Hammarberg calls for ethical journalism and accountability

Ethical journalism and self-regulation are the keys to ensuring the independence and accountability of media organisations, according to Thomas Hammarberg, the Commissioner for Human Rights.

Hammarberg writes today of the importance of the media’s role in protecting human rights. “They expose human rights violations and offer an arena for different voices to be heard in public discourse,” he states.

The human rights commissioner then criticises those media outlets that misuse their power “to the extent that the very functioning of democracy is threatened.”

Hammarberg adds: “Some media outlets, including in European countries, have been turned into propaganda megaphones for those in power, while other media have been inciting xenophobic hatred against minorities and vulnerable groups.

“We have also seen that unrestrained commercial ambitions can encourage a culture of illegal and unethical activity in the newsroom – as the phone hacking scandal in the United Kingdom demonstrated with shocking clarity.

“Such reckless and intrusive journalism can damage public confidence very quickly – and be used as an excuse by governments to impose media regulation or even censorship. This would, of course, further undermine the existence of critical, investigative journalism.

The remedy to these ills is ethical journalism and self regulation based upon a code of ethics. Hamarberg writes that “the media community needs to develop a system of effective self-regulation – based on an agreed code of ethics and a mechanism to receive and respond to complaints, for instance through an ombudsman or a media council.

“Ethical journalists serve the public’s right to know. There is a need to encourage a deeper discussion of how to promote ethical journalism, also in relation to social media and other online information. It is positive that the trade unions for journalists have taken up this challenge.”

The human rights commissioner believes that government should also use its authority to encourage the media towards higher standards and greater accountability.

“Governments have a responsibility,” he adds. “They should protect freedom and pluralism of the media and avoid any regulation which would undermine freedom of expression, including on internet-based media. Any limits should be narrowly and clearly defined and reflected in law.”

More information from the Commissioner for Human Rights

Podcast: Media standards in Ukraine

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