In order to get a better understanding of the country profiles updated on this website it is essential to make reference to some key concepts. These concepts recur several times in all the country profiles and they are crucial when approaching to the delicate subject of media legislation and professional journalistic standards.
Below we identified the main recurring themes, trying to give an answer to these questions:
- Why is media legislation important?
- What is a Code of Ethics?
- What is the role of a Press Council?
- Who is a media ombudsman?
In the column on the right some publications related to self-regulation and journalistic standards are also suggested.
Media legislation and Regulation
An enabling legal and regulatory framework is central for ensuring that the press can undertake their work unhindered. Essential in this regard is the existence of legal instruments providing guarantees against censorship and protecting freedom of expression, safeguarding the confidentiality of journalistic sources, and ensuring that information held by the government can be timely and easily accessed by the public. Also key are regulations conducive to transparency in media registration, the issuing of licenses, and countering undue concentration of media outlet ownership and the punitive use of taxation, among other ways of restricting freedom of expression.
For the media to be able to play their fundamental role in keeping an eye on government and enhancing public accountability, however, state interference should be kept to a minimum. There exist, nevertheless, matters that merit justifiable legal restrictions to free expression, as explained by Miklós Haraszti, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media appointed in 2004, who addresses these issues when comparing media self-regulation and governmental media regulation in "The Media Self-regulation Guidebook" OSCE, 2008, pp. 13-18, featured in relation this web portal). He argues that only a very limited number of expression forms should be criminalized: those that clearly represent an impending threat to people´s safety, the rule of law or peace. Falling under this category is speech that incites discrimination or violence, and the distribution of child pornography. Different is the case, he points out, of insult, defamation, the violation of the right to privacy, or forms of expression considered offensive, shocking or disturbing; these representing issues to be brought under civil – rather than penal- law.
Haraszti emphasizes the need for ethical and professional journalistic standards to be developed not by government, but by media professionals themselves, who must abide by them under their own will rather than being imposed to do so by law. Moreover, he points out that self-regulation and the quality of journalists´ work should not be demanded by governments as prerequisites for the press to enjoy complete freedom, but that "on the contrary, ethical journalism can only develop in an atmosphere of guaranteed freedom. Journalists self-restraint must be preceded and accompanied by governmental self-restraint in handing of media.
Codes of Ethics
Codes of ethics, under their different denominations, are an essential instrument of media self-regulation. They are a fundamental point of reference, guiding journalists on their role, their rights and obligations and how they can best perform their job; all while representing a standard against which their work can be assessed, as explains Yavuz Baydar (OSCE, 2008. "The Media Self-regulation Guidebook”, pp. 21-23, included in this online repository). The author adds that, crucially, however, code of ethics not only serve journalists. They are useful for publishers and owners of media outlets, for their protection against legal claims and critics. Further, codes of ethics contribute to the accuracy, fairness and reliability of information, therefore also benefiting readers in general.
In the words of Zlatev (OSCE, 2008, p. 45), press councils “offer guarantees to the public about the quality of information it receives, demonstrate that media professionals are responsible, and show that extended state regulation of the media is not needed”. Another significant advantage of press councils is their potential to reduce the number of cases in which journalists are brought to court.
Press councils have existed for a long time in European countries like Germany, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian states. In others, self-regulation has been only recently established, as illustrated by the case of Belgium. In places like Austria, France or Portugal, press councils have not yet been created, or they once existed but are no longer functioning. In the case of South East Europe, press councils are in place in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Kosovo and Turkey.
The ombudsman position (sometimes called readers' representative or editor), was firstly invented at the at the start of the 20th century, and refers to self-regulation that takes place within a media outlet -- it being either an electronic or print one.
The role of the ombudsman varies from media to media, but generally an ombudsman acts as a mediator between the personnel of a media house and its users, fostering a dialogue between these two parties. That is, the ombudsman receives complaints and feedback from those who read, listen or view the content produced by the news outlet, promotes self-examination within the latter, facilitates the connection between media staff and media users, thus helping to strengthen the news outlet’ s credibility.
These and other key characteristics of media ombudsmen are addressed by Véronique Maurus in “The Media Self-regulation Guidebook” (OSCE, 2008, pp. 67-83, one of the resources included in this web repository).
In Europe, the media ombudsmen of Le Monde (France),The Guardian (UK), Politiken (Denmark) represent good models, although there are also many others. When considering South East Europe in particular, examples of well-functioning media ombudsmen can be found in Turkey, namely those within Sabah Daily and Star Daily.
As noted by William Gore of the UK Press Complaints Commission (OSCE, 2008, “The Media Self-regulation Guidebook”, p. 33, featured in this web portal), a strong media self-regulation framework presupposes not only the development of a codes of ethics, but also the existence of an entity charged with overseeing its implementation and sanctioning media professionals who fail to follow it. The most common type of self-regulatory body are press councils and media ombudsmen.Ognian Zlatev (founding member of the Bulgarian media self-regulatory body, the National Council for Journalistic Ethics), presents a thorough analysis of press councils in the abovementioned publication (OSCE, 2008, pp. 45-66). He describes press council as a collective decision-making body whose main responsibility is handling complaints regarding the work of the press. It checks whether complaints fall under an agreed code of ethics, review them, mediate between the persons filing them and the press, take decisions related to such complaints, and single out media not abiding by ethical principles; all while guaranteeing transparency in their own functioning and making their decisions available to the public. Further, press councils follow and issue opinions on media-related developments. They set standards of conduct for journalists, provide guidance on existing codes of ethics and may suggest revisions to them. They play a key role in defending press freedom.Codes of ethics, under their different denominations, are an essential instrument of media self-regulation. They are a fundamental point of reference, guiding journalists on their role, their rights and obligations and how they can best perform their job; all while representing a standard against which their work can be assessed, as explains Yavuz Baydar (OSCE, 2008. The Media Self-regulation Guidebook”, pp. 21-23, included in this online repository). The author adds that, crucially, however, code of ethics not only serve journalists. They are useful for publishers and owners of media outlets, for their protection against legal claims and critics. Further, codes of ethics contribute to the accuracy, fairness and reliability of information, therefore also benefiting readers in general.Back to top