Towards a Programme for Journalism and Media Literacy

Aidan White

The use of tests for hate-speech in the public sphere shows how journalism not only provides information in context, but that it can also be a beacon for free expression. Working journalism provides unique practical experience and a rich resource for practical actions to develop critical thinking on the use of information.

But not all communicators are journalists and there are limits to the journalistic values than can be usefully applied to the public sphere. For instance, it would be absurd, and contrary to free expression principles, to insist that everyone on the Internet should be fair, independent and impartial; these may be journalistic values but they don’t apply outside the framework of professional journalism.


By Frank Black Noir licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 –

By Frank Black Noir licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0


However, advocacy for free expression and raising awareness on the need for responsibility in the public sphere can benefit from at least three of the core values of journalism set out earlier. These are:

  • Accuracy and fact-based communications;

  • Humanity and respect for others;

  • Transparency and accountability.

Freedom of speech is a right for everyone, including politicians and public figures and it is the job of the journalist to ensure that everyone has their say, but that does not mean granting a licence to lie, or spread malicious gossip or to encourage hostility and violence against any particular group. When people speak out of turn good journalism should be there to set the record straight for all.

The core values set out here provide everyone in the public sphere with broad parameters for a framework of voluntary restraint to encourage more responsible communications and, in the process, strengthen the right to free expression.

This process is already being developed by the EJN which is working with media academics in Europe, the Middle East and Asia to promote better understanding of the potential for self-restraint in the way people communicate with each other. For journalists there are three distinct advantages to such co-operation.

First, it helps to strengthen journalism and improve public understanding of how the other-regarding principles of journalism contribute to democracy and pluralism;

Secondly, it creates structures for dialogues between key stakeholders in society – universities, media, civil society, policymakers – on the development and promotion of confident civic engagement in the public sphere; and

Thirdly, it emphasises the importance of voluntary measures and provides a bulwark against undue political or legal interference.
Taking these ideas forward and inserting them into the heart of media and information literacy work requires a commitment to practical ways of developing common approaches by groups which have traditionally kept a respectful distance when it comes to working together, particularly at national level.

Nevertheless, such co-operation is needed and could include the following actions points:

  • Introduction to free expression in the digital age. (The limits to free expression. Contemporary threats and the challenges facing policymakers, civil society, academics and media professionals);

  • The Difference between Journalism and Free Expression. (Understanding ethics in the context of self-regarding and others-regarding communications);

  • Personal and Public Communications. (The public sphere and the value of self-restraint. Developing a shared culture for tolerance and respect in communications);

  • Pluralism and Other Voices. (The importance of diversity of opinion to building democracy and informed society);

Core Values for Responsible Communications

  • Accuracy and fact-based communications. (Avoiding malicious deception and untruth – and understanding the exceptions, such as humour and satire);

  • Humanity and respect for the Other. (Challenging hate-speech, incitement and discrimination in all its forms, including misogyny);

  • Transparency and Accountability. (Challenging plagiarism and understanding the right to anonymity and respect for sources of information and the need to correct errors);

Working with media partners and journalism schools the EJN has begun production of materials and training modules for education of media professionals and aims to develop this work in target countries through partnerships between media and academic groups.

Above all, is the importance of generating space for new debates between academic and media partners and civil society and through this create a new dialogue with policymakers on the virtues of voluntary self-respect as a key to building respect and self-restraint into public communications.


  • Onora O’Neill, A Question of Trust, BBC Reith Lectures (2002) 
  • John Thaddeus Delane, quoted in Dangerous Estate by Francis Williams, Longmans (1957) 
  • Dangerous Estate, p167  From British Journalism Review of Changing Faces: A History of The Guardian, Geoffrey Taylor (1993), Fourth Estate. 
  • See Accountable Journalism website established by Ethical Journalism Network and Missouri School of Journalism
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Tagged with: Accountable Journalism and Media Accountability, accuracy, digital, Fact-Checking | Verification | Eye Witness News, Freedom of Expression / Free Speech, humanity, Media Literacy | Media and Information Literacy, respect, transparency