Director’s Letter: March 2014

 

Dear Friends,

The big stories on the news agenda this month – Crimea, a lost Malaysian airliner and the trial of Oscar Pistorius – are vivid reminders that open journalism and its mix of hard-nosed news reporting garnished by comments and updates beyond the newsroom is here to stay.

On the other hand these stories also illustrate just how important it is for journalists and editors to eliminate the threat of irresponsible use of information – rumour, speculation and mischief-making that can poison the art of good journalism.

How we strengthen quality journalism and build public trust in media is a question increasingly dominating the agenda of regional and international debates on the future of journalism. It’s a question posed in the face of two dangerous trends – a rush to publish and the push for high numbers of online clicks. These twin newsroom objectives aim to beat the opposition and trigger advertiser interest, but they often squeeze editorial standards.

This editorial crisis will be the central focus of the EJN meeting To Tell You the Truth planned for Barcelona on June 11th at the time of the GEN summit when we will look at techniques now being used to verify information, check facts and strengthen journalism.

Around the same time, on June 10th, EJN will join the World Association of Newspapers and the World Editors’ Forum meeting in Torino for another session on ethical challenges.

The EJN and WAN have agreed to strengthen our co-operation this year and WAN will sponsor our conference in Kigali on April 17/18 Turning the Page of Hate which will also mark the 20th anniversary of the Rwanda Genocide and which will see the launch of an Africa-wide media campaign over hate speech. Before that, the EJN will organise an ethics session at the International Press Institute Congress in Cape Town on April 13th.

The developments in Uganda, where media have been implicated in a rise in hate-speech following the country’s adoption of a law banning homosexuality, have focused attention on how discrimination – whether based upon, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexuality – remains journalism’s biggest test in many parts of the world. The EJN will organise an event in Kampala with local partners on the issue.

On March 20th discrimination issues were on the agenda at a meeting in Moscow attended by the EJN Director where he talked with Russian media leaders and journalists on how to build diversity in journalism. Give events in Crimea and Ukraine this debate, organised with the Media Diversity Institute and the Russian Union of Journalists, has added significance.

The question of hate-speech and how to set the limits of reporting without damaging free speech was also a feature of almost every session of the East-West Media Conference organised in Yangon, Myanmar on March 10-12 and attended by 300 journalists and media leaders from the United States and across the region. The EJN organised a lively plenary session on ethics. Before the conference, the EJN Co-ordinator and Director met with Myanmar Press Council members and a group of editors and leading journalists and it was agreed to launch a Myanmar EJN programme later this year.

The EJN work on hate-speech will also be presented at the major global conference on combatting genocide which is being organised by the government of Belgium on March 31st and April 1st in Brussels.

Meanwhile, Brussels was also the venue for the meeting of EJN members February 20th which agreed plans for EJN follow-up work in Turkey following publication last month of our report Censorship in the Park on the crisis in Turkish journalism. It was also agreed to have a targeted approach to helping media lobby for reform in the Western Balkans and the programme will start with a meeting of media professional groups in Serbia later this year.

The EJN Director took part in an expert round table organised by the Thompson Reuters Institute in Oxford on March 14th where the aim was to answer major questions over the work of journalism – who is doing it, how it is paid for and what will it look like in future? The report of the discussion when it is published will make interesting reading.

Finally, April starts with meetings in Norway with the EJN’s new partner the Institute for Journalism and the EJN Norwegian Support Group. On the agenda is implementation of our two major surveys, on self-regulation and internal threats to editorial independence, as well as development of our work programme in the Middle East and Latin America.

Keep up to date with EJN activity on the web-site and subscribe to our newsletter. We have an EJN LinkedIn group, and a Twitter account (@EJNetwork). More information is available from me at aidanpatrickwhite@gmail.com.