22nd October 2012
By Alexandre Leclercq

Ethics and Media Standards in the Shadow of Politics

Mars Hill Church Seattle - news (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Aidan White

Recent comments in this column on systems of accreditation for journalists and the need for them to be outside political control are brought sharply into focus by the story of AFP’s Moroccan-based journalist Omar Brouksy who has been banned from working officially because he wrote an article to which the government took exception earlier this month.

It’s not the first time Moroccan politicians have barred journalists they don’t approve of. Two years ago press freedom and media support groups condemned the government for closing down the Morocco bureau of Aljazeera and withdrawing the accreditation of its journalists.

As I reported last month journalists and media in the Ukraine are trying to avoid precisely this sort of political interference as they work to establish an industry-driven system of accreditation for media staff.

They reported on their efforts to last week’s international meeting of press councils held in Antwerp where self-regulators from around 30 countries discussed media governance.

The mood was sombre, not least because across Europe, particularly in central European and Balkan countries, self-regulation often exists in twilight conditions where threats to independent journalism come from all sides and particularly from the state.

A year ago a delegation of international media support groups and EJN members visited Hungary to analyse the crude political assault on independent media by the Budapest government. Elsewhere difficulties remain, and on the fringes of Europe – particularly Turkey – the situation is getting worse.

In the coming weeks, there will be attempts by media professional groups to combat this trend by highlighting programmes of ethics, good governance and self-regulation. These issues will take centre-stage at a meeting of media support groups from across the region in Bucharest on November 16-17 being organised by the South East Europe Network for Professionalisation of Media.

And at the beginning of December the South East Europe Media Organisation, which is supported by the International Press Institute, will hold a conference to focus on the media in Turkey, a crisis which has been recently highlighted in a detailed report from the Committee to Protect Journalists.

These debates are timely and take place at the moment when an independent high-level expert group appointed by the European Commission a year ago to examine the conditions for media pluralism is due to make its final report. Many people fear that it may recommend some new European-wide rules and controls on media which could encourage yet more political pressure at a national level.

The EJN and other groups will be pressing Brussels policymakers to think twice before they rush to regulate when they consider the findings. They should not ignore the dangers of state power in media – Morocco and Hungary being timely reminders – and, above all, they should take account of the work being done to strengthen ethics and self-regulation by media people themselves. Strengthening the hand of the state in matters of journalism will not solve the media crisis, but it may well create a new one.

Photo Credit: Mars Hill Church Seattle – news (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)