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Guidelines for Public Media Employees in Their Off-Hour Activities

Given the CPB statutory requirement on “objectivity and balance,” public media’s ethos is similar to that of journalists who seek truth and accountability and, like journalists; this requires voluntarily ethical obligations on and off the job.

What follows are guidelines to public media employees in their off-hour activities with an eye toward protecting the public trust in public media.


  • Serve the public interest
  • Seek public trust


  • Defend the public trust of public media
  • Be congruent in personal and professional behavior


Separate personal communication from employer communication

  • Use your work email address only for professional correspondence
  • Use work computers and servers only for professional purposes
  • Avoid using company name, logo, call letters or other official identification on personal blogs or personal social media accounts
  • Use disclaimers that identify personal opinions as your own, not those of your employer
  • Avoid divulging internal, work-related discussions, plans, data, etc. Assume business meetings are off-the-record
  • When building an online following, recognize that by using your professional identity, you do so as a shared endeavor with your employer. Otherwise keep separate your personal and professional identities and followings
  • Assume all online communication is public, everywhere, forever
  • Manage your online reputation carefully
  • Think before you post
  • Understand terms of service may allow distribution and storage of personal information
  • Monitor what OTHERS write on your wall or tag in photographs. Request its removal if you find it damaging
  • Respect privacy – do not post items or pictures of others without their consent.

Practice Transparency

  • Do not hide behind a cloak of anonymity.
  • If you engage in altering Wikipedia or establishing other reference information online, divulge your interests

Model integrity and high standards in your personal life, online or off

  • Know and mind the law. Don’t use ignorance as an excuse
  • Strive for accuracy and truthfulness
  • Respect copyright
  • Be polite, contributive (“Do unto others…”)
  • Resist anger, deliberate provocations or taking things too personally
  • Be proactive – confirm facts before you post, be quick to correct errors, inform others ahead of posting if you plan to mention them
  • Avoid dealing in rumors or gossip

Protect You and Your Employer’s “Objectivity and Balance” Standards

  • If you are a journalist, follow your journalistic code of ethics
  • If you are not a journalist, but your station is regarded as a news station, you’ll need to be equally mindful of the journalistic code of ethics
  • If you are not a journalist and your station is not regarded as a news station, you will still want to abide by ethical tenets that assure public trust in you, your company and the broader public media sphere
  • Avoid bumper stickers, lawn signs, and other displays of partisan preference on controversial or sensitive issues in which you are trusted to engage non- preferentially
  • Similarly don’t display online badges, tokens or other insignia associated with an issues agenda
  • Avoid links or “retweets” when they may be interpreted as partisan endorsements on controversial or sensitive topics
  • Similarly, avoid joining or participating in online or offline groups with agendas that may give rise to real or perceived bias on matters of public interest or controversy
  • Similarly, be mindful of “liking” or “friending” people and things that imply partisan endorsements on sensitive issues
  • Avoid trafficking in fake news as the joke can backfire (by someone taking it seriously and causing you embarrassment)
  • Encourage sensitivity to journalistic ethics by your spouse or partner. Their political bumper sticker or lawn sign can be mistaken for your own.
  • Always be mindful to differentiate fact from opinion, and label accordingly
  • Exercise journalistic privilege – such as use of press passes, press access, press credentials – only in bona fide ways with appropriate personnel
  • Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment so as to avoid any real or perceived influence by those with an agenda or with whom you need detachment and impartiality to assure public trust in your work

Be sensitive to conflicts of interest – real or perceived – and take measures to minimize their negative outcomes.

  • Avoid political involvement or running for public office
  • Tread carefully in joining community organizations especially if they are likely to be major subjects of news coverage
  • Having more than one employer can put you between conflicting interests. Discuss your primary employer’s policies and concerns first. If you have no primary employer, discuss both employers’ policies and concerns up front
  • Recuse yourself from situations where you have a conflict of interest

Proactively communicate with your employer/supervisor.

  • Bring to your supervisor’s attention, as early as possible, any situation that raises ethical questions or has the potential for diminishing public trust in you or your company.
  • Use a vetting process to define ethical demarcations by noting and weighting key factors and striving for consistency across time and among all employees

Implement the guidelines!

  • Introduce them in the hiring process
  • Reinforce them through professional development opportunities
  • Incorporate them into individual work plans
  • Post them online
  • Transmit them through the company culture by drawing upon them frequently in relevant situations
  • Be careful not to undermine them