European Federation of Journalists

Western Balkans: How to fight self-censorship in public service media newsrooms

On 18 and 19 October in Belgrade, programme directors and editors’ in chief discussed with members of  the EFJ Broadcasting Expert Group how to best implement code of conducts and editorial guidelines for Public Service Media in Western Balkans. The workshop was implemented by the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and is part of a two-year project “Technical Assistance to Public Service Media in the Western Balkan” led by the IFJ in cooperation with the European Broadcasting Union (EBU).

The EFJ trainer Muriel Hanot, Director of the Belgian Press Council, gave a presentation about ethical standards in Belgium including the use of social media and  how to keep editorial independence on the agenda of every newsrooms. Self-regulation is the best tool to achieve trust and resist pressures, she stressed.

“Establishing trust is a duty for any public service media and ethics is a guarantee for trust, said Muriel Hanot, referring also to independence as a daily challenge. That’s why it is so important that the profession sets these standards. ”

“But how to transform the “rumors’ society” in the Western Balkans?” This challenge was identified as a major one by the participants from this region. How to make the very detailed long ethical guidelines a daily tool for journalists? They  raised the issue of the journalists’ mentality prone to self-censorship as a ‘heritage’ of the past and all agreed on the need for more training of both young and older journalists, and  for media literacy.

The participants also outlined concrete examples from their daily practice that included ethical dilemmas, i.e. reporting about the violence on sport arenas, reporting about hate speech by politicians, treatment of minors, the role of media, and especially public service media, during the violent political conflicts, etc. and the use of social media.

The EFJ Broadcasting experts presented the lessons learned from their own daily practice, pointing out the crucial role of  a “strong” editor-in-chief, who should stand between the journalists and the politicians with the responsibility to say whether the story is in line with the ethical code.  The most interesting example for the participants was the introduction of the role of “ethical editor” in NRK Norway, who has the final word when it comes to ethical standards. The participants agreed that having such an editor in Western Balkans’ PSM would be very useful. Case studies presented by Muriel Hanot showed how ethics can apply to digital, and in particular, social media.

On this basis, together with the trainer, the participants agreed on the schedule and main topics of discussion for the upcoming individual trainings to take place now til May next year. They all agreed to include journalists and editors in such training.

see also:

Credit photo: EFJ