Leaders of 73 countries meeting in Indonesia this week to discuss peace, security and human rights will be told that if governments want to be serious about democracy they must stop interfering in journalism and do more to promote media self-regulation.
More than 1,200 people are in Bali for the 5th annual Bali Democracy Forum which fosters practical political cooperation to advance democratic principles in the Asia Pacific region.
Joining the party are journalists’ leaders and media support groups from 20 countries who are holding their own event and are backing the Ethical Journalism Network in calls for more ethics, good governance and self-regulation.
The EJN, in co-operation with the Indonesian Press Council and the Thomson Foundation, has organised the media meeting to launch a new initiative supporting an Asian-wide alliance of press councils and media self-regulators.
Many of the countries taking part in the Forum – including China – may be serial offenders when it comes to violations of journalists’ rights, but the Forum has begun to open up new dialogues with media.
Journalists in Bali are keen to show that there are alternatives to legal controls on media if countries want to promote economic and social development.
A prime example is the success of the Indonesian Press Council, one of the world’s most successful models of self-regulation, which has taken advantage of the climate of openness in the country since it emerged from the shadows of the dictatorship in 1998.
Although doubts about the country’s democratic transformation remain, the success of the Press Council has inspired new enthusiasm for more ethical journalism and effective self-regulation in other countries of the region including Pakistan and Myanmar.
Journalists and media say that if governments are willing to shift from centralised authoritarian controls of media towards more self-rule and editorial freedom, they will give the movement for democracy a boost across the region.
They argue that media-driven systems of regulation will strengthen good governance, eliminate corrupt relations between media and politics and build public trust in journalism.
As well as a call to support a region-wide alliance of press councils, governments will be pressed to transform state-owned media into genuinely public service forms of journalism, and to invest more in the training of journalists and media managers in the basic principles of good governance and ethics.
Photo Credit: Aidan White – Bali Media Forum 2014