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PBS Standards


Transparency is the principle that content should be produced in a way that allows the audience to evaluate the credibility of the work and determine for themselves whether it is trustworthy. 


Producers must be open with the audience — to the extent practical — about how the work was done. Being transparent is the proof, in effect, that the editorial principles outlined in these standards are living principles that inform a professional and ethical editorial process — not simply words on a page. While specific methods may vary by circumstance and platform, transparency means respecting that the audience is entitled to understand significant underlying editorial decisions. If producers arrive at a certain conclusion or a point of view, the audience should be able to evaluate how that conclusion or view was reached. Producers who face difficult editorial decisions should consider explaining why certain choices were made; if relevant questions cannot be answered, producers should endeavor to explain why. 


Sources must be clearly identified, and, in those rare instances when confidential sources need to be used, producers must explain the decision to allow anonymity. Transparency also means using labels or other disclosures when presenting information that might be unclear or confusing to the audience. Finally, transparency requires that producers disclose to the audience all sources of funding for the production and distribution of content.

Application Examples

Guidance on how to put the principle of Transparency into practice:

Permit Anonymity Sparingly

Anonymous sources should be used when granting anonymity is the only practical way to obtain important information. Producers must explain to the audience why they are withholding the identity of the source and why the source is credible. When using information from a source who must remain anonymous, producers should — to the extent practical — describe (without revealing the source’s identity) how the source knows the information, the source’s motivations (if any), why anonymity was required, and any other details that will help the audience evaluate the source’s credibility. Anonymous sources generally should not be used to provide opinion, speculation, or hearsay. They are best used when they offer information that then can be subsequently verified with on-the-record sources. Producers are expected to treat each determination to grant anonymity as a significant executive-level decision, and producers may be asked to review such determinations with PBS. 

RELATED > Anonymous Sources (Society of Professional Journalists Ethics Committee Position Paper)

Attribute Non-Original Materials

Audiences should be able to clearly understand the source of information. As digital technology makes it easier to share and redistribute content, producers must exercise care to never re-use someone else’s work and pass it off as their own. While not all materials incorporated within content distributed by PBS must always be labeled (e.g., stock footage, home movies, still images), producers should provide attribution at any point when doing so would help the audience better understand the material.

Consider How Editorial Partnerships Impact PBS's Credibility

PBS and its producers may from time to time enter into editorial partnerships with other media organizations, educational or cultural institutions, freelance journalists, or other parties. While these collaborations are generally encouraged, producers and PBS staff should be mindful of the potential impact on PBS’s credibility, and they must ensure that all editorial partners adhere to these standards. Furthermore, all editorial partnerships must adhere to the PBS Co-Production Guidelines. The principle of transparency also requires that any such partnerships be clearly disclosed to the audience.

Use Labels and Other Disclosures to Aid the Audience's Understanding

Producers must use labels and other visual or verbal disclosures to present information that allows the audience to better understand, and make informed judgments about, content. Disclosures are also required to put the audience on notice about graphic images or language that they might wish to avoid. Producers and PBS staff should use their discretion in determining how best to implement these disclosures while being mindful that they must be clear and concise to ensure that the audience can easily absorb the information.

Clearly Identify Opinion and Commentary

Producers must identify for the audience in a clear and consistent manner material that is opinion or commentary, and communicate to the audience whose views are being presented. PBS considers opinion or commentary to be content that reflects a particular point of view or observations on a topic without presenting relevant contrasting facts and perspectives. To be fully transparent, it is important to include such identifications at both the beginning and end of content. Opinion or commentary can be given great latitude with respect to personal and artistic expression so long as it is not inaccurate or defamatory. However, such content must never manipulate selected facts in order to propagandize.

RELATED >  Opinion: NPR Needs Better Labeling of Opinion Content On Social Media from June 28, 2018 (NPR public editor)

Related Case Studies

Interactive scenarios involving the principle of Transparency:

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Editorial Principles

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