The Civil Constitution is the heart of Civil. It spells out our mission, purpose and – crucially – the values that newsrooms are required to uphold to be part of our network for trustworthy journalism.
On May 4th we published the Civil Constitution Beta for public review. Since then, we’ve had hundreds of comments and questions. Some suggestions were posted in the Google Document, others on our Telegram channel, by email and in person. It’s been tremendously gratifying to experience the level of thoughtfulness that the community is already bringing to the endeavor.
We’ve been pursuing other channels for feedback as well. Since the beta, we’ve also begun to bring on members of the Civil Council. They are a group of experienced journalists, academics, and free speech attorneys and advocates from around the world. They’ve had some great feedback. The initial Newsrooms to form on Civil have also been weighing in. And we’re convening a series of listening sessions with journalists in the US, Europe and Asia to tease out more responses. These efforts are ongoing.
Today we are pleased to release the next draft of the Constitution reflecting all your feedback to date. We’re eager now for you to tell us what you think, which you can do here. Getting additional feedback on this document is crucial at this stage, because there’s only one more round of edits coming before the platform goes live in early October – which means every newsroom that comes on to the Civil platform will be asked to sign on to the Civil Constitution. And once the Civil platform launches in early October, the Constitution will serve as the basis for any challenges the community of token holders may bring to newsrooms going forward;Anyone who challenges a newsroom for being "unethical," for example, must then point to the specific provision(s) in the Constitution they feel are in violation.
Even after launch, there will still be revisions but we want to feel good about this first real draft.
We’d love your feedback on everything and anything, but ask that you pay particular attention to these items:
- Does the Constitution feel global enough – reflecting the varying cultural norms and realities all over the world? If not, what changes might you suggest?
- Do you think these guidelines are too broad to be useful, or conversely, too specific?
- If you represent a newsroom, do you feel that these standards comport with your own?
- If you are a news consumer, do you feel the language is accessible enough? It's meant to be read and broadly understood by a massive, global community... not just by journalism wonks. Does the writing make sense to you, and is the language actionable?
- Are the checks and balances we're codifying here clear? And are they sufficient to covering the various ways a newsroom might fall short of operating ethically and of keeping the trust of its audience?
We are eager to read your reactions and suggestions, and will give each one serious consideration in the changes we make for the next draft.
Thank you all again for your ongoing support and guidance on Civil governance. It’s a pleasure collaborating with you.
CEO, Civil Foundation
Civil is a community-managed network for trustworthy and sustainable journalism. It is founded on the principle that a free press is essential to a fair and just society.
Civil is built on blockchain technology, which enables:
- the displaying or transmission of journalism and the archiving of content to the blockchain,
- a network for journalists to find interested audiences and for the public to find, fund, commission, consume, and contribute to journalism,
- an ecosystem of purpose-built applications for journalists, civilians and supporters,
- and the operation and governance of the network by its participants.
This document — the Civil Constitution — is intended to vest the maximum possible governing power over Civil away from its founder, The Civil Media Company, to its community of journalists and the community of users, while safeguarding Civil’s founding mission. The Civil Constitution lays out Civil’s purpose and values, and serves as a framework for the protocol’s self-governance. The participants on Civil, operating according to a governing framework laid out in this Civil Constitution, will interpret its real-world application over time via orderly and transparent decisions, which will be archived as precedents.
This Constitution, initially supplied by The Civil Media Company, includes provisions for the community to formally adopt this document within approximately one year of the launch of the protocol, and to amend it over time to promote the core values and purpose of Civil.
How to use this Document
The Civil Constitution is a living document. It intentionally leaves questions unanswered. The gap-filling and interpretation will happen over time as the community votes on challenges, and the Civil Council publishes decisions. Newsrooms are expected to comply with the Constitutional norms using best efforts, considering their stage of development and distinct local conditions.
In the sections that follow, there are topics and issues that need continuous discussion and input from the community as advancements in technology impact the field of journalism. Community discussions might later evolve into stand-alone articles or formal proposals to amend the Constitution.
The Civil Constitution uses some specific terms, as well as common terms that have specific meaning within the Civil network. These are defined below; many of them refer to bodies or organizations that will be treated in greater detail in this document.
