IMC Recommendation No.2 on the principles of inviting guests and captioning experts in information and analytical journalism

March 1, 2018

According to the results of consistent research into the influence of the media on the formation of public opinion in Ukraine, the main sources of information are national TV channels and newscasts [1]. At the same time, Ukrainian information journalism in general produces a significant number of problems related to content of news, guest studios, documentary reports, political talk shows, etc., as well as compliance with the standards of information journalism in producing such content.

Such standards that are most often laid out in broadcasters’ editorial statutes (and, unfortunately, are not met), include, in particular, standards of balance and reliability.

As noted by the Independent Media Council in its opinions on the telecast “In the Footsteps of Grant-Eaters: Special Report” by TV channel Ukraine (No. 16 of June 27, 2017) [2] and on the story “Selection of Judges to the Supreme Court: Who Pulled Plug on the Process” in the program “Details” on Inter TV channel on June 13, 2017 (No. 17 of July 5, 2017) [3], balance includes giving the floor to all parties to the conflict issue, as well as experts. Reliability, in turn, specifically implies that there is an identified and confirmed source of each fact heard in a particular program or material.

Returning to the problems that information journalism in Ukraine faces with regard to compliance with the aforementioned standards, it is worth dwelling on the problem of “expertise”. A significant number of events occurring worldwide require qualified, expert comments from specialists in relevant fields. Thanks to such comments, it is possible to create high-quality journalistic content.

At the same time, Ukraine has a situation, where a number of media neglect the need to thoroughly select experts for their information and analytical materials. As a result, it is common for an expert to comment repeatedly on unrelated topics or different fields – from the US presidential election to removing garbage from Lviv. Obviously, such individuals’ comments are of questionable value, and they no longer act as experts in a particular field, but areactually showmen and / or transmitters of certain political and business interests.

The problem is not however limited to choosing experts. It is often the case that a person who may really be an expert in some field is captioned something like a “political expert”, “political scientist”, “media expert”, “public activist”, or not captioned at all. This practice is due to the fact that media editors fear that specifyinga person’s position, place of workor any other information about experts or event participants might be regarded as advertising. However, during the pre-election period, such fears vanished, and representatives of respective political forces were often properly captioned, and even in the post-election period, such as Serhiy Kaplin, who is often not only captioned “MP” but also “representative of a certain political party”).

Captioning a person as an abstract “professional” or “expert” makes it difficult for the average viewer to understand the level of competence of the invited guest and, most importantly, identify them as the representative of a particular profession or a company, institution, public organization, etc.

Therefore, in our opinion, there are two main problems regarding”expertise” in the information space:

1) compliance with the standards of balance and accuracy by inviting qualified experts in certain fields to provide comments;

2) compliance with the standard of reliability by properly captioning the experts.

І. Balance, accuracy and inviting qualified experts

1.1. It is hard to clearly identify qualifications of an expert on a particular topic due to the vast range of reasons: a large number of experts in a particular field; the absence of and impossibility to set a single criterion to determinea person’s competence; hypothetical corporate interests and bias, etc. Despite the public sector’s attempts to develop experts’ databases for the media [4][5][6], as well as the recently created database of the Ukrainian Catholic University’s own experts [7], they have not gained popularitywith information channels and media in general.

1.2. However, at the practical level of complying with journalistic standards, the problem of getting experts to comment on certain events in the information materials should be viewed primarily in terms of balance and accuracy of information. Engaging experts is one of the main tools for achieving the balance of alternative points of view on a problem by providing an unbiased opinion from the outside.

1.3. As mentioned above, it is common practice to seek out”experts in everything” – individuals ready to comment on any events around them. This practice is unacceptable as it distorts content significantly reducing its quality.

There are several hypothetical ways of how media could protect themselves from allegations of dishonesty in the context of inviting individual guests and experts. Firstly, media should be eager to invitedifferent experts and guests. Because, as noted above, some industries have broad representation and it is possible to invite a variety of professionals, “diluting” the usual talking heads. It should also be borne in mind that some fields are relatively narrow making the search for relevant experts truly difficult.

Secondly, media must also carry out due diligence regarding possible conflict of interest and integrity of the invited guests and experts. In a number of materials, especially those related to politics, there is a dangerous tendency to invite representatives of unknown public organizations and associations to comment and express “alternative” opinions, – or even deliberately invite experts who are not there to really oppose or provide a balance of views, unbiased views, but confirm the ideas originally expressed by the authors. Consumers of media materials thus get a distorted picture of a particular issue.

Thirdly, inviting politicians as experts should be done with caution. On the one hand, MPs, especially those working in relevant committees, can indeed be experts in regulation of one area or another. On the other hand, it should be understood that there is a significant risk that they will relay the views of their political force on a range of issues. Therefore, only individuals whose political impartiality is beyond doubt should act as experts. Those who, at least hypothetically, might have a personal interest in a particular issue, should be presented accordingly in the media. Politicians must comment on social and political phenomena either on behalf of the political force they represent, or within the scope of their competence, either professional (previous expertise, scientific work, etc.) or official (representinga corresponding parliamentary committee or being in chargeof a particular sphere).

