This Code of Conduct for Quis Custodiet (QC) was last updated: November 22, 2023


Journalism was best defined by John Reith when he laid down the ground rules for independent, public-service broadcasting in the United Kingdom in 1922. He said that from its inception, the BBC should inform, educate and entertain.

But as well as these principles, we incorporate elements from the wider global media community to make them as universal as possible: Our journalism should also be free of all other considerations, without fear of consequences or in the hope of favour, and also that the truth should be told, however painful.

Guarantee of quality

All investigations produced within the QC network is carried out by qualified editorial staff who follow the rules in the QC guide.

Code of Conduct

Journalism is a tool for the greater public good, but if not held to a high standard of integrity, which means both accuracy and independence, it flounders. To fulfil its mission, a reputation founded in the accuracy, fairness and independence as outlined in this code is paramount.

This Code of Conduct is a guide to maintaining standards and protecting reputations, and it applies to all QC operations, including affiliates, editorial teams, partner agencies and publishers, and must be agreed upon before gaining QC investigations, access to the software suite and other services.

The QC mission is to help professional journalists and publishers produce accurate news content to rebuild global respect for the profession.

Trustworthy reporting makes positive contributions across all aspects of society when it challenges, questions, offers fresh perspectives, and is subject to professional standards and an ethical code.

This Code of Conduct is a tool to help journalism professionals maintain a principled stance and achieve the standards of conduct and professionalism that will drive public respect for their industry and earn acknowledgement from publishers seeking accurate and independent copy.

It is a living document and will continue to update and grown over time.  Accredited journalists must remain aware of updates to the code by regularly checking the website for changes or signing up for notifications.

Journalists and publishers investigated by QC should agree that following these principles is essential to the reputation of the industry and accept the right of QC to adjudicate on issues of non-adherence to this code.

The code needs to apply to both printed and online version news, as well as branded and accredited social media accounts, and needs to be followed by both non editorial staff and non-journalists as well as accredited editorial staff.

Verify information and sources

Modern digital communication systems enable information to flow from many sources, and correctly filtering and testing this information to determine what is real or fake is vitally important.

Also, many reports now originate, to some extent, in the work of other journalists. This means valuable information can be made available to wider audiences. But it is crucial to verify the work of others and add value before using it, enriching it through new research and fresh angles where possible, and re-writing it into the journalist’s own words.

A byline is a journalist’s confirmation and assurance that the information contained in a report has been carefully examined and is factually correct.

Maintain separation between news, comment and marketing

Accredited journalists must agree to independently select the subjects that they write about and only accept payment for that work from agencies, which in turn are paid by publishers, or publishers themselves. This does not mean that news cannot originate from PR sources or press releases. It means that accredited journalists should avoid accepting PR or marketing contracts directly.

If they do, this income must be declared and made completely transparent.

Even where the law does not prohibit it, journalists must not use for their own profit financial information they receive in advance of its general publication, nor should they pass such information to others.

They must not write about shares or securities in whose performance they know that they or their close families have a significant financial interest without disclosing the interest to the editor or financial editor.

They must not buy or sell, either directly or through nominees or agents, shares or securities about which they have written recently or about which they intend to write in the near future. Only by being open and honest about potentially compromising influences can the work of a journalist remain credible.

Likewise, a clear distinction needs to be made between news and comment.

Check facts

Accredited journalists must make every effort to ensure all facts in a story are correct and all available information has been included without suppression. If any fact is later proven incorrect, a correction must be issued as soon as possible.

Factual reporting balances both the rights of the individual and the public’s right to know. To achieve that balance, it is essential that the code be honoured not only to the letter, but in the full spirit. It should be interpreted neither so narrowly as to compromise its commitment to respect the rights of the individual, nor so broadly that it infringes the fundamental right to freedom of expression – such as to inform, to be partisan, to challenge, shock, be satirical and to entertain – or to prevent publication in the public interest.

If a story is found to be in any way deficient, it must be corrected or withdrawn immediately. If it appears in a publication where it is beyond your ability to correct or withdraw you must make every reasonable effort to alert the publisher.

In some cases, it may even be necessary to publish an apology or a right to reply alongside a correction that should be published alongside any agreed changes.

