Self-Regulation for Better Media

Photo: Mediacentar Youtube

by Ognen Janeski, journalist and editor (North Macedonia)

Media specialists from the Western Balkans, Turkey and beyond gathered online on 30 January 2024 to discuss the state of self-regulation of the media in the region. Organized by a group of SEENPM members implementing the Our Media project, the event, titled Self-regulation for Our Media, attracted more than 100 stakeholders, including journalists, activists, and scholars, to a Zoom platform buzzing with ideas and initiatives aimed at reinforcing ethical journalism.

Maida Muminović, executive director of Media and Civil Society Development Foundation “Mediacentar,” underscored the project’s ambitions in her opening remarks and the event kicked off with Aidan White, the founder and honorary president of the Ethical Journalism Network (EJN). A seasoned journalist, White highlighted the shadow of corporate and political interference with media freedoms.“ The spectre of interference in the news from corporate and political centres of power is as threatening as ever and remains one of our greatest and most important challenges,” he noted.

The first panel featured presentations of the project’s own research findings on media self-regulatory mechanisms in the Western Balkans and Turkey. The discussion included Brankica Petković, editor and regional lead researcher at the Peace Institute, Slovenia; Anida Sokol, media researcher at Mediacentar Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina; and Vesna Nikodinoska, media researcher at the Macedonian Institute for Media, North Macedonia The discussion about the collaborative research also underlined the paramount importance of self-regulation in environments where media freedom and public accountability flourish. The researchers emphasized the need for sustainable financial models to support self-regulatory bodies and journalists’ associations, highlighting the vital role of external funding, and the need to prevent political interference.

Petković remarked, “Self-regulation here matters because we are now in a period of complex challenges for democracies and media. And participation of citizens, capacities, readiness, willingness from them to demonstrate in self-regulation, through complaints, that they care, that they trust, that it is possible to do professional ethical journalism, that they expect it, that they need it. This is crucial.”

Sokol specifically pointed out the challenges and necessities surrounding the financial sustainability of these crucial organizations, “We really need to find ways for sustainable financing of self-regulatory bodies, because most often they act as civil society organisations, they need to apply for funds and this really takes them away from their main work, and not like to focus on their main job. This is an additional burden to them, and this limits their capacities, it limits their work.”

The second panel, titled “Self-Regulation in Practice”, spotlighted the success stories and practical experiences from the field. The panelists provided concrete examples of how self-regulation can lead to better news content and strengthen public trust in media. They advocated for the adoption of internal ethical codes by media outlets and emphasized the significance of self-regulatory mechanisms accessible to citizens, demonstrating the substantial benefits of such practices in improving media quality and independence.

Biljana Georgievska, director of the Macedonian Council for Media Ethics, emphasized the transformative power of community engagement in elevating media standards. She illustrated how active public participation directly influences the effectiveness of self-regulation, shaping a more ethical media environment. “In total, when we talk about the figures, there were 132 complaints in 2023 (referring to North Macedonia), out of which 53 were submitted by citizens. This is not a big percentage, but still, there is a positive trend in these figures from one side, in terms that more people are obviously aware of the need of professional standards for quality journalism and the possible violations of them.”

Vladimira Dorčova Valtner, editor at Storyteller, Serbia, shared the journey of the Storyteller portal, highlighting how the adoption of internal ethical codes has been pivotal in shaping the portal’s journalistic integrity and fostering trust within the community. “Well, in practice, this means that this internal document is like a kind of guidelines for everyone who is engaged with our editorial… It serves as some kind of ID or DNA of our newsroom to which journalistic integrity is very important. And it is some kind of public indicator of our editorial policy or concept. And at the end, maybe we can see it as a tool or mechanism to bring back trust in media among our community.”

Haris Badžić, representing the Network for Building Peace, Bosnia and Herzegovina, underscored the critical importance of citizen involvement in the regulatory process, showcasing its role in maintaining high ethical standards in journalism. “If the citizens need help, we are there to provide our best knowledge and all our skills to help them in that process. And if there is a need to write an appeal, we help them with that in our own possibilities. We try our best to be the guideline, to be the ones to guide all the people in our country to use these tools and to help using these tools.”

All panelists advocated for robust self-regulation as a cornerstone for ethical journalism, offering actionable recommendations to reinforce these mechanisms for a resilient media environment.

Vesna Nikodinoska shared recommendations for the future, which emphasized the need for adapting self-regulatory mechanisms to the digital age, ensuring they remain relevant and effective. “The civil society and the citizens, professional associations, independent institutions in the countries in the region, but also the EU through the process of integration, should continuously put pressure on the governments to improve media legislation and to ensure unselective implementation of laws and the rule of law in general. As the media landscape evolves, so too must our approaches to self-regulation, particularly in the digital domain.” – Nikodinoska advised.

The two panels were moderated by Ognen Janeski, a journalist and editor from North Macedonia, and Tahir Žustra, a journalist from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Watch event video here.

Funded by the European Union.

The regional program “Our Media: A civil society action to generate media literacy and activism, counter polarisation and promote dialogue” is implemented with the financial support of the European Union by partner organizations SEENPMAlbanian Media InstituteMediacentar SarajevoPress Council of KosovoMontenegrin Media InstituteMacedonian Institute for MediaNovi Sad School of JournalismPeace Institute and Bianet.

This article was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of SEENPM and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.