The ongoing global health crisis has underscored how essential the role of the media is as an informative device ensuring transparency and accountability, as well as in shaping public opinion. To be trustworthy, the media needs to commit to their own share of transparency and adhere to professional and ethical standards and good governance. Therefore, the Ethical Journalism Network (EJN) is supporting the media partners in South East Europe and Turkey to conduct the ethical audits – a useful tool for ensuring sustainability and competitiveness in the digital age, as well as to avoid many issues that can stem from reckless reporting.
In 2020 the EJN coached and mentored several media outlets from Albania and Serbia who have shown a strong commitment to ethical standards and procedures. Eight of them finalised the process of conducting the ethical audits through the answering of the 150-questions-long questionnaire compiled within the Journalism Trust Initiative (JTI) led by Reporters Without Borders. This type of evaluation serves both the media’s own best interests, by spotting potential weaknesses and areas for improvement, as well as ensuring their openness and accountability vis-à-vis the communities they serve, if decided to make the answers public. The eight media that have finished a self-assessment exercise of their commitment to good governance and ethical and professional standards are:
- CINS, Centre for Investigative Journalism in Serbia
- Juzne Vesti, a regional online portal covering southern Serbia
- Istinomer, an online and fact-checking portal in Serbia
- Politiko, a prominent online platform, founding member and a coordinator of the Balkan Network for Trusted Media based in Albania
- Exit, a prominent Albanian online portal
- Euronews Albania, a local franchise of the prominent European media network
- Droni, a prominent online portal in Albania
- Cenzolovka, a prominent online portal dedicated to media freedom in Serbia
“During the auditing process, we became aware that our editorial guidelines should be improved or clarified and that the new processes, such as training programs for editorial staff, should be introduced. We also recognized the need for revising our ‘About page’ to be even more transparent by publishing more information and enabling easier search,” said Jovana Presic from Istinomer, the fact-checking media in Serbia. She says that it is crucial to work in compliance with professional standards, as well as to have external assessors evaluate its commitment to non-partisanship, fairness, transparency of sources, funding and methodology.
Explaining the global JTI movement, Olaf Steenfadt, the Project Director of the JTI at Reporters Without Borders (RSF), says that ”the road-testing of our JTI questionnaire in this region is an important and encouraging experience. We see already tangible improvements in editorial processes and external transparency of participating media outlets, which is clearly a win-win for everyone involved.”
Through Phase 2 of the Building Trust in Media in SEE and Turkey, the EJN aims to strengthen freedom of expression while empowering youth to think critically in a region considered vulnerable to the spread of disinformation. The EJN media partners in Albania and Serbia, and other countries in the region, will continue to work towards a strong commitment to journalistic professional standards.