1.4. We would like to emphasize that the work of professional journalistssimultaneously serves the interests of the audience, including, in particular, professional performance of the dutiesof preparing information. These founding principles are also set out in Articles 10 and 19 of the Ethics Code of Ukrainian Journalists. According to Article 10 of the Code “the views of opponents, including those who have been the object of journalistic criticism, should be presented in a balanced way. The assessments by independent experts should also be presented.” Article 19 deserves special attention: “Deliberate violation of the ethics code is absolutely incompatible with professional journalism.”Failure to provide information about an expert, their incomplete presentation can be considered a deliberate violation of ethics, as it deprives the audience of full information about the expert making it possible to manipulate opinion.Instead, journalists should make an effort to thoroughly study the situation and context, making a proper selection of experts competent in the subject, and providingtheir audience with full and comprehensive information on the issue being covered. Without the secrecy of experts and without the risk of manipulating the opinion of the audience about true qualifications of an expert, commenting on this or that information or event.

1.5.There is no denying the right to discuss various ways of Ukraine’s development as a state, and it should be noted that media should be responsible in inviting politicians as experts on general topics known to have used hate speech, manipulated facts, been biased, etc. during the armed aggression of the Russian Federation, whentalking with themdoes not have to do with those individuals’ specific activities or their responsibility for certain actions.

1.6. In view of this, the Independent Media Council calls on the representatives of the Ukrainian media market to take a more cautious approach to selecting personsto provide expert comments in information and analytical materials. Such selection should take due account of a person’s previous experience and ability to comment on a subject, impartiality on the topic or certain political and business forces, the need to ensure variability of the expert environment, as well as such a person’s possible conflict of interest.

ІІ. Captioning experts and reliability

2.1. As for captioning, it is widely thought that specifying a commentator’s position or place of work in the captions for the material is an advertisement. According to the definition in the Law of Ukraine On Advertising, advertising is information about a person or goods, disseminated in any form and by any means, and aimed at the development of and maintenance of advertising consumers’ awareness and their interest related to such a person or goods[8] It is a broad definition, allowing one to consider advertising a wide range of different materials.

2.2. The purpose of advertising should be separated from the purpose of informing guests on the air -there are good grounds for differentiating the criteria for maintaining awareness and interest in a particular personin the current legislation. Special attention should be paid to Article 9 of the Law of Ukraine On Advertising about identifying advertisements.

This Article’s logic is that advertising should clearly be separated from other information through any means and by using the word “advertising”. At the same time, this article provides for exceptions for the materials that should not be identified as advertising:

The logo of aTV or radio organization broadcasting the program;

A sign or plate with information about a person, etc., on the inner surface of a person’s own (or granted-for-use) premises, on the outer surface of a house or building not higher than the first floor, or on the floor where a person’s own or granted-for-use premises are located.

The main feature uniting those exceptions is their purpose -of providing information about the program’s broadcaster, the person providing a certain type of service, etc., without the purpose of “selling” something. By its very nature, captioning the persons present in a particular studio or being featured in certain materials, or invitedto comment on a certain socially important event, also fulfills the function of duly informing about the essence of the event, the phenomenon covered in it. And it helps accurately identify the participants in the program.

2.3. Apart from the informing function, proper captioning makes it possible to identify relevant competencies and positions of TV speakers, commentators in print media, facilitating the ability to fact-check how qualified the comments provided by a person are, whether it is an unbiased expert in the field, or how authentic (reliable) information provided by such a person is.

2.4. It is also worth noting that advertising is unacceptablein newscastsor information and analytical materials. Of course, in the context of captioning, there is anissue of hidden advertising, paid news, etc. and differentiatingit from simply informingthe audience about a person. However, in our opinion, it is worth distinguishing between these facts.

According to applicable law, hidden advertising isinformation about a person or goods in a program, telecast, publication, if such information serves advertising purposes and may mislead individuals about the true purpose of such programs, telecasts, publications. One of the signs of hidden advertising or paid news is providingrespective names, positions, and the like, but always together with other signs. Specifically, such signs are a lack of relevant news or informational value in covering the activities of a person, just asany facts giving grounds to speak about someperson’s explicit interestin conveying information about themselves or their services or relevant signs, which clearly prevails over the consumers’ interest in receiving such information. Another factor to consider is the repeated appearance of the same experts or mentions of certain individuals / organizations in the same programs.

2.5. In view of this, the Independent Media Council believes that captioning experts as representing a particular organization, including specifyingthe experts’  positions during their commenting on topical issues should not be regarded as advertisingin information and analytical journalism. In the absence of signs of hidden advertising, such captioning should be considered as good practice promoting compliance with such standards of journalistic activity as the reliability and accuracy of information.


The Independent Media Council, guided by paragraph 4 of the Regulations on the Independent Media Council, and alsowith the purpose of improving information and analytical content in the Ukrainian media, recommends that:

1) Ukrainian media

carry out a proper assessment of the qualifications of experts in a particular field before inviting them to express an opinion;

abandon the practice of invitingbiased personshaving conflict of interest to comment on any topic under the guise of independent experts;

incumbent politicians not be invited as experts;provide all comments by politicians with captions that properly indicate affiliation to a certain political force;

– invite responsibly politicians known for their hate speech, manipulating facts, bias, comment on general topics. Especially during the armed aggression of the Russian Federation;

 – properly identify experts and persons invited to comment or participate in the program, specifying their position and place of work;

2) The National Council on Television and Radio Broadcasting

apply this approach to the captioning of experts and guests of the program;

not considersuch captioning as advertisingin case of disputes;

3) experts and persons invitedto comment on socially significant events

clearly identify their own qualifications and competence in their respectivefields;

deliberately refuse to provide media commentary outside their field of expertise;

4) representatives of civil society and donors

encourage creating and promoting independent expert media databases;

 – carefully check the qualifications of the experts listed in respective catalogs in creating expert databases.








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