The Civil Media Company
The company that created the Civil network, its underlying protocol (defined below), and related businesses and services. The protocol is based on open-source software and maintained by a community of developers, which, at least initially, The Civil Media Company will manage.
Civil is the entire network: including the open source protocol, its users and, more broadly, the “ecosystem.”
A Token Holder is any person who or group that owns any amount of CVL tokens. In some contexts in this document they may be called Participants. CVL token holders have a responsibility to the greater public to ensure Journalists and Newsrooms are upholding the values of Civil.
The Protocol is the underlying, open-source smart-contract architecture of Civil. Newsrooms utilizing the Civil Protocol are part of the Civil network of Newsrooms, Participants, and the Community, which might include third-party app developers and others.
The Community is all users in the Civil Protocol, whether they hold tokens or not. The public does not have to hold CVL tokens (nor cryptocurrency in general) in order to consume or access content on Civil Newsrooms. Non-token holders, in some contexts in this document, may be referred to as the Public and/or Audience.
A Journalist is a person who participates in the production of journalism for the Civil network. Journalists may produce written, visual, spoken or audio visual works of nonfiction. They can also be Token Holders.
A Newsrooms is the basic functional unit for Journalists on the Civil network or Protocol. A Newsroom can be composed of a single journalist or a group of journalists. Newsrooms can also be Token Holders.
A Newsroom Officer is the representative authority of an individual Newsroom on Civil, who may be chosen in any way the Newsroom decides.
A Roster is the list of Journalists associated with a Newsroom. (Journalists may appear on the rosters of multiple Newsrooms.)
A Charter is the application submitted by Newsrooms for participation on the Civil network and that details the Newsroom’s mission, business model and roster, and pledges the Newsroom to uphold the Civil Constitution.
The Civil Registry is the list of organizations whose Charters have been approved by Civil Token Holders according to the process outlined in the Civil Constitution.
The Civil Constitution is this document, as originally written or subsequent versions as amended by Token Holders in accordance with the procedures set forth under Governance herein.
The Civil Foundation is an independent non-profit established and initially funded by The Civil Media Company. It is dedicated to upholding and advocating for the Civil Constitution’s purpose, values and principles. The Foundation also provides operating support to the Council and appoints the founding members of the Civil Council.
The appellate governing authority within the Civil Protocol, to whom Token Holders can surface disputes for possible adjudication. The Civil Council has the ability to overturn Community decisions. The Community in turn has the power to veto the Council in certain circumstances as set forth in this document.
- Civil is dedicated above all else to the service of its Community, and therefore requires conditions in which it is possible for journalism to perform its mission. “The primary purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with the information they need to be free and self-governing” (source “The Elements of Journalism”, Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel).
- Civil seeks to establish the conditions for journalism to fulfill that mission with minimal interference from government, commercial pressures, or other interests that inappropriately influence, control or stop the gathering and dissemination of true facts, opinions and ideas in the public sphere through unjust laws, economic pressure, intimidation or violence.
- Civil seeks to accomplish this through the establishment of a self-governing Protocol owned and operated by the Community, which holds journalists accountable and supports their work directly.
Civil is committed to the ethical practice of journalism and to fair and equal access to the means of producing and consuming journalism.
- No person or group will be denied any position in the Civil ecosystem because of their religion, race, gender or gender identity, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, economic status, political beliefs, educational background, nationality, language, literacy or disability status.
- No person or group will be allowed to use the Civil Protocol to knowingly or recklessly inflict harm upon any other person or group on the basis of their religion, race, gender or gender identity, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, economic status, political beliefs, educational background, nationality, language, literacy or disability status. (For further detail on harm, see Section VI, paragraph F)
Journalism Ethics Policy
As a network managed by a distributed, global community of CVL Token Holders, the Civil Protocol enables news organizations to practice independent, fact-based and responsible journalism. To be clear, what follows is not meant to replace or supercede the ethical guidelines of any Newsroom on the Civil network. Rather these policies are meant to define the terms by which a Newsroom can be included in and remain in good standing on the Civil Registry.
