Needs and challenges of press councils in South East Europe discussed at World Press Freedom Day in Riga

Press councils in South East Europe are facing many challenges as they work to raise professional standards and strengthen the social standing of journalism in the region. To address these issues, UNESCO commissioned a forward-looking assessment on the current needs of each press council in the region.

The five media councils of South East Europe: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo (under UNSCR 1244), the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia met to discuss the initial findings of the study on the current state of self-regulation in the region. This took place during a side event organized on 2 May by UNESCO in Riga, Latvia as part of World Press Freedom Day 2015.

Early this year, UNESCO consultant Catherine Speller travelled to the region to hold meetings with representatives of the councils and with external stakeholders. Speaking of her mission, Speller explained : “although the work of media councils in the region is often discussed, it appeared that an up-to-date, detailed presentation of the councils' operations was missing. Now that this information has been collated as part of this study, it can be used to identify strategies that encourage the long-term functionality and sustainability of self-regulation in the region.”

Lack of financial sustainability combined with the reluctance of some members to accept moral sanctions and the limited participation of online media are shared concerns for press councils. The study identifies possible areas of support for the future including concrete suggestions for each press council. During the event, Speller provided the media councils and other participants from the region with an overview of the main findings, which were then discussed by the councils. Representatives from Albania and Turkey also shared their perspectives on self-regulation in their countries.

Representatives of press councils from South East Europe welcomed the discussion. Katerina Sinadinovska, from the Macedonian Council of Media Ethics – the newest of the councils - said “when discussing our challenges, we should still keep in mind the collective successes of our media councils in recent years. In spite of scarce budgets, we have undertaken many profile-raising activities for civil society, trained journalists and editors and dealt with numerous complaints. We must build on this important work in the future.” All the councils underline the need to find resources that keep them running during a time of financial crisis.  

Tarja Turtia from UNESCO commented “this study could help to enhance coordination among donors and partners, particularly in the framework of UNESCO’s ongoing projects in the region”. There is an increasing interest on the part of the international community to strengthen the capacity of press councils, as part of a broader strategy to promote media freedom. The benefits of the region's self-regulatory councils have been widely recognized, including the valuable service they provide to civil society. But to succeed, they need to be effective and well-known, and there needs to be cooperation from the media. The website of UNESCO's Communication and Information Sector provides more information about the Organisation's work in this important area.  

This work has been undertaken within the framework of the EU-UNESCO project “Media Accountability in South East Europe”, which started in January 2013 and encourages professional and ethical media reporting by supporting the creation and strengthening of media self-regulatory mechanisms in the region.