Due to similar challenges to ethical journalism in the countries of Central, East and Southeast Europe, media councils will need to join forces to adapt established practices in order to build their own sustainable media self-regulation model applicable in the region.
This is the conclusion of a workshop held on 25-26 May 2023 in Budapest and the follow-up webinar on 28 June organised by the Editors’ Forum of Hungary as part of the EU-funded project “Media Councils in the Digital Age” (MCDA).
Representatives of media councils, professional organisations and new initiatives working for ethical journalism from 11 countries of Central, East and Southeast Europe met to exchange information about recent experiences with media self-regulation, focusing on the main challenges self-regulatory councils and journalists’ organisations face in the region. They discussed developments and the features of the work done by the already operating media self-regulatory bodies mainly based in Western Europe, and explored possibilities in the countries with no press councils yet.
The following countries were represented: Albania, Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Georgia, Hungary, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland and Slovenia. The Belgium (Dutch speaking) Press Council was also represented for the purpose of sharing experiences and good examples of media self-regulation, based on a comparative survey of press councils that this council conducted in 2019-2022.
"Without core funding opportunities, the financial sustainability of press councils in the region cannot be ensured," said Balázs Weyer, head of the Hungarian Forum of Editors, highlighting one of the main conclusions of the discussions.
The participants concluded that media councils and other types of media self-regulatory organisations in the region require a tailored approach in terms of financial sustainability, considering several common features of the media ecosystem of these countries and the emerging awareness of self-regulation.
Common issues, occurring to various extent throughout the region, include:
- growing political and economic pressure on and control of the media;
- concentration of media ownership;
- lack of transparency of media ownership;
- hijacked advertising media market;
- SLAPP and smear campaigns against journalists;
- ignorance or lack of awareness of journalistic ethics;
- non-existing or weak media self-regulation;
- lack of core funding for media self-regulatory organisations.
In addition, participants shared good media self-regulatory practices and examples from the region to formulate the following recommendations to press councils, their national and international associations, media organisations and media outlets, and the relevant EU institutions.
Recommendations to press councils of the region and beyond
- Map the current problems of media self-regulation in the region to serve as a base to support activities, further actions and future development;
- Regularly (annually or biannually) update/revisit the status of media self-regulation in the region;
- Find potential stakeholders in countries without self-regulation (to increase representation and involve all platforms);
- Identify new funding schemes without opening doors of political interference;
- Consult on funding opportunities with local stakeholders; facilitating the establishment of state funds with guarantees for transparency and independence (where reasonable and appropriate);
- Work on how AI may affect journalism ethics.
Recommendation to media organisations and media outlets in the region
- Increase the awareness among media and citizens about self-regulation and ethical journalism;
- Promote public discussion and support training and coaching on ethical journalism;
- Campaign about self-regulation in countries without press or media councils.
Recommendations to the EU
- Promote media self-regulation in public communications;
- Create separate funding schemes for media self-regulation: focus should be on core funding instead of projects;
- Provide core funding for media councils for 3-5 years on clear conditions (in some countries in the region financial support from governments is not acceptable, at the same time, industry and institutional funding is not sufficient to sustain media self-regulatory bodies)