Newsrooms on the Civil Registry are diverse in the topics they cover, the types of content they publish, and the geographic regions in which they operate. The ethics policy must be applied in the context of local journalistic traditions, taking into account customs and practices, country and local laws, as well as journalistic norms reserved for the best journalists in the relevant area.
Crucially, Civil Newsrooms must be judged by their intent, responsiveness and body of work. This document recognizes that Newsrooms are fallible, that mistakes are inevitable and that norms and conditions vary by region. A Newsroom must not be at risk of its standing on the Civil Registry due to individual errors or isolated lapses of judgement.
Newsrooms that are part of the Civil Registry agree to abide by a set of core journalistic principles, with a commitment to the following
- Original Work: Journalists and Newsrooms on the Civil Registry must publish work they have reported and created themselves. Additionally they must not represent the work of other Journalists or Newsrooms as their own (plagiarism), nor re-publish or redistribute the work of others without their express approval (piracy), unless such use is a “fair use” under local copyright law.
Transparency: Civil is founded on a belief that transparency — including, among other things, sources of funding, biases, conflicts of interest, naming sources where possible, covering multiple angles of a controversial story, and delineating facts and opinions — is a core value of journalism, and necessary to its sound practice.
In overall practice, Newsrooms should be as clear as possible with audiences about their editorial missions and values. In addition, they should be aware that well-intentioned practices and affiliations can give the impression of a conflict of interest and therefore strive to either avoid overt political or commercial affiliations, or disclose the details of such up front.
Other efforts towards transparency to include:
- Using named sources where reasonably practicable, or describing the source as best as possible without identifying the person. Unnamed sources should be trusted individuals, their biases should be revealed, and negative or critical quotes should be used minimally and carefully. The law generally treats unnamed sources as if they do not exist.
- Where there is opinion content, making every effort to present its nature and context as opinion clearly and the facts on which such opinion is based.
- Acknowledging and correcting mistakes as quickly as possible when they are discovered, making those corrections obvious to the audience.
- Disclosing sources of funding and ensuring that those sources have no undue influence on coverage.
- Disclosing any political affiliations, endorsements or agendas.
Accuracy: Civil provides for the creation of a broad spectrum of journalistic work, which may include but will not be limited to formats such as audio, video, illustration, photography, data visualizations, animation and text; “straight” news reporting, features reporting, long-form narrative journalism, opinion writing, advocacy journalism and personal essays.
In addition, Newsrooms will aim to operate with journalistic integrity, keeping their responsibility to their Audiences at the fore. They should aim to report and present facts with the highest degree of accuracy possible given the circumstances. In detail, this may include:
- verifying information before releasing it (including verifying third-party content)
- consulting first-person sources; avoiding third-party reports where possible
- acknowledging when this is not possible
- acknowledging where information comes from another news organization
Accuracy shall also be maintained by presenting relevant facts from different points of view of a situation. A newsroom shall not knowingly mislead or deceive its readership. A journalist shall not “cherry pick” the facts that misrepresent a fuller context.
Independence: In the current landscape, it is understandable that Newsrooms may want to use a variety of techniques and creative practices to garner funds to strengthen their operations, including advertising, philanthropic funds, membership and other activities. No matter the method, it is crucial to ensuring ongoing credibility that editorial decisions remain independent of financial interests.
- Each Newsroom should:
- Maintain a clear, publicly posted policy on advertising, sponsorships and sponsored content,
- Be consistent and clear about the differences between editorial and advertising content, through use of labels, design and other messaging, and
- Maintain editorial independence and transparency regarding government or corporate interests.
- Each Newsroom should:
Accountability: Newsrooms are accountable to the public they serve. To the extent possible, Newsrooms should make every effort to be responsive to critiques and other feedback from their Audiences, particularly when those Audiences are also the communities they cover.
- In practice, this may include:
- Responding to feedback about their journalism received in email, in on-site comments, on social media, at public events, in the comments section of the Civil Token Curated Registry, or in other methods with as much transparency as possible.
- Listening to this feedback from audiences, whether positive or negative, with an open mind, and considering their concerns as valid.
- Resisting the temptation to react defensively -- but defending when necessary if the comments constitute an outright attack.
