When editing interviews….
The most important rule – NEVER change the meaning of what the interviewee said.
When conducting interviews for editing later …
When recording and using actuality sound in audio reports…
The most important rule – NEVER use sound you did not record yourself at the scene or while doing your research. In news, it is not okay to use canned sound effects, sound beds from previous files, or fabricated sound.
For example, if you interview a carpenter but fail to record the sound of him at work in his workshop, you can’t just record yourself using a hammer at home later and pretend, in your report, that it is the sound of the carpenter at work.
If you cover an outdoor protest where demonstrators are singing John Lennon’s Imagine, but a windy day created some mike noise, you cannot just substitute the sound from another demonstration the previous week where different protestors sang the same song.
You can’t do either of these things and honour the first principle of journalism – accuracy.
Unfortunately for those of us steeped in news traditions, the rules about using fabricated or canned sound are increasingly broken by people who produce public affairs or documentary radio programming and believe production values are as important as journalistic values. They justify it by saying background sound beds and key sounds make stories stronger and more interesting for the listener and sometimes the reporter fails to get those sounds in the field, so they must be added later. They believe that if the added sounds don’t change the essence of the story, it’s okay.
But when radio producers add or fabricate sounds, they are, in some ways, deceiving listeners. They are doing much the same thing as newspaper photographers or editors using Photoshop to doctor photos to make crowds look bigger, criminals look more sinister or to erase body parts from train tracks after explosions. When news organizations have been caught doing those things in the past they have apologized because they know it hurts their credibility, undermines their commitment to accuracy and breaks trust with their readers. Using fake sound in radio may be harder to detect, but it is the equivalent of manipulating photos.
A variety of professional organizations take the same view.
The Radio and Television News Directors Association Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct includes the following:
Professional electronic journalists should pursue truth aggressively and present the news accurately, in context, and as completely as possible… Professional electronic journalists should not:
- Manipulate images or sounds in any way that is misleading.
- Present images or sounds that are reenacted without informing the public.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Guide to Journalistic Standards and Practices says, in part…
Special effects, including sound effects, should be used with particular care in the presentation of journalistic material. On the rare occasions when they are used, rigorous judgment must be applied to ensure that they do not distort reality or have the effect of producing editorial comment.
Accuracy and integrity can be compromised by abuse of the technology of radio and television, which offers a wide variety of visual and sound effects, to modify what is being broadcast.
The RTNDA’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Guide to Journalistic Standards and Practices
Rules compiled by
Associate Professor of Journalism
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