Media leaders from 17 countries meeting in Indonesia have adopted a comprehensive action plan to strengthen ethical journalism in Asia. At the same time they challenged governments in the region over continuing controls on media.
The 4th Bali Media Forum, held under the theme Ethical Journalism and Citizen Media: Giving People a Voice, called on a 73-country Democracy Forum also meeting in Bali to ease pressure on journalism and to recognise that all forms of self-regulation in media must be free of political influence.
This key message made its way into the final declaration issued by governments giving a boost to the Forum which wound up two days of discussion with plans to improve ethical journalism and good governance and to support media self-regulation through a new regional alliance of press councils.
The Forum, which was organised by the Thomson Foundation, the Indonesian Press Council and the Institute for Peace and Democracy in partnership with the Ethical Journalism Network, heard presentations by media leaders from new democracies where journalism is emerging from the shadows of political control – such as Myanmar and East Timor.
Others, from the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and China, described how self-regulation in their countries is constrained by a mix of political influence and corporate indifference.
More encouraging stories were told by regional press councils in Hong Kong, Indonesia and Thailand and others from Australia and Norway.
The discussion also looked at the challenge of self-regulation in online and social media. The Forum noted the distinction between “online activism” and journalism and agreed that the ethics of traditional off-line journalism should apply to the work of journalists whether they are posting on the internet or Twitter.
One highlight of the meeting was the presentation by Azhar Abbas the Managing Director of GEOTV, Pakistan’s biggest media outlet, who spoke about the company’s ground-breaking ethics and governance strategy GEOAsool which he said represented a new social contract with the audience. This campaign was launched three months ago and was developed after extensive consultation inside Pakistan and with international advisors including the EJN.
The Forum’s conclusions endorsed key points of the EJN campaign including:
- The launch “as a priority” of an Alliance of Press Councils for the Asia Pacific region, which will establish a common standard for independent regulation of journalism across all media platforms;
- Preparation of report on the state of ethics, governance and self-regulation in the Asia-Pacific region as well as a pilot research project to prepare a global report on the state of self-regulation around the world;
- A series of training programmes on ethical journalism and good governance for media targeting working journalists, online reporters and also media managers.
The Forum organisers hope that the creation of an alliance of press councils for Asia will help unify the international community of press councils which has been divided for years because of political interference. They say the work of press councils and self-regulation becomes impossible when members of a press council are appointed by political bodies.
This principle of political independence was also underlined by the Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide who spoke on the role of media in reporting minorities and challenging intolerance. He told the Forum: “The right of journalists to decide themselves how best to communicate information and ideas to the public should be respected.”
In order for media to fulfill their role of providing society with accurate facts, he said, “a return to ethical journalism is required.” He said this was why Norway supports the Ethical Journalism Network. The final statement from the Bali Media Forum is available here.