Director’s Letter: March 2015

Dear Friends,

This month we published a new report covering 18 countries and focusing on growing concerns inside media about newsroom bias and secret deals which undermine ethical values. Untold Stories: How Corruption and Conflicts of Interest Stalk the Newsroom, was launched at the Brussels Press Club on March 16, and it makes sober reading for anyone worried about the future of journalism. It confirms how paid-news, or advertising disguised as journalism, and a lack of transparency over political and corporate influences on news media are eroding standards.

In all countries – rich and poor — under-the-counter editorial deals and bribing of reporters is a fact of life. Even in the most settled conditions editorial independence is being sacrificed to keep advertisers and sponsors happy. A recent example, in London, saw leading journalist Peter Oborne at the Daily Telegraph quit his job and publicly condemn the paper’s self-censorship of stories about HSBC Bank and a tax evasion scandal; a prime example of press reluctance to blow the whistle on its commercial partners.

As we did with last month’s report on self-regulation, we have also released a short video of a round-table discussion among EJN leaders highlighting the challenges facing media in dealing with the crisis of internal conflicts of interest. You can see it here.

The problems of paid-for journalism were also highlighted in Ukraine on March 17 when the EJN Director joined a seminar of leading editors and journalists from the country’s regional media organised by the Thomson Foundation to discuss hate speech as media deal with the human cost of war with Russia, which has seen hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the conflict in the east of the country.

These issues were further highlighted by Jean-Paul Marthoz, an EJN editorial adviser, who presented the report at a meeting of the European Business Press (EBP) in Berlin on March 24. The EBP has also signed up to support the EJN.

The need to strengthen journalism in an era of weakening editorial capacity because of financial crisis media was also at the centre of discussions by media leaders at the world congress of the International Press Institute held in Yangon, Myanmar, from March 27-29.

The EJN Director led one congress session on how journalists need to be at their ethical best in times of crisis and emergency. Experts from Japan, Africa, Pakistan and the Middle East focused on case studies around the Ebola crisis, the nuclear disaster in Fukashima, and the reporting of acts of terrorism.

At the International Press Institute (IPI) event the EJN also led discussions among journalists covering religious affairs and representatives of faith-based media who agreed to set up a new global network – Faith in Reporting. This network, which will launch formally later this year, will have countering hate-speech in religious journalism as one of its first challenges.

Also this month, the EJN attended the biennial conference of the Norwegian Journalists’ Union in Oslo and was also present at the Norwegian Investigative Journalism conference. We have also agreed to strengthen co-operation between the EJN and the Norwegian Journalism Institute, particularly on actions to support journalists across the Middle East.

The Director has been assisting journalists in Syria in the drafting of a code of conduct and a similar initiative is being taken by Palestinian journalists. Another sign of the growing confidence among journalists in the region is the decision by groups in the West Bank and Gaza to form an EJN section for Palestine, which will be launched as part of the new EJN programme for Palestine which kicks off next next month.

Finally, to strengthen our information capacity we have launched a joint programme with the Missouri School of Journalism to create a single, accessible database covering information about codes, editorial guidelines and standards of governance and self-regulation around the world. This initiative will also focus on how codes and editorial guidelines are being updated to take account of online and digital media developments.

As usual, keep up to date with EJN activity on the web-site where you will find our reports, videos and newsletters. Follow us on Twitter (@EJNetwork). More information on all of the issues set out here is available from me at aidanpatrickwhite@gmail.com.