The Civil Constitution

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If journalism is the lifeblood of Civil, then the Civil Constitution is its beating heart. Broadly, this document attempts to capture the the values of ethical journalism as practiced around the world. Specifically, our aim is to memorialize the standards that the Civil community of newsrooms will embrace in their service to the public. We’re pleased today to share our most recent draft of the Civil Constitution, which will be the version we ask newsrooms to sign on to for launch.

This document has been a journey. The first draft was published in May 2018 and sparked robust comment and debate from Civil’s early community of journalists and supporters from the broader public. Based partly on that feedback — and with input from the newly formed Civil Foundation and the inaugural members of the Civil Council — we produced a second draft, which was published in August 2018.

We then took that version of the Constitution on the road. We held meetings with journalists in New York, London, Toronto, Washington and Hong Kong — almost 100 experienced editors, reporters and academics in all. We engaged with standards and ethics experts in nine countries. We sought input from members of the Civil Council and from journalists working at existing Civil newsrooms. And we sought and received input from the public via our Telegram channel, by email, over Twitter and in person. We debated again and again — and again — about how the Constitution should be structured.

Here are some of the issues we wrestled with:

  • Should the Constitution be a “ceiling?” Or a “floor?” By which we mean: is it the minimal standard for newsrooms operating on Civil? Or should the Constitution be an aspirational document towards which newsrooms can aspire, even if they don’t currently meet all the criteria? In the end, we opted for a floor, meaning we wanted to create a big tent, not a bubble of only newsrooms that meet the strictest interpretation of journalistic ethics.
  • How prescriptive should the Constitution be? Is it a set of rules that must be adhered to the letter, or a general guidelines that will be interpreted over time by the community? We embraced the latter, because like other governing documents, including the US Constitution, we feel it belongs to the community and should evolve over time.
  • How do we balance American or Western European standards, which largely protect press freedoms, with newsrooms operating in areas where there are limitations on what they can report without risk? In this draft, we attempted to capture a more global set of standards as we believe that newsrooms doing what they can — even where press protection is limited — should be supported.

The public and the newsrooms that become part of Civil will judge whether we got these right. I have no doubt that when the Civil network launches early in the new year, there will be things that need to be revised. There’s nothing like real life to put even the most thorough academic exercises to shame. But that’s what is so powerful about this document — that it is a living, evolving reflection of the shared values of the community, and as such needs to be able to change over time. We look forward to your continued feedback, and to having you as part of the Civil community as we embark on this groundbreaking journey.

For the spanish translation of the Civil Constitution please see here.

If you’re a newsroom interested in joining the Civil community, please click here.

Vivian Schiller, Civil Foundation CEO

Introduction

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 permanent archiving of content to the blockchain,
  • the operation and governance of the network by its participants.
  • a trustless payment system for the public to fund, commission, consume and contribute to journalism

The Civil Constitution lays out Civil’s purpose and values, and serves as a framework for the network’s self-governance. It is intended to vest governing power to the journalists and the public who participate in the network, as a means to uphold Civil’s founding mission.

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.

Civil Newsrooms are expected to comply with the Constitutional norms using their best efforts, considering their stage of development and distinct local conditions.

Key Terms

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.

Civil

Civil is the community owned and operated network of token holders, including newsrooms and interested members of the public.

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 Foundation

The Civil Foundation is an independent not-for-profit organization. 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.

CVL

CVL is the cryptocurrency used to operate the Civil protocol. The Civil token (CVL) is an ERC-20 token built on the Ethereum blockchain.

Token Holder

A Token Holder is any person or entity, including Newsrooms, that owns any amount of CVL tokens. CVL token holders have a responsibility to the greater public to ensure Newsrooms are upholding the values of Civil.

The Protocol

The Protocol is the underlying, open-source “smart-contract” architecture of Civil.

The Public

The Public includes anyone who engages with Civil Newsrooms, 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.

Newsroom

A Newsroom is the basic functional unit for journalism on the Civil network. A Newsroom can be composed of a single journalist or a group of journalists. Newsrooms are also Token Holders.

Newsroom Officer

A Newsroom Officer is the representative authority of an individual Newsroom on Civil.

Roster

A Roster is the list of Journalists associated with a Newsroom. (Journalists may appear on the rosters of multiple Newsrooms.)

Charter

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.

Civil Registry

The Civil Registry is the list of organizations whose Charters have been approved by Token Holders according to the process outlined in the Civil Constitution.

Civil Constitution

The Civil Constitution is this document, as originally written or subsequent versions as amended by Token Holders.

Civil Council

The appellate governing authority within the Civil Protocol, to whom Token Holders can raise 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’s Purpose

Civil is dedicated above all else to the public, which journalism is intended to serve. Its purpose is to provide citizens with information that enables them to fully participate in society. Civil seeks to establish the conditions for journalism to fulfill that purpose with minimal interference from government, commercial pressures, or other interests that inappropriately attempt to influence, control or stop the gathering and dissemination of facts, opinions and ideas in the public sphere through unjust laws, commercial pressure, intimidation or violence. Civil seeks to accomplish this through the establishment of a self-governing Protocol, owned and operated by Token Holders, which holds journalists accountable and supports their work directly.

Journalism can be defined as the the activities involved in an independent pursuit of accurate information about recent or current events. It can take many forms including 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. They are diverse in the topics they cover and the geographic regions in which they operate.

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. It is not meant to replace or supersede 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.

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 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 isolated errors or lapses of judgment.

