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New report explores digital challenges to ethical standards of journalism

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Digital challenges to ethical standards of journalism. Responses and needs of European media councils

The codes of ethics for journalism are the framework upon which the profession is built. By definition, they are meant to guide journalistic behaviour. Furthermore, the shared ethical principles of journalism define both the boundaries and the expectations of professional conduct by articulating what is acceptable and what is not, what journalists should strive for and what their obligations are. In doing so, they not only define how the profession sees itself but also how they want to be perceived by others.

In a world of declining rates of trust in news and journalism, safeguarding the ethical standards of the profession and adapting them to new realities is becoming increasingly important. At the same time, journalism itself is changing in profound ways in terms of financing, resourcing and consumption. With decades of adapting to the digital age already behind, the media landscape continues to change in ways that constantly challenge media councils to keep the balance between keeping their core principles clear and stable to be applicable and acceptable and, at the same time, up-to-date, so they adequately reflect the prevailing reality.

This report seeks to discuss the current and future need of the European media councils to revise their ethical standards by interviewing council representatives. The emphasis is on the challenges posed by the digital world. In what ways do the councils seek to adapt their ethical codes and guidelines to the new realities and challenges posed by Internet culture and social media logic? Is there a need to create new deontological standards as journalism adopts new forms, extends over new distribution platforms and engages new content producers, stakeholders and audiences? How have the possible amendments been formulated and implemented in practice?

Recognising that journalistic norms are created and maintained within specific historical and cultural contexts, this report seeks to illustrate the principles and ways in which the European media councils update and apply their existing standards to new areas. The issues discussed relate to, for example, the blurring of lines between private and public, as well as calls for greater journalistic transparency in disclosing potential conflicts of interests, and labelling of sponsored editorial content or AI, among others.

This study has been conducted by the Council for Mass Media in Finland as part of the Media Councils in the Digital Age project co-funded by the European Commission.