- Honoring questions about motivations and accuracy with clear answers.
- Respectfully explaining choices and complex processes when needed.
- In practice, this may include:
Minimizing Harm (of sources, communities, audiences): Journalists and Newsrooms should communicate with and relate to sources, communities covered and audiences served with respect and consideration. Newsrooms are advised to consult the Minimize Harm guidelines set forward by SPJ (Society of Professional Journalists, US) which are excerpted below:
“Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect.”
- In practice, this may include:
- Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness.
- Show compassion for those who may be affected by news coverage. Use heightened sensitivity when dealing with juveniles, victims of sex crimes, and sources or subjects who are inexperienced or unable to give consent. Consider cultural differences in approach and treatment.
- Recognize that legal access to information differs from an ethical justification to publish or broadcast.
- Realize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than public figures and others who seek power, influence or attention. Weigh the consequences of publishing or broadcasting personal information.
- Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity, even if others do.
- Balance a suspect’s right to a fair trial with the public’s right to know. Consider the implications of identifying criminal suspects before they face legal charges.
- Consider the long-term implications of the extended reach and permanence of publication. Provide updated and more complete information as appropriate.
- In practice, this may include:
PermanenceNewsrooms provide a record-keeping function for a community’s history, events, and culture. Journalistic content is considered public record and part of a community’s archive. Newsrooms should avoid story “take-downs”, unless resulting from a proper DMCA or other intellectual property-related takedown request. Requests by foreign governments where free speech and/or due process are repugnant to the norm shall not be the basis for take down.
Civil has a global vision for trustworthy journalism. Free speech and a free press are at the core of what Civil stands for. We recognize that some countries have varying norms when it comes to media, the press and privacy. Further, there must be breathing room for newsrooms operating in countries that are restrictive of free press and every effort will be made to allow such newsrooms to flourish on the Civil Platform where bona fide journalism is being performed.
Civil Foundation The Civil Media Company established an independent, not-for-profit organization called Civil Foundation, with the mission of upholding and advocating for the core values defined in the Civil Constitution.
- Civil Foundation explores the most contentious and novel disputes faced by the Protocol, the Community, and the Newsrooms, releasing research into how they are resolved, while fighting for press freedom, press accountability and public-service journalism around the world with like-minded organizations and relevant collaborative efforts.
- Civil Foundation has a dedicated staff to handle operations.
- Civil Foundation houses the Civil Council, whose activities and responsibilities are defined below.
Civil Foundation’s primary objectives in the protocol’s first year are to:
- Begin a process of meaningful, global input from Civil Protocol participants about the Constitution, the Council, and the evolutionary management of the Protocol overall;
- Make iterative amendments to the Constitution, including updates to its decentralized decision-making framework while protecting its values as the Protocol grows, as well as a method for making amendments as a community going forward.
- Approximately one year after the Protocol’s creation, token holders will vote either to ratify the Constitution, or to issue a continuing resolution. Token Holders may vote to ratify certain elements and reject others. More detail on the constitution ratification process is outlined below.
- Failure to ratify the Constitution within two years will result in dissolving the Council. In this case, the Civil Foundation will become the de facto Council until arrangements can be made to appoint and confirm via community vote new Council members.
Civil Council: The Council serves as the appellate governing authority within the Civil Protocol, whereby Token Holders can surface disputes for possible adjudication. The Civil Council has the ability to overturn community decisions, but the community in turn has the power to veto the Council in extenuating circumstances, via a “supermajority” vote (66.67% or more).
- Subsequent versions of the Constitution will outline Council additional features such as term limits, conflict of interest policies, and nomination process.
Civil Constitution: This document must be referenced in support of any argument for limiting the access of any Newsroom to the Civil Protocol, whether that argument appears in a proposed Challenge, Vote, Appeal or Veto.
- Temporary Constitutional powers, before Ratification: This document -- and its subsequent amendments -- are in force until such a time as it is ratified by the community according to the process detailed above.
Constitution Ratification Process: Within the first year of the Protocol’s creation, the Civil Constitution will undergo various iterations prior to full ratification. These interim stages are as follows:
- Beta Constitution: On May 4th, 2018, Civil published the Constitution in beta form and solicited feedback from the community. Since then, the public has contributed hundreds of comments and suggestions.
