Trust in media and independent journalism are essential prerequisites for building democracy. However, trust in journalism is falling in the face of disinformation and political propaganda and a deep crisis for pluralism threatens Europe and the countries of South East Europe and Turkey.
But change is on the way. Media and journalists’ leaders are coming together to break the cycle of corruption and undue political influence on journalism.
They are partners in the Ethical Journalism Network programme – Building Trust in Media in South East Europe and Turkey – which is opening the door to fresh ideas on how to reverse the trend of falling public confidence and at the same time to build a viable and realistic future for sustainable ethical journalism.
Already some leading news outlets in Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Macedonia have signed up. More media in Bosnia-Hercegovina, Albania and Turkey will join the process and a regional conference is planned in the year up to July 2019.
This innovative project strengthens journalism and identifies media that are committed to ethics and transparency. These independent newsrooms lead the way in public interest journalism. They are bulwarks of independent, ethical journalism and must be given support to keep democracy alive in the region.
Why does ethical journalism need support?
Journalism is in crisis and needs urgent help, not least because of an information revolution that has created a whirlwind of change but has also broken the market models that used to provide revenues from advertising and circulation that paid for independent journalism.
In South East Europe and Turkey the crisis is even more profound given the history of conflict, propaganda and political pressure that has created a fragmented and polarised media environment.
Unless solutions are found that will help identify and support independent news outlets, news media will become increasingly the trophy possessions of oligarchs, political players and self-interested centers of power.
How do media show they are free and independent?
Media across South East Europe have identified three critical areas which are benchmarks for quality and public trust:
Ethical News: Journalists and editors must show they are committed to cardinal principles of reporting, particularly through the adoption of a code of conduct for journalism which embraces the five core values of journalism developed by the Ethical Journalism Network – accuracy, independence, impartiality, humanity and transparency. These values are essential for embedding the ideals of accountable and responsible journalism.
Good Governance: The Ethical Journalism Network has launched Ethical Media Audits, a system of self-governance and reporting developed in consultation with regional owners, managers and editors. These help news media define the way they work according to basic standards of transparency and responsible management. These audits are a way of guaranteeing respect for human rights and preventing secret and corrupt forms of interference or conflicts of interest in the ownership and management of media.
Self-regulation: All media must be committed to correcting their mistakes, engaging with their audience, and demonstrating their commitment to serve the public. They do this by having internal and accessible systems of self-regulation and by working with other news media to create national systems of independent media regulation that are free of pressure from political or special interests.
How will trustworthy media be identified and monitored?
Adopting codes of conduct, signing up to Ethical Media Audits and supporting self-regulation principles can be easily done, but that is not enough. Building public trust requires a system of monitoring to ensure that media are keeping their promises.
The Ethical Journalism Network is working at national and European level to help establish new systems – such as the Journalism Trust Initiative led by Reporters Without Borders – that will try to create a trusted cross-border system to support the best of journalism and to identify those media that are leaders in setting standards.
Media in South East Europe and Turkey have an opportunity, through this programme, to become frontline defenders of public interest journalism and to lead the campaign to build public trust in news media across Europe.
Around 30 the most prominent media outlets from the Balkans and Turkey who participated at the regional conference organised by the Ethical Journalism Network (EJN) in Belgrade on March 22, agreed to establish the Balkan Network for Trusted Media expressing their vision of the future for media and journalism in the region that puts ethics, good governance and self-regulation at the heart of strategies in support of a sustainable future for public interest journalism. Network
“As a matter of urgency, the newly formed Balkan Network for Trusted Media believes that independent and professional voices of media need to come together to support a regional movement in support of ethics, good governance and self-regulation.
Recognising and welcoming the work of the EJN and local partners who have raised awareness of the importance of putting professional values in ownership and management of media on the agenda for media development, the Balkan Network call upon all international organisations and media support groups, including the EJN and European regional professional bodies, to support this region-wide effort to confront the current media crisis and to bring about meaningful reforms of media and information policy”.
The full Declaration and Inaugural statement signed by the most prominent editors-in-chiefs, media professionals and academics at the meeting organised by the EJN in the context of Building Trust in Media in South East Europe and Turkey project supported by UNESCO can be found here.
Inaugural Statement of the Balkan Network for Trusted Media
The Network, which was formed in Belgrade on March 22nd 2019, is made up of news media and journalists who agree to work together in support of media pluralism and independent journalism exercised according to the following principles:
- Transparency in the exercise of journalism and media management,
- Ethical journalism as set out in codes and guidelines for media staff,
- Good governance in the ownership and management of media,
- Partnership with the public and active engagement with the media audience.
The Network is a flexible and inclusive community also open to media support groups including journalism training schools, press councils, press freedom bodies, and media monitoring groups.
All media on all platforms of journalism, including online portals, may join the Network providing that they support the principles set out above and subscribe to the core values of ethical and professional journalism, which include accuracy and fact-based communications; editorial independence; impartial news gathering; humanity and respect for others; and accountability to the public through transparency.
The aims and objectives of the network are:
- To share information and to co-operate on common actions designed to strengthen journalism and to strengthen public confidence in news media;
- To consider and develop together new models for funding for journalism and news media;
- To consider and prepare joint actions in support of national and regional projects that will improve the professional capacity of news media and journalists;
- To examine how technological tools and computational journalism can be developed specifically for Balkan media;
- To work together on programmes of support particularly for young journalists and new entrants to the profession;
- To organise workshops at regional and national level for improving the skills of newsroom staff; to strengthen transparency in media management; and to promote media solidarity around principles of ethics, self-regulation and good governance.
