectrum of opinions on any given issue and only transmits information of whose reliability he is certain.
4.3. A journalist applies the maximum effort to obtain information from a variety fo sources in order to ensure reliability, completeness and objectivity.
4.4. A journalist clearly demarcates facts, opinion, analysis, prognosis, explanations and assumptions including his own point of view.
5. Sources and Confidentiality
5.1. A journalist will make an independent decision about disclosing or keeping an information source confidential if a conscious distortion of events or its discovery is the only way to avoid panic, political or socio-economic destabilization, or material damage of national scale.
5.2. A journalist will not use confidential information that was obtained through his professional activities for personal benefit or for the benefit of other parties.
6. Respect for Private Life, Dignity and Professional Reputation
6.1 A journalist is guided by the principles of respect for private life, human dignity and professional reputation.
6.2. A journalist acknowledges the right of a citizen and a legal entity to refuse to give information except in cases where it is required by law.
6.3. A journalist adheres to the principle of presumption of innocence.
7. Competition and Solidarity
7.1. A journalist respects intellectual property rights, including those resulting from the activities of his professional colleagues.
7.2. A journalist respects the rights of his colleagues and obeys the laws of fair competition.
7.3. A journalist helps colleagues who have suffered as a result of fulfilling their professional duties.
8. Protection and Accountability
8.1. A journalist is guaranteed all the protections the court system and other provisions of the law of Kazakhstan in the case of violence or the threat of violence, harassment, and material or moral damages.
8.2. A journalist acknowledges the current legislation of the Republic of Kazakhstan and accepts responsibility for any violations thereof. However, the points of the Codex will not be used as a legal basis by legal entities or physical persons to initiate court proceedings against a journalist.
8.3. Journalists’ violations of the points of the Codex will be subject to moral condemnation.
The last point of the document underlines that the code will not be mandatory or enforced in courts of law, but originally, before the changes made by the journalists’ union, violations were to be subject to professional censure.
Although Matayev asserted that the document was satisfactory to the entire journalistic community, some journalists disagreed. They objected its adoption, citing the absence of independent journalists from the conference and lack of any referendum on the matter among journalists. Exiled banker Mukhtar Ablyazov’s opposition online daily Respublika further alleged that the supposedly open process was not as public as the state press asserted it was. Independent journalist Lukan Akhmedyarov, who received a prize from Reporters Without Borders for professional courage, called the document “superfluous” and stated that he did not see the point in it.
One can only hope that journalists will be able to implement such standards in their reporting. Although the Kazakh constitution guarantees freedom of the press, Freedom House found that Kazakhstan’s press is “not free” with a ranking of 175 out of 197. The NGO found that journalists and media outlets that dare to criticize the government face harassment, physical attacks, and various other obstacles. Given that the code was developed at the President’s direction, it is reasonable to expect the codex will be used to continue to suppress unflattering reporting. If it is, websites, chat rooms, blogs, online stores, and electronic libraries will not be immune as they are all considered “media” under Kazakh law and some, such as Livejournal, have at times been blocked. Whether. Whether or not authors of blogs or social media postings qualify as “journalists” is unclear.