- Inaugural Constitution (to be Published Prior to Registry Launch): At the launch of the Civil Registry, anyone can apply to start a Newsroom on Civil. As part of that process, prospective Newsrooms need to sign the Constitution and commit to abide by it. The “launch version” of the Constitution will reflect the comments and feedback from the beta version, as well additional sections to add clarity to the self-governance framework.
- Revised Inaugural Constitution (Target - First Half of 2019): Once Civil is live, real-life opportunities, challenges and conundra will present themselves. The community will have thoughts about what’s working and what’s not. The Council will be fully established and will help synthesize that community feedback. In the first half of 2019, the Council will propose and vote on a new version of the Constitution to share with the Community.
- Community Governance (Target - Second Half of 2019): Civil’s ultimate goal is community self-management. That will come with a formal ratification of a Constitution that reflects a year’s worth of experience from a broader set of global stakeholders, Newsrooms and others. From this stage forward, Token Holders will be able to offer up amendments to the Constitution to be ratified by CVL Tokenolders. The Council, after a period of advising on the content of the Constitution, will transition at this point to serve solely as a court of appeals in response to community action, and over time the Council members themselves will be elected by CVL Token Holders.
- Votes: Unless otherwise specified in the Civil Constitution, all Token Holders are eligible to participate in any vote held on the Protocol. Unless otherwise specified, each Token Holder’s vote is weighted according to the CVL tokens they stake. Unless otherwise specified in this document, all votes require a simple majority (more than 50.00 percent) to carry.
- Appeals: Any vote may be appealed at any time by any Token Holder. Appeals are made to the Civil Council, whose majority vote on the matter is final and closes off any further possibility of appeal on the matter.
Veto: However, the community can override the decision with a supermajority:
- Council powers and responsibilities
- Civil Council may vote on appeals to any decision reached by Vote of the Civil Token Holders.
- Council members who vote in the majority must produce at least one public document outlining the Constitutional rationale for their decision; members who vote the same way for different reasons may agree to publish multiple such documents. Members who vote in the minority are free to publish one or more such documents setting forth their dissent or rationale for voting as they did.
- Decisions of the Council are subject to a veto challenge and may be reversed by a two-thirds vote by CVL Token Holders.
- Council powers and responsibilities
In order to publish on the Civil Protocol, Newsrooms must be listed on the Civil Registry.
- Newsrooms that seek to establish themselves on the Civil Protocol will be required to be listed on the Civil Registry, with only Newsrooms listed on the Civil Registry having access to the Community.
Requirements for listing on the Civil Registry include:
Provision of a Charter, a standardized form of which is to be maintained by the Community and which specifies:
- Journalistic mission or purpose
- Ownership structure and initial funding sources
- Business model, current or intended revenue sources
- Any barriers or limitations on a Newsroom’s ability to report independently that the Civil Community should be aware of
- Any additional information to support the Newsroom’s inclusion on the registry
- Roster of Journalists
- Signatures from each Newsroom Officer pledging to abide by and uphold the Civil Constitution
- Staking a given amount of CVL tokens to satisfy the application requirement. Token Holders have the power to set the application token requirement. More information can be found in the Appendix under Governance Parameters.
- Any Token Holder may challenge a Newsroom’s position on the Registry at any time by staking a matching deposit and specifying the reasons they believe the Newsroom is in violation of the Civil Constitution, or evidence that the Newsroom has shown itself unwilling or incapable of meeting those standards.
- If a Newsroom is challenged, all Token Holders will be allowed to vote on whether they support the Newsroom or the challenger. More information on the voting process can be found in the Appendix under Voting Process.
- If the vote is in favor of the Newsroom, the Newsroom will be allowed to remain on the Civil Registry, and the Challenger’s deposit will revert to the Newsroom and majority voters.
- If the vote is in favor of the Challenger, the Newsroom will be removed from the Civil Registry, and the Newsroom’s deposit will revert to the Challenger and majority voters.
