When media make mistakes or are guilty of harmful bias, whether intended or not, they should be held to account. Normally this can involve complaints direct to media houses, but often that is not enough. In many countries around the world, national Press Councils have been established to assist readers in taking up complaints. Some of these are voluntary bodies supported by media and journalists, others are underpinned by law and influence by state institutions. A detailed list of all these groups with declarations on standards for media has been compiled by the Missouri School of Journalism and the Ethical Journalism Network.[1]

In Europe, there is a tradition of organising national Press Councils to deal with readers’ complaints and many of these have developed detailed guidelines on how to combat discrimination and bias, particularly related to the protection of the rights of ethnic, religious and cultural minorities.

The European Alliance of Independent Press Councils includes 34 national organisations as well as a number of associated press and media councils from countries bordering the European Union.[2] Many of these council are leaders in providing support for readers and those in the media audience who are victims of media bias. Some have developed very effective mechanisms for holding the press to account, as can be found in the Nordic countries, Britain, Germany and the Netherlands. These have been an inspiration for self-regulatory bodies in other countries, emerging from a period of conflict. The Press Council in Bosnia-Hercegovina, for example, and a similar media council in Kosovo, have been particularly important in helping to define standards for reporting that avoid encouraging Islamophobia or incitement to hostility between different religious communities.

To be effective Press Councils need to be supported by media organisations in their area of jurisdiction and to have the confidence of the public that they can monitor and restrain acts of journalism that may promote harmful communications. It is not always easy given the difficult political and economic conditions in which media work these days, but they do provide an important resource in terms of setting standards to which media and journalists should be held to account.

[1] See Accountable Journalism, a databank of 400 codes of conducts and press councils around the world. https://accountablejournalism.org/

[2] See http://www.aipce.net/



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