Journalistic Principles

Newsrooms that are part of the Civil Registry agree to abide by a set of core journalistic principles, with a commitment to the following:

  1. Accuracy: Newsrooms will aim to operate with journalistic integrity, keeping their responsibility to the public at the fore. They should aim to report and present facts with the highest degree of accuracy possible given the circumstances. This may include:

    • verifying information before releasing it (including verifying third-party content)
    • consulting first-person sources; avoiding exclusive reliance on third-party reports where possible, acknowledging when this is not possible
    • acknowledging where information comes from, and crediting other news organizations where appropriate as sources
    • Labeling opinion and commentary as such

    Accuracy shall also be maintained by presenting relevant facts from different points of view. A newsroom shall not knowingly mislead or deceive its readership.

  2. Transparency: Civil is founded on a belief that transparency — including, among other things, revealing categories 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.

    Newsrooms should make public their editorial mission and values, and consider the adoption and application of internal codes of conduct and editorial ethical guidelines, as well as mechanisms for internal self-regulation, such as the appointment of a readers’ editors or ombudsman.

  3. Independence: It is understood that Newsrooms employ a variety of revenue sources to funds their operations, including advertising, philanthropic funds, membership and other activities. However, to fulfill its public purpose, journalism must be exercised freely and without undue pressure from political, commercial or other special interests. As indicators of that independence, Newsrooms must be clear and transparent about the lines between economic interests and editorial activities, which may include a posted policy on advertising, sponsorships and sponsored content; and consistent and clear signals to indicate the differences between editorial and advertising or other sponsored content, through use of labels, design and other messaging.

  4. 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 the public particularly when it comes from the communities they cover. Such systems may include the adoption and application of internal codes of conduct and editorial ethical guidelines, as well as the provision of mechanisms for internal self-regulation, such as the appointment of readers’ editors or ombudsman.

    A Newsroom should provide way for the public to comment on its work, as well as to provide corrections and otherwise respond to calls for transparency and access. These opportunities may take the form of email; comments, social media; interaction with the public on the Civil Token Curated Registry; in-person responses at public events or via other methods.

  5. Respect and consideration of the impact of journalism on the lives of others. This Includes balancing the public’s need for information against potential harm, and showing compassion for those who may be affected by news coverage.

    Ethical Newsrooms recognize that legal right to publish differs from an ethical justification to publish or broadcast. They weigh the consequences of publishing personal information and avoid pandering to lurid curiosity, even if others do.

  6. Permanence: Newsrooms should consider providing a permanent a record of their work. Journalistic content is considered public record and part of a community’s archive.

  7. Original Work: Newsrooms must not represent the work of other Journalists or Newsrooms as their own (plagiarism)

  8. Fair and Equal Access: Civil is dedicated to fair and equal access to the means of producing and consuming journalism. Newsrooms will not deny any person a position because of their religion, race, gender or gender identity, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, economic status, political beliefs, educational background, language, literacy or disability status

  9. User data: Civil Newsrooms respect the privacy of their audience, and such will be transparent about the collection, storage and use of user data collected

A note about International Standards:

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, it is recognized that some Newsrooms operate 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’s Governance

  1. 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.

    1. Civil Foundation will explore the most contentious and novel disputes faced by the Protocol, the Public 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.

    2. Civil Foundation has a dedicated staff to handle operations.

    3. Civil Foundation houses the Civil Council, whose activities and responsibilities are defined below.

    4. Civil Foundation’s primary objectives in the protocol’s first year are to:

      • Begin a process of meaningful, global input from the Token Holders, Newsrooms and the Public 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 creating a method for making amendments as a community going forward;

    5. 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;

    6. 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.

  2. Civil Council: The Council serves as the appellate governing authority within the Civil Protocol, whereby Token Holders can surface disputes for possible adjudication. The members are initially selected by the Civil Foundation with a goal of turning over decisions about nominating, selection and term limits to Token Holders over time. Initial Council members are journalists an array of nationalities and backgrounds, and experts in related fields.

    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, initially set at 66.67% or more.

    Subsequent versions of the Constitution will outline additional features of the Council’s operation, such as term limits, conflict of interest policies, and nomination processes.

  3. 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 authority, 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.

  4. Constitution Ratification Process: The Civil Constitution will undergo various iterations prior to full ratification, as follows:

    • Beta Constitution: On May 4, 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 (Published December 19, 2018) 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 (2019): Once Civil is live, real-life opportunities, challenges and dilemmas 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 (2020): 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 Token Holders. The Council, after a period of advising on the content of the Constitution, will transition to serve solely as a court of appeals in response to community action, and over time the Council members themselves will be elected by Token Holders.

  5. Civil Registry: In order to publish on the Civil Protocol, Newsrooms must be listed on the Civil Registry.

    1. Requirements for listing on the Civil Registry include:

      • Provide a Charter, a short standardized form which specifies:

        • Journalistic mission or purpose

        • Ownership structure and categories of funding

        • Business model, current or intended

        • 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 the required amount of CVL tokens to satisfy the application requirement. Token Holders have the power to alter the application token requirement at any time. More information can be found in the Appendix under Governance Parameters.

    2. 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.

    3. If a Newsroom is challenged, all Token Holders will be allowed to vote on whether they support the Newsroom or the challenger. Unless otherwise specified in the Civil Constitution, all Token Holders are eligible to participate in any vote held on the Protocol. Each Token Holder’s vote is weighted according to the number of CVL tokens they stake. Votes require a simple majority (more than 50.00 percent) to carry. More information on the voting process can be found in the Appendix under Voting Process.

    4. 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 be distributed to the Newsroom and majority voters.

    5. If the vote is in favor of the Challenger, the Newsroom will be removed from the Civil Registry, and the Newsroom’s deposit will be distributed to the Challenger and majority voters.

    6. Prior to enacting these outcomes, anyone may appeal their 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.

    7. 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.

    8. The Council’s decision is subject to a supermajority veto.

Conclusion

Civil is a social contract entered into by 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 Newsrooms and 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.