With the 2020 campaign underway, here are some reminders from the Ethics Handbook about publicly expressing political opinions.
The section on impartiality has the guidance and it applies to NPR employees inside and outside the newsroom (more on that below). Some of the highlights:
- "We don't put political bumper stickers on our cars."
- "We don't sign political petitions."
- "We don't donate money to candidates."
- "We're not advocates. We may not run for office, endorse candidates or otherwise engage in politics in a participatory or activist manner."
- "We don't put political signs in our yards."
- "If family members get involved in politics we recuse ourselves from any coverage that touches on their activities."
"Our standards of impartiality also apply to social media. ... Refrain from advocating for political or other polarizing issues online. This extends to joining online groups or using social media in any form (including your Facebook page or a personal blog). Don't express personal views on a political or other controversial issue that you could not write for the air or post on NPR.org. These guidelines apply whether you are posting under your own name or — if the online site allows pseudonyms — your identity would not be readily apparent. In reality, anything you post online reflects both on you and on NPR."
Of course, we all have opinions about things. And as the handbook says, "our experiences and perspectives are valuable assets to our journalism."
But, "we accept some unique professional obligations and limitations. Because our words and actions can damage the public's opinion of NPR, we comport ourselves in ways that honor our professional impartiality. ... The public deserves factual reporting and informed analysis without our opinions influencing what they hear or see. So we strive to report and produce stories that transcend our biases and treat all views fairly. We aggressively challenge our own perspectives and pursue a diverse range of others, aiming always to present the truth as completely as we can tell it."
On the issue of who is covered by this guidance, there's a section on that subject here. As we've said in meetings with all departments, the guidance certainly extends to everyone who "touches our journalism" in news and programming, and in departments that support them. Also, everyone at NPR should understand that the public does not differentiate between those who work in news and those who are in other parts of the organization. What we do, even something like putting a political bumper sticker on a car that we drive to work and park in an NPR garage or lot can raise questions in the public's mind about NPR's credibility.
See your supervisor or the standards & practices editor if you have questions about whether the guidance applies to you.