Media policymakers must stop talking up intrusive codes of conduct for journalists and oppose all political meddling in the newsroom if they are to have a chance of winning media support in the battle against racism and intolerance, says the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).
At a meeting of experts organised in Strasbourg by the Council of Europe this week Aidan White, General Secretary of the IFJ and the European Federation of Journalists said groups like the Council of Europe and other political agencies should give their full support to a new industry-wide campaign to strengthen ethical and quality journalism.
“Extremism will not be eliminated by the introduction of new codes and supranational law. Editorial judgment, exercised freely, is what works best,” said White. “Governments should support actions by journalists and other media professionals who are campaigning for editorial independence and quality journalism to counter the collapse of standards in recent years.”
White laid the blame for growing intolerance in society and a resurgence of extremism in part at the feet of unscrupulous politicians and governments, including some democratic states, whose so-called war on terrorism had created new problems.
“The recent security obsession has heightened tension and suspicions in and between communities,” he said. “We give the impression that secular, tolerant and confident communities are nervous, uncertain and in retreat and this may reinforce the conviction among those responsible for terrorism that their bullying and intimidation is working.”
He cited incidents in Germany, the Netherlands and Italy where government security services were secretly monitoring and spying on journalists.
He condemned the unprecedented prosecution this week of three journalists in Denmark who face jail for “telling a truth to the people of Denmark about the war in Iraq which had been common knowledge for a year.”
He said democratic governments had to adopt a sense of proportion.
“We must stop playing up the politics of security and instead mobilize the forces of democracy, including media, in a campaign not based upon fear and ignorance, but which uses dialogues and democratic exchange as a process for confronting extremism.”
White said the IFJ is proposing in the coming months to launch a new umbrella group within media – the Ethical Journalism Initiative – to co-ordinate actions at national and international level to bridge the gulf of misunderstanding between cultures; to campaign for more informed and quality journalism; and to create structures for dialogue within the industry and between the media and the communities they serve. “This work should be supported by everyone who cares about the role of media in a democracy,” he said.
For more information contact the IFJ at +32 2 235 2207
The IFJ represents more than 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries worldwide