Reports: The Editors’ Role in Media Integrity Protection

South East European Media Observatory has published a series of 6 reports examining the role of editors in protecting media integrity in the Western Balkans.

The report Editors in Serbia: Closer to owners than to journalists notes that appointments and dismissals of chief editors do not attract much attention, either within the media community or in the wider public. This absence of turbulence, however, is not the result of fine regulation of the media system, with effective guarantees of media autonomy and established procedures for resolving conflicts between professional and organisational goals. The silence over appointments and dismissals of chief editors is the result of the crisis in journalism as a profession and the collapse of the media industry, which has by now been operating in survival mode for seven or eight years.

The majority of the editors and the media in Macedonia operate in an environment influenced by the political centres of power and often even under threats, cites the report Editors in Macedonia: Under threat and political pressure. The political pressure backed by the media owners mainly results in a biased, partisan and non-comprehensive journalism.  In the creation of this environment, the editors and the media owners have failed to distance themselves from party politics. On the contrary, the lack of independence has made the media into collaborators in the creation of a divided and politicised society devoid of fair and balanced media reporting.

The report Editors in BiH: Between strong interference and weak support notes that the role and position of editors in media outlets seem to be neglected topics in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIH). Editors are expected to hold the pivotal role in media integrity protection, but in practice editors in Bosnia and Herzegovina mainly keep a low-profile and rarely get either major public recognition or critique. The general circumstances in the media sector are inevitably taking their toll on the role and position of editors. Political parallelism has never decreased. The media are often part of networks of conflicting relations and financially dependent on a few sources of revenue, while profit is often the only guiding principle of media operations. All of this inevitably determines the policies behind the appointment of media editors, the circumstances under which they work and ultimately the role they perform.

The editors in the media in Montenegro, particularly the editors at public broadcaster RTCG, are vulnerable to political divisions and conflicts in the country, stresses the report Editors in Montenegro: Divided to the detriment of the profession. The report notes that the media regulations in Montenegro hardly mention editors and that they have no delegated responsibilities. No legal responsibility means no legal rights. Self-regulation also pays no special attention to the status of editors, cites the report. In a nutshell: every interviewee for the report agrees that editors have a crucial role in defending media integrity but they also claim that the editors do not fulfil that role.

The report Editors in Kosovo: The struggle for professional integrity amid poor rule of law paints a rather bleak picture of the editors’ status. Kosovo has relatively good media legislation, but its poor implementation continues to be a serious problem.  As a consequence, journalists and editors are left poorly protected or de facto unprotected from a persistent tendency to both political and economic interference and pressure. Kosovar journalists and editors are underpaid even by Kosovo standards, and the majority of them work without employment contracts, notes the report.

The report Decline in the Role and Influence of Editors in Albania notes that the situation of editors in the country cannot be viewed separately from that of journalists and the general media context, as they are plagued by the same problems and conditions: an informal and dysfunctional market, shrinking advertising and funding sources for the media, patterns of ownership of the media system, and the influence of the well-established triad of politics, business and media. It is worth noting that Albanian legislation does not specifically address the role of editors, nor ascribe to them particular freedoms, rights or responsibilities. “The diminishing number of journalists, the strengthening of influence by owners, the definition of editorial policy in favour of the economic and political interests of media owners, have all led to a weakening and degradation of the editors’ role.”, said an interviewee for the report.

The reports are available for download on the SEE Media Observatory website.

SEE Media Observatory is a regional partnership of media CSOs, members of SEENPM, dedicated to enhancing media freedom and pluralism and improving media reforms in the countries of South East Europe.

South East European Media Observatory is envisaged as a long-term initiative of SEENPM.

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* - References to Kosovo are without prejudice to positions on status. They are in line with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244/99 and the opinion by the International Court of Justice on the Kosovo declaration of independence.