4th February 2019
By Tom Law

More than 100 media outlets and organizations are backing the Journalism Trust Initiative

This press release was originally published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on 4 February 2019. The EJN’s founder and president is chairing one of the committees as part of the Journalism Trust Initiative. For more background, read Aidan’s blog “Building Trust: How Can Media Demonstrate Their Commitment to Free and Independent Journalism?”

The Journalism Trust Initiative, proposed and organized by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and its partners, EBU, AFP and GEN, is entering its decisive phase this week. The second out of four workshops under the European Committee for Standardization’s (CEN) rules will be hosted by UNESCO in its Paris headquarters on Tuesday, 5 February.

The Journalism Trust Initiative (JTI) aims at creating a mechanism to reward media outlets for providing guarantees regarding transparency, verification and correction methods, editorial independence and compliance with ethical norms. Launched by Reporters sans frontières and its partners, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), Agence France Presse (AFP) and the Global Editors Network (GEN), the initiative is pursuing a self-regulatory and voluntary, though authoritative process.

At the upcoming meeting in Paris on Tuesday (Feb 5), the group of stakeholders, composed of around 120 representatives of media outlets, regulatory authorities, tech companies, academia and international organizations, will discuss first drafts of indicators to identify trustworthy journalism and thus, guide both human and algorithmic decision making in news distribution and consumption.

Three so-called drafting committees and an advisory technical task-force gathered for preparatory meetings already on Monday (Feb 4).

The missing link

“It’s not rocket science to define the basic journalistic principles: many ethical codes exist as long as journalism exists,” claimed Christophe Deloire, RSF’s Secretary General. As a major problem, he mentioned the algorithmic distribution of online content, because it does not include an “integrity factor” and amplifies everything that goes against these professional norms – sensationalism, rumours, falsehoods and hate. Therefore existing best practices of the journalistic trade need to be translated to code of the Internet. This is a condition to reverse its logic, according to Deloire, by rewarding and eventually re-monetizing compliance with these norms.

“JTI is the missing link between journalistic principles and methods on one side, and algorithms on the other”, he added.

Sorted into the three different drafting committees, the project is currently developing machine-readable criteria for media outlets, big and small, in the domains of identity and ownership, journalistic methods and ethics.

Journalists in charge

“We understand that there is a substantial demand for these indicators, on the side of major platforms, advertisers, but also regulators and the media sector itself”, explained Bertrand Pecquerie, GEN’s CEO. But according to him, the process of developing them must be fully self-regulatory. “We do not want to see governments or regulators or advertisers or big tech telling us what good or bad journalism is”, he said, “and therefore it must be us, the journalist’s community, to take the lead!” For this reason, the JTI’s drafting committees are composed of industry professionals only, representing major media outlets like AFP, AP and dpa, the BBC, TV 5 Monde and France Télévision, RTL Group, Gazeta Wyborcza, Tagesspiegel or Tamedia, as well as professional organizations and NGOs like the EBU or the Ethical Journalism Network.

Other stakeholders, which are not part of the drafting committees, include Facebook and Google, Internews, the International Press Institute, the Thomson Foundation, the Worldwide Web Consortium, the French regulatory authority CSA, IMPRESS and IPSO from Britain and the German Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media.

Standardization framework is key

“Whilst many start-ups and initiatives are launching a variety of ranking and rating schemes for the media, it is essential that a universally accepted and inclusive ranking and rating scheme be developed and supported by the big players in the media world, such as Public Service Media organisations and commercial allies”, observed Noel Curran, the Director General of the EBU.

“The scheme needs to be tested, scalable and trusted by online platforms and the public. That’s why we prefer the path of standardization under CEN guidelines,” he continued.

Curran suggested that a set of standards, once published, could then pave the way for numerous non-for-profit and commercial actors to build audit and enforcement schemes around them. Accordingly, some of them, like NewsGuard and the Global Disinformation Index, have recently joined JTI to explore synergies of the ongoing efforts.

“We have an opportunity for a breakthrough here in providing reliable and trusted news more prominently to the public and making it easier for them to find it. In an age of fake news and misinformation that is a goal EBU Members are committed to.”

Responsiveness matters

“It is critical to answer properly to the public distrust in media, by offering to the citizens landmarks and visible tags on the web to distinguish trustworthy content easily”, emphasized Phil Chetwynd, AFP’s Global News Director.

“For us as a news agency, workability of the solution in the daily routine is key and it is extremely important, for all of us working on JTI, to propose a solution that serves the interests of the citizens first and foremost.” He mentioned the public consultation stage as one critical element in drawing up a standard under CEN guidelines, but also the plan to test and evaluate the final results. “Any standard is subject to constant review, particularly in fast-moving industries, and we expect this one to be no exception”, Chetwynd added, “but we have to start somewhere and we have to do it now.”

“Promoting an enabling environment”

UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, Moez Chakchouk, re-affirmed the organization’s commitment to strengthening quality journalism across the globe. On the occasion of hosting the second JTI workshop at its Paris headquarters he declared: “We are supporting the sustainability of independent journalism, by fostering enabling environments for press freedom, in particular promoting transparency and compliance with professional standards.”

After the Paris meetings on February 4th and 5th, another two workshops are planned including a public consultation phase. The results of the JTI will be published as a CEN Workshop Agreement at the end of 2019. The project ist hosted by the French and German standardization bodies Afnor and DIN on behalf of the European Committee for Standardization, CEN.

JTI is funded through voluntary contributions of its key stakeholders RSF, EBU and AFP, and through a grant provided by the French Ministry of Culture (Fonds de soutien à l’émergence et à l’innovation dans la presse)

More information: CEN/WS – Journalism Trust Initiative


Press contacts and interview requests:

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is one of the world’s leading NGOs in the defence and promotion of freedom of information. RSF is registered in France as a non-profit organization based in Paris, with foreign sections, bureaux in 13 cities, and a network of correspondents in 130 countries.

The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) is the world’s foremost alliance of public service media (PSM). Its mission is to make PSM indispensable. The EBU represents 117 member organizations in 56 countries in Europe, the Middle East and Africa; and have an additional 34 Associates in Asia, Africa, Australasia and the Americas. The EBU operates Eurovision and Euroradio services.

Founded in 1835, Agence France-Presse (AFP) is the third largest international news agency in the world delivering fast, accurate, in-depth coverage of the events shaping our world. It is an autonomous entity created by the French parliament whose independence is at the heart of its fundamental obligations.

The Global Editors Network (GEN) is the worldwide association of editors-in-chief gathering senior news executives and media innovators from all platforms. GEN is focused on newsroom innovation, new storytelling methods and sustainable journalism through several programmes and the GEN Summit, its annual conference.

This press release was originally published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on 4 February 2019. The EJN’s founder and president is chairing one of the committees as part of the Journalism Trust Initiative. For more background, read Aidan’s blog “Building Trust: How Can Media Demonstrate Their Commitment to Free and Independent Journalism?”