Self-regulation and self-regulatory press and media councils
Press and media councils are self-regulatory bodies for journalism. They are based on the idea of freedom of the press and, at the same time, recognise that this freedom also implies responsibility of the press. They are committed to ethical journalism. To that end, they provide guidance to journalists through ethical codes. At the same time, they offer the possibility to citizens and organisations to submit a complaint if they believe that the journalistic code has been infringed.
Press and media councils consciously opt for self-regulation because government regulation of journalism would go against the freedom of the press. The defense of press freedom is inherent in the self-regulation system of journalism.
Freedom implies responsibility, and so press and media councils enshrine the basic principles of ethical journalism in codes of ethics or rely on generally accepted international codes. The basis of these codes is the same everywhere and can be summarised under four themes: truthfulness, independence, fair play and respect for privacy and human dignity.
Filing a complaint
When citizens or organisations believe that journalists or media have committed a violation of journalistic ethics, they can file a complaint with the press or media council of their country or region. Complaint procedures differ from country to country but the basic principles are the same everywhere. Some press councils have a mediation system, others do not. But they all make judgments about complaints.
Those judgments are moral statements. With a few exceptions, colleges with several members give their opinions on complaints. Depending on the system chosen, these colleges include representatives of journalists, media organisations and the public.
Press and media councils do not impose sanctions or fines. As mentioned, these are moral statements. Nevertheless, the statements have a major impact which is derived from the independence, representativeness and transparency of the councils.
Independence and transparency
They operate independently of the government and also independent of the organisations that fund them. There are different models for funding, but the guarantee of independence and independent assessment of complaints is common to all councils.
Representativeness is also an important factor. The more representative a press and media council represents the media ecosystem in the country or region concerned, the more impact it has.
Finally, the impact depends on the transparent functioning of press and media councils, again a common feature of all councils. They publish their judgments about complaints transparently. At the same time, they ask the media outlets about whom they make a statement to also publish that statement themselves. In this way, the statements are clear and can be consulted by journalists, media organizations and the public.
In this way, press and media councils stand between journalism and the public and contribute to a free press and ethical journalism.