UNESCO conference moves forward debate on journalistic ethics in Europe

Sandor Orban, Hungary © UNESCO/Alfredo Trujillo Fernandez

Paris, 27 January 2011 – UNESCO hosted an international conference on Journalism Ethics and Self-Regulation in Europe: New Media, Old Dilemmas. The meeting marked the conclusion of the project, Alignment to International Standards in the Media Sector of South East-European Countries, funded by the European Commission and implemented by UNESCO in collaboration with the South-East European Network for Professionalization of Media (SEENPM), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the Alliance of Independent Press Councils of Europe (AIPCE).

UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, Jānis Kārkli??š, opened the conference and introduced Jan Kleijssen from the Council of Europe, who addressed the role self-regulation, as well as co-regulation, play in strengthening the rule of law alongside freedom of expression. Andris Kesteris and William Horsley followed in support with comments on the pitfalls of focusing solely on self-regulation and overlooking deficiencies in law.

The first session, moderated by Barbara Thomass of Ruhr University, assessed the states of media accountability in Europe. Dunja Mijatovic and Helge Ronning presented their experiences with Press Councils in the Balkans and in Scandinavia, respectively. Mr Ronning stressed the importance of media as a community, focusing on its own transgressions. Nikos Konstandaras outlined the legal challenges Greece’s journalists face, stressing the need for an independent judiciary. Next, Sandór Orbán of Hungary explained the media’s current woes within the context of the economic crisis, and the importance of self-regulation amid rising clientelism, repolitization of the press and self-censorship, deterioration of journalistic standards, and decline of public trust in media.

The mid-morning session discussed the changing opinions on privacy in the Internet era. William Gore of the UK Press Complaints Commission presented a set of questions to be asked by Press Councils in situations where there has been a breach of privacy and the information shared by the media was already available, though not widely distributed. Gordana Vilovic and Agnès Callamard focused on how to maintain professional standards and journalistic ethics in the era of social networks, as well as in times of rising control over the Internet content.

At the afternoon panel editors, ombudsmen and academics shed light on their personal experiences with self-regulation. Daphne Koene, Secretary of the Netherlands Press Council, moderated the discussion that ranged from Press Councils in Bosnia and Herzegovina to ombudsmen in Turkey and Denmark, passing by the different methods employed in each society to build and maintain trust with the readership.

The last session was led by Ioana Avadani, Executive Director of the Centre for Independent Journalism in Romania. Ms Avadani, with the support of the panel, facilitated a lively questions-and-answers session that encouraged the audience and panellists to self-assess the extent of their understanding of new media and technological developments, and allowed them to explore exactly what ‘accountability’ means in emerging European democracies. Panellists shared insights on media’s relationship with the people in their specific cultures, referred to public interest as a key notion when discussing the relevance of media’s role, and also re-evaluated the term ‘emerging’ as a proper descriptor for the region.

UNESCO’s Jānis Kārkliš closed the Conference and thanked the participants for sharing their expertise, and moving forward the debate on the issues of journalistic ethics and self-regulation in Europe. About 150 participants attended the Conference, which was also followed by more than 200 people via life webcast.