The network is open to national and regional groups based in Albania, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey. The 2017 Building Trust in Media and South East Europe and Turkey UNESCO programme continued with EJN actions in Montenegro and Macedonia. The EJN dimension of the programme is directed at owners, managers and editors of media across all platforms of journalism and following the experience in Serbia and Kosovo during 2016, changes were made to the approach to take account of the difficult political and economic conditions in which media work.
During this first phase of the work in 2017 the EJN has:
- Prepared materials to perform internal audits of media outlets in Macedonia and Montenegro to help them apply ethical standards, to manage conflicts of interests and to improve standards of good governance. These audits help develop structures for internal monitoring and regulation of performance;
- Carried out three missions to the region in August 2017 and October 2017 and November 2017;
During these missions the EJN started the process selecting media houses in each target country of the project to support further actions to promote internal good governance using the principles of ethical audits. On March 1, 2016 the EJN launched its Western Balkans ethics programme in co-operation with UNESCO, the European Federation of Journalists and Press Council of Bosnia Hercegovina. The Director of Communications attended the General Meeting of the European Federation of Journalists in Sarajevo in April to form new connections with unions and associations across Europe.
The EJN Director Aidan White and Board member Chris Elliott met with leading editors and media regulators in Kosovo later the same month presenting how the EJN self-evaluation process for media helps build ethical and transparent management both of editorial and media business.
In September 2016 the EJN conducted activities in Belgrade and Pristina where editors and publishers agreed to support the EJN’s ethical media audits to improve good governance. With financial support from the EU and UNESCO, the Ethical Journalism Network is working with other partners to promote freedom of expression and press freedom in South East Europe and Turkey.
The Building Trust in media in South East Europe and Turkey project seeks to strengthen freedom of expression, access to information, free, independent and pluralistic media, ensuring that journalists and media are key drivers for democratic, sustainable and peaceful development in the region.
Region: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey. In Kosovo the project will be administered by the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo in the context of UN Security Council Resolution 1224.
In line with the guidelines for EU support to media freedom and media integrity in the enlargement countries, the project will seek to build trust and restore confidence in the media in South East Europe and Turkey through activities in 3 areas.
- Supporting efficient and sustainable self-regulation mechanisms and the inclusion of professional standards, freedom of expression and media integrity in the basic education of journalists.
- Improving the internal governance of media organizations through the implementation of internal rules and good practices that recognize human rights and labour standards, as well as improved levels of transparency in ownership, management and administration, and the enforcement of ethical codes within media outlets.
- Increasing public demand for quality media and empowering citizens through media and information literacy.
For updates on the project follow the #TrustInMediaSEE hashtag
The project builds on previous cooperation between the European Union and UNESCO. It will benefit from the experiences and lessons learned from the project “Alignment to International Standards in the Media Sector in South East European countries” implemented by UNESCO from 2009 to 2011 and the project “Media Accountability in South East Europe and Turkey”, implemented from 2013 to 2015. Both projects supported the creation and strengthening of voluntary media self-regulation mechanisms such as press councils or news ombudsmen.
Press Council in Bosnia and Herzegovina – First self-regulatory body for the print and online media in the Region of Western Balkan and South East Europe, the Press Council in Bosnia-Herzegovina aims at improving ethical and professional standards in the Bosnian media.
European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) – EFJ is the largest organisation of journalists in Europe, representing over 320,000 journalists in 68 journalists’ organisations across 42 countries. It was created in 1994 within the framework of the IFJ Constitution to represent the interests of journalists’ unions and associations and their journalists.
Press Council of Kosovo (PCK) – Press Council of Kosovo (administered by the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo in the context of UN Security Council Resolution 1244) is a self-regulatory body founded for and by the print media. Freedom of speech, the right of citizens to be duly and completely informed and the respect for the Press Code are the foundations on which the Press Council is founded.
Council of Media Ethics of Macedonia (CMEM) – CMEM bases its work on the principles of transparency and accountability and freely promotes its views and opinions, takes initiatives and participates in building and upgrading of professional standards and ethics and their protection and promotion in the media.
Press Council of Serbia – The Press Council is an independent, self-regulatory body that brings together publishers, media owners, news agencies and media professionals for monitoring the observance of the Journalist’s Code of Ethics, solving complaints related to media content.
Macedonian School of Journalism and Public Relations (SJPR) – The School is a non-profit institution of higher professional education in Macedonia, which strives to provide students with comprehensive knowledge and skills to creatively overcome challenges in the field of journalism, media, corporate communication and public relations.
Platform for Independent Journalism (P24) – P24 is an initiative that supports editorial independence in the Turkish press. It is a not-for-profit, civil society organization, which aims to build capacity in the Turkish media, promote best journalistic practice and encourage the transition to web-based journalism.
South East European Network for Professionalization of the Media – SEENPM, which unites 15 non-for-profit media centers, promotes excellence in journalism through policy initiatives, research and training. Since its creation in 2000, SEENPM has implemented a wide range of training, exchange and media policy research projects.