UNESCO assessment of media councils in South East Europe

Needs and challenges for successful media self-regulation

Representatives of press councils in South East Europe at the AIPCE meeting in Brussels, October 2014. © Belgium Press Council

Media self-regulation involves the media being accountable for their work by voluntarily managing and monitoring their own professional standards. A system like this can help to build public trust in the media, which is particularly needed in the region of South East Europe. It can also empower journalists to be more resilient to informal economic and political pressures. Strengthening the capacities of media councils is part of a broad UNESCO strategy to promote media freedom and accountability in South East Europe.

A new UNESCO report, now available online, analyses the needs of the five existing media councils in South East Europe and provides recommendations to encourage their improved functionality and sustainability. It also offers a comprehensive overview of the work of these five organizations and highlights the difficult circumstances in which the five media councils in the region are operating. Challenges include a combination of economic and political conditions, limited sustainable funding and high external expectations to deal with complex regulatory problems. The report draws on information received from a mixture of desk research, correspondence and meetings with representatives of each media council and informal consultation with external stakeholders.

The study shows how each media council is unique. The particular challenges of the five self-regulatory bodies are outlined in the report, together with a detailed presentation of factual information about the councils’ operations. However, a number of overarching issues were found to be common to all five organizations:

  • a lack of financial sustainability,
  • limited in-house resources,
  • limited cooperation from some media outlets, and
  • the growth of online media.

These issues will now inform UNESCO programming for upcoming collaborations with the media councils.

Catherine Speller. CC BY SA

Catherine Speller, the consultant drafting the report, said: “This has been a really interesting project to work on. I hope that the snapshot of the situation that the report provides can now serve as a useful starting point for UNESCO and the media councils to work together on a detailed plan of action for the future.”

>> An interview with Speller can be found here.

Tarja Turtia, Programme Specialist within UNESCO’s freedom of expression division, said: “This report is going to be extremely important for UNESCO’s work and will serve as a basis for developing future activities to continue supporting media councils in South East Europe and evaluate progress.” Although commissioned as an internal document, discussions during a side-event of the World Press Freedom Day in Riga showed that such a report would be useful to other interested parties. UNESCO therefore decided to publish the report and make it readily available as a source of information.

Marina Tuneva. CC BY SA

Marina Tuneva, Executive Director of the Council for Media Ethics of Macedonia, one of the organisations covered by the report, said: “The findings of this report will be an integral part of our strategic planning process. It will help us set standards and continuously evaluate our progress.

>> An interview with Ms Tuneva can be found here.

This report was commissioned by UNESCO’s Division of Freedom of Expression and Media Development, which has managed since January 2013 a project to strengthen media accountability systems in South East Europe and Turkey. Funded by the European Commission, the Media Accountability in South East Europe project aims to promote media freedom and accountability by strengthening ethical and professional standards in journalism. It has promoted the concept of media self-regulation among media and other constituents, and has worked to raise awareness among civil society about issues related to media accountability more generally.

Back to top