Check sources

Journalists are expected to help others assess the reliability of material being introduced into their own work. This information compiled by news professionals should help with our mission of avoiding debunked sites. A source’s reliability assessment should be based on its historically proven accuracy in reporting, its political orientation, and its source of funding.

Balance opinions

Journalists must make every effort to ensure that both sides of an argument are represented by including facts and opinions that represent this ideal. Journalists must not place needless emphasis on gender, race, sexual orientation, religious belief, illness or personal disability.

Use integrity when gathering news

Accredited journalists should always attempt to act with integrity when gathering news.

QC acknowledges there are many grey areas in this but asserts that in cases where the correct action is unclear, the matter should be discussed carefully among colleagues before acting.

Private grief and personal privacy must be respected and journalists should enforce their right to reject compulsion to intrude on them. Children under the age of 16 must never be interviewed or photographed without prior consent and without a guardian in attendance.

When reporting suicide, to prevent simulative acts care should be taken to avoid excessive detail of the method used, while taking into account the media’s right to report legal proceedings.

The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability. Details of an individual’s race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.

Subterfuge and deceit

Accredited journalists should avoid subterfuge unless there is real evidence of wrongdoing, and it should be approved by an independent editor.

The press must not seek to obtain or publish material acquired by using hidden cameras or clandestine listening devices; or by intercepting private or mobile telephone calls, messages or emails; or by the unauthorised removal of documents or photographs; or by accessing digitally held information without consent.

Engaging in misrepresentation or subterfuge, including by agents or intermediaries, can generally be justified only in the public interest and then only when the material cannot be obtained by other means.

The restrictions on intruding into privacy are particularly relevant to enquiries journalists must identify themselves and obtain permission from a responsible executive before entering non-public areas of hospitals or similar institutions to pursue enquiries.


Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit. They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent. Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.

Declare any interests

Professional journalists must not allow personal interests to influence them in their professional duties, and all personal interests must be declared.

Don’t use media privileges for personal gain

It is not acceptable to use journalism for market research, to advise you in investment decisions, or for any other purpose other than the creation of news.

Accredited journalists must never allow professional duties to be influenced by any gift or offered advantage, nor seek payment in any way other than compensation by a publisher for journalistic work. Any offer or gift that is accepted must be disclosed where possible.

Never plagiarise

Ideas, facts, phrases or sections of text which is clearly substantially based on the work of another must always be rewritten. If that work contains facts that are clearly a result of journalistic effort, it must be credited accordingly.

Respect confidentiality

The identity of confidential sources must be preserved. A source who has requested anonymity should only be named by a journalist if ordered to do so by a court of law, and QC supports professional journalists who would seek to challenge such a court order. All other requests must be rejected.

Avoid pseudonyms

Bylines are a journalist’s brand and should be accurately and honestly included on all work that is produced.

Journalists covering stories involving criminal activity or terrorism, those working in countries where journalists are regularly persecuted, or those with other valid reasons may wish to use a pseudonym for their editorial work, but QC must know the real identity of the author in any such case and the reason why. Tolerance for pseudonyms is limited.

Depending on the circumstances, breaches of the code under a pseudonym will not help a journalist avoid investigations and subsequent rulings.

The public interest defence

  1. The public interest includes, but is not confined to:
    1. Detecting or exposing crime, or the threat of crime, or serious impropriety.
    2. Protecting public health or safety.
    3. Protecting the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.
    4. Disclosing a person or organisation’s failure or likely failure to comply with any obligation to which they are subject.
    5. Disclosing a miscarriage of justice.
    6. Raising or contributing to a matter of public debate, including serious cases of impropriety, unethical conduct or incompetence concerning the public.
    7. Disclosing concealment, or likely concealment, of any of the above.
  2. There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself.
  3. QC will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain or will become so.
  4. Journalists and publishers invoking the public interest will need to demonstrate that they reasonably believed publication – or journalistic activity taken with a view to publication – would both serve, and be proportionate to, the public interest and explain how they reached that decision at the time.
  5. An exceptional public interest would need to be demonstrated to override the normally paramount interests of children under 16.

Want to find out more?