Press councils from South East Europe and Turkey discuss the challenges of online journalism at World Press Freedom Day celebrations in Helsinki

9 May 2016. To what extent have press councils adopted new ethical guidelines related to the online world and open journalism? Should ethical standards be the same for all journalists or should there be specific standards for bloggers and citizen journalists? These were some of the questions lively discussed by representatives of press councils from South East Europe and Turkey at a side-event of the World Press Freedom Day celebrations in Helsinki on 2 May 2016.

« In Serbia, the code of ethics has not been adapted to the digital era, yet the press council receives many complaints about online journalism. Most of these complaints deal with copyrights issues and it has become imperative for the press council to address this issue », said Nevena Krivokapić, a member of the Complaints Commission of the Press Council in Serbia.

The situation is quite similar for the other countries of the region. In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, 78% of the breach of the code of ethics concerns online media, above all about non-balance reporting, the confusion between facts and comments or hate speech.

While online news sites and online-only media outlets are now members of most press councils in the world, there is no agreement if bloggers should be included in the system of media self-regulation. Debates indicated that divergences of opinions originated from the lack of common understanding on who is a blogger and who should be considered a journalist. Risto Uimonen, former Secretary General of the Finnish Media Council introduced the case of Finland where bloggers have until now been excluded from the media self-regulatory system. Conversely, Flip Voets from the Flemish Press Council explained why this body has adopted a different approach.

In this context, participants of the side-event from South East Europe and Turkey agreed that further discussion on these questions is needed to better understand the concrete implications of these challenges for their work and future. They also expressed the need for sharing best practices.

The side-event was organized by the Press Council in Bosnia and Herzegovina as part of the project “Building Trust in Media in South East Europe and Turkey”. Together with other press councils that are partners of the project, it sponsored the trips of participants from the whole region to Helsinki. This event will be followed by a regional training about online media ethics in Sarajevo in June 2016.