The important role of ethical media content, with transparency, accountability and trust in the media at its heart, is becoming recognized by media organisations around the world.
If news media are not ethical and transparent, they will not be trusted – and trust is the key to building public confidence in journalism.
In Turkey, the difficult political climate and competition in a crowded media market pose significant challenges, but independent journalism can still function and play a critical role in building public confidence in news media particularly by using new technologies and media tools that allow different voices to heard.
Journalism’s crucial role in calling those in power to account and telling the stories of marginalized groups in society can be as relevant as ever, but that will only be possible if journalists are ethical in their work and if owners and managers of media are transparent and accountable to the public they serve.
The Coalition for Ethical Journalism in Turkey, working with the Ethical Journalism Network, is taking up the challenge of supporting more open and more accountable news media by developing structures for internal organization of media institutions that respect basic standards of editorial independence, good governance and transparency.
If a media organisation can build a culture of professionalism in its board room as well as its newsroom, this will inspire responsible communications within individual media houses and across the media landscape as a whole.
Today public trust in the media is at an all-time low, and the onus is on media organisations to find new ways to cultivate stronger relationships and improve public confidence in the content they produce.
To help media and journalists’ groups achieve that the Ethical Journalism Network , supported by leading editors, media owners and journalists from across the world, has developed an innovative tool that can help media monitor their own performance.
This tool, the ethical media audit, offers news media, particularly those working in challenging media environments, where transparency of ownership and structures are often absent, a mechanism for monitoring their own performance and for strengthening their systems of governance and journalism. This is a first step towards improving public trust and market confidence in their brand.
The EJN has recently implemented a programme of ethical media audits with a number of media organisations worldwide, including in the Western Balkans and the Middle East. The media audits are tools to strengthen organisational structures, policies and governance which, in turn, improve quality and ethical quality of editorial.
The basic structure of the ethical media audit has been developed in an EJN and UNESCO-led project in the Balkans as part of the Building Trust in media in South East Europe and Turkey project funded by the European Union. The EJN and the CEJT proposes to build on this basic structure in order to develop bespoke ethical audits to suit the needs of individual media organisations in Turkey.
A very successful initial audit, for instance, has been completed with an independent news website 7iber in Jordan. This has helped to the management to identify policies and structural issues related to governance and accountability that they want to reform and provide guidance in how to develop progressive policies that fit their business model and mission.
The ethical audit process has also been a major contributor to the Journalism Trust initiative, a major international action involving media, certification bodies and media support groups that is developing a recognition process for identifying minimum standards of ethics, good governance and self-regulation across the media sector.
In the future news media will only survive with different streams of funding, including direct public support, but they will only become entitled to that support if they can show they are reliable, trustworthy and attached to ethical principles of journalism and governance.
The EJN and CEJT believe that adopting the audit process can lead to additional support to news organisations and other institutions from the wider public and other funding sources.
The EJN and the CEJT believe that news media must:
- Reinforce the importance of ethical standards in journalism and its five core principles – accuracy, independence, impartiality, humanity and transparency.
- Promote the benefits of good governance in media organisations and the impact it can have in ensuring the production of professional content;
- Adopt good governance guidelines for media owners, managers and staff which will in turn serve as a benchmark for future work and outputs;
- Build the capacity of their organisations to develop a more strategic approach to good governance, allowing them to produce on-going audit and analysis of their internal structures and work;
The CEJT, working with the EJN, wants to work very closely with elected media organisations in order that the organisation will utilise the ethical audit tool to its full capacity. Each news organisation can develop a bespoke audit questionnaire and the EJN and CEJT will work alongside them to provide advice and support on how to get the best out of the audit.
How can this be done?
Firstly, by developing a bespoke version of the ethical audit questionnaire for each media organisation depending on their structures, platforms and the milieu in which they operate;
Then by meeting with media organisations in their offices or, when not possible, by Skype, to discuss the audit and its delivery and providing on-going support and advice throughout the audit process; and
Finally, by supporting the creation of a final report with recommendations and next steps for follow up support to enable and facilitate the implementation of any outcomes and identified areas for development in the ethical audit
Each audit must be developed to reflect the needs and requirements of individual organisations which should have full ownership of the process. The news media themselves must decide how to implement the results of the audit and how to use the process for promoting its brand and its work.
The results of this work can be invaluable in creating new energy within the Turkish media scene. It will reinforce the importance of ethical journalism and good governance and can strengthen internal cohesion between management and staff. It will also go demonstrate how good governance on an organisational level can have an impact on media content and outputs.