Media Ethics and Self-regulation (Conclusions of the Conference, Tirana, September 1999)

Tirana, September 25-27, 1999


Journalists, editors and journalism trainers from 19 countries meeting at the IFJ conference organised within the Royaumont process in Tirana on September 25-27, 1999 having discussed issues of journalists' ethics and self-regulation in media have adopted the following conclusions and programme of action:

Media ethics are a matter for the media professionals. Governments and parliaments must refrain from regulating media content.

Governments, parliaments and intergovernmental organisations have a responsibility to create a legal framework that guarantees freedom of expression and allows journalists to exercise their profession freely.

There has to be a clear distinction between issues to be dealt with in legislation, such as access to information or defamation and concepts of journalistic ethics, such as accuracy or fairness, which are not a matter of legislation.

Ethical journalism is primarily a matter of individual conscience, but this must be guided by codes of principles for the conduct of journalism developed by the media professionals themselves.

Editorial independence, the right of journalists to take editorial decisions according to conscience and professional standards is a prerequisite of ethical journalism. Journalists must be allowed to work independently and free from undue influence from political or economic interests.

Sound and professional journalism is the cornerstone of journalistic ethics. Standards of professionalism and journalistic ethics should be an integral part of journalism training.

There is no single model for self-regulation, which can be copied throughout the world. Journalists in each country have to work together to establish and to review common standards of ethics and professionalism.

Whatever the structure, systems of self-regulation should be established by the media professionals.

Systems of self-regulation must be linked to principles of media freedom. Where media freedom does not exist or is under threat the promotion of professional standards must be linked to the defence of press freedom.

Journalists and their organisations should promote public confidence in the media by establishing systems of self-regulation.

We propose the following actions to promote independent and professional journalism and to put journalistic ethics into practice.

1) Journalists' Ethics and Training:

Course formats should be developed in co-operation between the journalism training institutions and the journalists' organisations that make questions of ethics an issue in all areas of journalism training. Discussion of ethical dilemmas based on case studies and examples should be an integral part of such course formats.

The course formats should focus both on professional and ethical standards as well as on the conditions under which journalists try to live up to their own ethical standards.

Journalism training institutions and journalists' organisations should work together to prepare media analysis and case studies on different issues covered by the code of conduct of the journalists' organisations. This code or the IFJ Code of Principles should be used in training courses.

2) Editorial Independence

Journalists unions and associations in the region and the IFJ should campaign for the introduction of a clause of conscience into collective agreements or regulation that will give journalists the right to take editorial decisions according to conscience. Such a clause of conscience could include the following provision:

The journalists have the right to refuse an assignment if the assignment breaches the journalists professional ethics as laid down in the union's/ association's code of conduct and/ or the IFJ declaration of principles on the conduct of journalism.

3) Codes of Conduct and Systems of Self-regulation

Where a common code of conduct supported by all representative journalists' organisations does not exist, the journalists' organisations should organise meetings or committees to try to agree on a joint code.

As a second step the journalists' organisations should establish a more permanent body of co-operation to review the application of the code in the media and to defend professional standards and press freedom.

Journalists' organisations should develop mechanisms to promote awareness of the need for journalists' independence and ethical standards in the profession and in the public at large. This could be done, for instance, through the organisation of public meetings or through articles in the press and in publications of the journalists' organisations or their partners.

The IFJ and its member organisations should work to ensure that journalists' unions and associations play a key role in the establishment of structures for self-regulation.

The IFJ should develop projects in co-operation with its member organisations that will aim to establish bodies that monitor media performance and defend press freedom.

The IFJ should include questions of ethics in all its meetings and seminars, where relevant.

Finally, we call on the governing bodies of our unions or associations and on the IFJ Executive Committee to support these conclusions and to make the proposals for action a part of their future programme of work.