25th September 2018
By Tom Law

Director’s Letter: September 2018

Dear colleagues,

As some of you know the last few months have been a period of transition for the Ethical Journalism Network. Aidan White, who founded and built the EJN into an international force for the promotion of ethical journalism and good governance, has stepped down and now becomes our honorary President.

That means for the next year I have taken over his role as director to oversee the changes, which also include a new member of the team, Natalie Fitz-Gerald, as accountant and bookkeeper.

While these changes have been underway the EJN has gone from strength to strength with ten projects in place for 2018/19. Our biggest supporter is still the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (NMFA), which has done so much to support and build the EJN. At the heart of the 2018/19 NMFA programme are projects in China, Turkey and the Middle East.

Bernt Olufsen, a trustee of the Ethical Journalism Network, who accompanied Aidan, on a mission in April to China to lay the groundwork for that project, gave an insight into the challenges facing journalism in the country and the breathtaking scale of its media at a meeting held in Oslo on 17 September.

The meeting, hosted at the offices of Mediebedriftene, the Norwegian Media Businesses Association and chaired by me, was organized to set out a series of projects to Norwegian supporters including academics and donors, including the NMFA.

Bernt said that there are 200,000 journalists in China and one news website alone has 100 million users. While everyone realises that Chinese journalists face the problem of state censorship he also emphasised that they face many other challenges that journalists in the west would recognise, such as the difficulties of the move from print to digital.

I told the meeting that the EJN wants to establish links with people trying to do the right thing in difficult circumstances. We are trying to give them an opportunity to engage with the best standards of self-regulation we can offer. If you would like to hear more about the programme please get in touch.

Coalition for Ethical Journalism in Turkey

The meeting also heard that the EJN has played a leading role in a major new initiative in Istanbul where journalists and media support groups came together on September 5th to launch the Coalition for Ethical Journalism in Turkey.

This ground-breaking network brings together 12 groups — all committed to strengthening journalism and providing young journalists and students with opportunities to keep in touch with core editorial skills and values, despite the hostile climate for independent journalism which has overwhelmed the country’s mainstream media over the past few years.

The CEJT aims to carry out training, education and awareness-raising programmes over the next 12 months. As well as the NMFA, the work in Turkey is sponsored by Fritt Ord and UNESCO.

The Future of Journalism

The EJN has also been active in wider governmental and civil society initiatives to safeguard the future of journalism and promote it as a public good.

Aidan White has been appointed to a panel of 25 prominent figures from 18 countries convened by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) with the aim of drafting an International Declaration on Information and Democracy.

White will also be a crucial committee on ethics as part of the Journalism Trust Initiative. It aims to promote journalistic methods, editorial independence, media transparency, and respect for journalistic ethics by giving concrete advantages (especially technological and economic ones) to news media that adhere to standards defined collaboratively in a process of self-regulation.

Tom Law, the EJN’s Director of Campaigns and Communications, is taking part in the Council of Europe’s committee on quality journalism in the digital age, which meets for the second time in Strasbourg this week. The committee is tasked to “provide established and new stakeholders in the media environment guidance towards an enabling environment for quality journalism, taking account of the current challenges and the role that journalism should continue to play in safeguarding democracies.” If you would like to have input into the Committee’s deliberations please contact Tom.

The Council of Europe’s efforts are to some extent a mirror image of the work of the UK’s Cairncross Committee that is examining the “sustainability of high-quality journalism in the UK”, to which the EJN has just submitted evidence. Our evidence emphasises that any funding model for sustainable quality journalism must have ethical journalism at its heart.

Migration Reporting

Since the EJN’s Moving Stories report in 2015, our work on migration reporting has grown and developed. As well as conducting a further 17-country study last year and publishing guidelines on media and human trafficking the EJN is helping to develop a curriculum for journalism schools in the Czech Republic, Estonia and Slovakia. And next month Tom Law will begin working with the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency to produce an online Migration and Media Toolkit.

We have also been able to provide very practical support for journalists covering labour migration in the Middle East as part of our fellowship scheme with the International Labour Organisation (ILO). So far we have supported 20 journalists – through, training, a mentorship programme and stipends – to produce excellent investigative and solutions-orientated journalism about an important but vastly underreported subject. A recent highlight was an excellent Op-Ed published in the New York Times.

Governance and self-regulation

Over the last few months I have travelled to Turkey three times to work with Free Press Unlimited to support the Syrian Charter for Ethical Media to develop a membership scheme and rules for membership for 37 Syrian media organisations, which are committed to journalistic standards and independence. It has been a powerful reminder of the threats and difficulties our exiled Syrian colleagues face while trying to focus on ethical journalism and we look forward to working with FPU to support the Charter.

I have also spent time with the Montenegro Media Institute (MMI) as the EJN begins a 15-month EU-funded project to develop tools for ethical reporting such as guidelines for online media, including a set of recommendations for moderating online comments. As part of this project, EJN experts will visit Montenegro and provide the media professionals and managers with examples of good practice and expertise.

The EJN’s Ethical Media Audit Programme to improve governance within media, which has previously focused on the Western Balkans, is expanding thanks to International Media Support (IMS). With funding from IMS the EJN is working with selected media organisations in countries affected by armed conflict, human insecurity and political transition to use the audit process to identify how improving their internal standards can provide greater to transparency, improve journalistic practice and build trust with their audience.

What next?

The EJN now has over 10 active projects and programmes, more than I can accommodate here but please look out for updates in our weekly newsletter and encourage friends and colleagues to subscribe. We have a lot happening between now and the end of the year and we would love to get our supporters involved as much as we can.

Thank you for all of your support since taking on this new role in the organisation earlier this year. I look forward to working with you all to strengthen the EJN and our shared mission to strengthen the craft of journalism.

Chris Elliott


Chris Elliott is the CEO and Director of the Ethical Journalism Network, having taken over from the organisation’s founder, Aidan White, when he stepped down in April 2018. Elliott was appointed Director of the EJN initially for a year and he resigned from his role as a Trustee to take the position.

From 2010 until March 2016 Chris Elliott served as the readers’ editor at The Guardian having been appointed managing editor in February 2000. Chris has worked as the home affairs correspondent for the Sunday Telegraph, chief reporter for the Sunday Correspondent and assistant news editor for the Times.

In 1995, he joined The Guardian’s newsdesk and was part of the team that won the UKPG Team Reporting Award for the Jonathan Aitken investigation. He has also served on the board of the International News Safety Institute (INSI) and the Nomination Committee of the Reuters Founders Share Company until 2015. He served as a trustee of Concern Worldwide UK from 2007 to 2017, the last three years as chair of the charity’s board of trustees.