- Prior to enacting these outcomes, anyone may appeal its case to the Civil Council, which is required to describe the Constitutional rationale for its decision with at least one public report, issued by the majority. Dissenting Council Members may publish their own reports. Council votes will be made public.
- If the Council rejects the appeal, the Community vote is processed as is. If the Council finds for the appeal, the Community vote is overturned and outcomes reversed.
- The Council’s decision is subject to a supermajority veto.
Civil is a social contract entered into by its CVL Token Holders in service of supporting a free, open and trustworthy press for all. That contract is embodied in this Constitution. The Constitutional framework for steering consensus over all network-wide governance disputes-- as it is or as amended -- by the Journalists, Newsrooms, and the people who make up the Community of Token Holders.
Through the enactment and collective maintenance of the purpose (paragraph IV) and values as expressed in the Journalism ethics policy (paragraph V), the Civil Community expects to see ethical and trustworthy journalism flourish far into the future.
The following appendices are for reference only and should not be considered part of the Civil Constitution.
Appendix I: Year One Parameters
The table below details the time frames and deposit/escrow amounts in tokens used to make decisions on the Civil platform until a new Constitution is ratified by the Community, which may alter these parameters at that time (note that the below parameters are also subject to change leading up to Civil’s general launch in late Q2 2018, pending additional feedback):
|Parameter||Starting Value (USD)||Notes|
|Newsroom Deposit||$1,000||Applying/challenging listings on Newsroom Registry|
|Newsroom Application Phase||14 days||Listing may be challenged, not on Newsroom Registry yet|
|Newsroom Challenge Commit Phase||10 days||Time community has to vote on outstanding challenge|
|Newsroom Reveal Phase Challenge||7 days||Time community has to reveal their vote on outstanding challenges (i.e. make it count)|
|Newsroom Winning Margin||50%||Percentage of revealed votes needed to win a challenge|
|Newsroom Dispensation||50%||What winner of Newsroom Challenges (applicant or challenger) receives from loser's lost deposit|
|Council Appeal Request Phase||3 days||Time any community member has to appeal vote outcome|
|Council Deposit||$1,000||Appealing to Council, vetoing Council decisions|
|Council Appeal Review Phase||14 days||Time Council has to agree to review appeal, deny request|
|Council Veto Challenge Phase||7 days||Time any community member has to issue a veto challenge to Council decision|
|Council Veto Commit Phase||10 days||Time community has to vote to veto Council decision|
|Council Veto Reveal Phase||7 days||Time community has to reveal their vote to veto Council decision (i.e. make it count)|
|Council Winning Margin||66.7%||Percentage of revealed votes needed to win a veto challenge|
|Council Dispensation||50%||What winner of Council Appeals (appeal or vetoer) receives from loser's lost deposit|
|Parameter Deposit||$10,000||Proposing a constructive change to any of our parameters|
|Parameter Application Phase||14 days||Proposal may be challenged, not implemented in TCR yet|
|Parameter Challenge Commit Phase||14 days||Time community has to vote on disputed parameter updates|
|Parameter Challenge Reveal Phase||7 days||Time community has to reveal their vote on parameter updates (i.e. make it count)|
|Parameter Winning Margin||50%||Percentage of revealed votes needed to win a parameter challenge|
|Parameter Dispensation||50%||What winner of Parameter Challenges (applicant or challenger) receives from loser's lost deposit|
|Amendment Deposit||$5,000||Proposing a constructive amendment to the Civil Constitution for Council ratification|
|Amendment Challenge Phase||14 days||Time community has to vote on whether an amendment should be reviewed by Council|
|Amendment Review Phase||28 days||Time Council has to agree to review amendment proposal, issue Yes/No decision|
|Amendment Veto Challenge Phase||28 days||Time any community member has to issue a veto challenge to Council decision|
|Amendment Veto Vote Phase||10 days||Time community has to vote to veto Council decision|
|Amendment Veto Reveal Phase||7 days||Time community has to reveal their vote to veto Council decision (i.e. make it count)|
|Amendment Winning Margin||67%||Percentage of revealed votes needed to win an amendment veto challenge|
|Amendment Dispensation||50%||What winner of Amendment Challenges (proposer or vetoer) receives from loser's lost deposit|