Media ethics and accountability debated at conference in Istanbul
Professional journalistic standards and codes of ethics were widely discussed at the regional South-East European conference on media accountability, organized by UNESCO on 22 and 23 February 2010 in Istanbul, Turkey. The meeting, entitled "Professional Standards and Self-Regulation in Media and State of Play of Media Policy in South-East Europe", gathered some 70 professionals from the South-East European (SEE) region and Turkey.
This conference was part of the 30-month project on media accountability, implemented by UNESCO and financed mainly by the European Commission. It provided a platform for fruitful professional discussions on burning topics. A real problem is the decline in quality, when media content mostly includes entertainment, reality shows and celebrity news, and less substantial and serious information. Low professional standards in media and acknowledged lack of good practices of ethical journalism represent another challenge. Self-regulatory mechanisms for professional media standards exist in most of the project countries, but they are hardly observed or implemented. On the other hand, there is demonstrated awareness and concern among professional communities in the region that action is needed and also expected by the public at large.
All those shortcomings are now openly discussed by the industry itself rather than only in closed non-governmental organizations' circles. UNESCO is extensively contributing to this debate within the region.
The newly adopted Code of Ethics and the subsequently founded Press Council in Serbia were presented to the conference as a promising development. There is also a clear progress in Turkey in the form of the expanding importance of readers' ombudsman. The ombudsman model is one of the most efficient ones developed in the past decades to safeguard the integrity of the media. It is a modern concept of self-critique and self-regulation within the media outlets, completely different from forms of outside supervision. The large number of news ombudsmen in over 20 countries worldwide is the evidence that this model works. Yavuz Baydar, the ombudsman of the Turkish newspaper Sabah Daily gave a good example of the role of a readers' editor and provided the conference with a very interesting background document on ombudsman functions.
International speakers provided valuable examples of practices in their respective countries that could only benefit the media accountability efforts in SEE. At the same time the conference once again demonstrated that introduction and expansion of media self-regulatory practices is a long and difficult process. Therefore, there is a clear need to keep the debate alive and to encourage local media communities to continue their efforts in spite of complicated environments.
UNESCO's project continues with a series of round-tables and a final conference at the end of 2010. The goal of this project is to encourage, assist and accelerate media reforms in the South-East European countries. It also aims to consolidate internationally recognized standards in the participating countries, and to bring about more media protection, professionalism, accountability and independence, through a self-regulation process initiated by strong local networks. The countries included in the project are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey and Kosovo (according to the UNSCR 1244).
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