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Role Play “Press Council”

Why media ethics?

Independent media are essential for the effective functioning of a democracy. They interact with politicians and other important members of society and therefore play a significant role as a public watchdog and serve the general public. However, in a free democracy the media has to be held accountable as well. Journalists have to follow specific legal and ethical regulations. Press Councils make ethical decisions on news coverage and journalistic behaviour applying Codes of Ethics consisting of professional journalistic standards. They are independent institutions set up by the media industry. The work of the Press Councils enhances the credibility of the media. They reflect on the media's behaviour and are the “watchdogs of the watchdogs”. Furthermore, it is important to point out that they are independent institutions set up by the media sector. As a consequence, they are neither authorities nor courts. Their proceedings are fast and free of charge and their decisions can be regarded as a starting point for a discourse within the media sector as well as with the general public.

Role Play

Attendees of this Role Play will develop an understanding for the appropriate balancing between freedom of the press and the conflicting interests of individuals or parts of society affected by news coverage. The participants will perform a practice-oriented role play and deal with cases presented to various European Press Councils. There will be a division into groups (consisting of approximately ten people each). These groups will work on different cases concerning privacy and personality rights, discrimination, proper journalistic investigation, reporting on suicides etc.

Within the role plays proceedings of the Press Council will be re-enacted. The group members will be assigned different parts: Two members will be the complainants, two to three will represent the medium (as a journalist and editor in chief/publisher or media lawyer) and six will form the deciding committee of the Press Council. The teacher will act as head of the committee.

The different role plays can be held independently. The time frame will be 30 minutes to one hour each. Participants have to prepare their parts in advance and will be asked to give feedback to the other groups. They will receive an English version of a fictitious Journalistic Code of Ethics and specific teaching material (elaborated by the Austrian and German Press Council within the project "Media Council in the Digital Age" co-funded by the EU).

The participants will get a two page description of the case with some graphic material. The Journalistic Code of Ethics should be the basis for their discussion and the decision by the committee. Only the teachers will get the solution of the case on which they can work in advance. They can guide the participants (both the complainants and the media representatives as well as the members of the committee) by raising questions focusing on the solution.

The participants can prepare their roles at home or during the lesson. The preparation time for each case is about 20 minutes. Each group in the role play – complainants, media representatives and members of the committee – can consult with each other and prepare their strategy.

After the preparation the role play starts, the teacher acting as the head of the committee will open the session and ask the complainants and the media representatives to sum up their points of view. Then the members and the head of the committee can raise questions to the complainants and the media representatives to investigate the case. Finally, the head of the committee closes the hearing so that the committee can discuss the case. At the end, the committee has to vote on the case and decide if there was a breach of the Journalistic Code of Ethics. If there is an even split, the vote of the head of the committee is decisive. The group can compare their own findings with the actual decision by the Press Council. People who did not participate in the role play can give feedback.


  • Strengthen media literacy;
  • Understanding the importance of independent media and selfregulation for a democratic society;
  • Raising awareness of the significance of freedom of the press and of the responsibilities of journalists towards individuals and groups of society mentioned in their coverage;
  • Getting familiar with good standards for journalism;
  • Encouraging sensitivity for issues on discrimination;
  • Carving out the distinction between information from a trustful source and from less trustful sources;
  • Enhancing communication and presentation skills;
  • Giving feedback in an appropriate and kind way.

Further Details

Number of participants: approx. 10

Duration: 30 min to 1 hour per case

Note: Some of the case material has been adapted for didactical reasons.