Bitola, 13 November 2022 (MIA) – The topic of ethics in journalism is one of the most important topics, especially now that our digital environment brings new challenges. We deeply believe that respecting ethical standards leads to eternal readership, trust from the public and better business sustainability, journalist Danica Ilic, from the Ethical Journalism Network based in London, says in an interview with MIA.
Danica Ilic, a former journalist at the BBC and Belgrade-based Radio B92, currently lives and works in London at the Ethical Journalism Network (EJN). In the past couple of years, she has been in charge of the project “Building Trust in Media in South East Europe and Turkey” and cooperates with journalists and editors in regional media to promote the idea of ethical standards and good governance.
Where did the idea to create and then implement the “Building Trust in Media in South East Europe and Turkey” project come from? Did you have special reasons, insights, public opinion research?
The idea for the project, realized by the Ethical Journalism Network, and supported by UNESCO and the European Union, came about on the basis of the need to restore public trust in media. With digitization, regional media, like the global media, are facing the unknown, the consequences of the ever-growing misuse of the internet and social networks, as well as the issue of the increasingly prevalent phenomenon of disinformation. In that sense, EJN and UNESCO decided to create a very clear and concrete proposal for building and restoring trust in the media. We are talking about a questionnaire that contains guidelines for the implementation of ethical standards and good governance. Our project and questionnaire are aligned with the international journalism initiative known as Journalism Trust Initiative (JTI), led by Reporters Without Borders. Together, and with the support of ethical media in the region, we are getting results in the creation of better media content for the public and of course responsible management of media.
How developed are the ethical practice and transparency in the media of South East Europe and Turkey?
Each country has its own specific issues, but we all face a lack of transparency, professionalism, responsible reporting and a respect for the ethical standards. When it comes to media freedom, the media in Turkey is in an unenviable position, there are currently 39 imprisoned journalists in the country. In Serbia, the most influential media are owned by tycoons or are under the influence of the political elites. The British media, where I live, also have their own problems, but what makes the professional media different is their insistence on being more transparent and improving that situation in practice on a daily basis.
Should we separate, or make a difference between the journalists’ professional ethics and the business ethics of the media?
I think that it is very difficult to separate these two things from each other. It is impossible to report ethically, to respect the code of ethics in journalism, to respect the rules of the profession when creating media content, while at the same time having a bad contract for the workers. The ethics that the individuals, the journalists, are concerned for in the newsrooms cannot be separated from the ethical management of the media, for which the managers are in charge. Unfortunately, there are some who do not understand this, especially in an environment of a general collapse of the system of values and an increasing number of media outlets who believe themselves to be media.
Why and how important was the support of UNESCO and the European Commission for this project?
UNESCO has been a long-standing partner of the EJN, and a very important one for us as well because they understand the need for restoring the trust in media, especially in the age of the digital environment. Also, from the very beginning, both the EU and UNESCO supported our intentions and initiatives to realize numerous innovations and programs in the Balkans related to the ethical revision of the current practice.
Do you have insight into which media are losing and which are gaining the public’s trust? Are ethical media more likely to ‘survive’ in the business environment?
“Ethical media and those that fill out our questionnaire certainly have better chances for business success. Firstly, foreign partners and donors are already asking for evidence on whether a certain media outlet is professional and worth investing in. Secondly, advertisers are very cautious when they appear, especially during a period of chaos in the media space caused by disinformation or irresponsible publishing of information. And thirdly, the digital platforms and social media, faced with the pressure to regulate their platforms, are looking to support only those media that are ethical and recognizable for their ethics.
At the recent conference in Istanbul, EJN founder, Aiden White, put special emphasis on new financing sources. Do we need new sources of media financing?
The founder of EJN and former General Secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, Aiden White, believes that we must now look for new sources of financing independent and professional media. When it comes to our region, my impression is that the new ways of financing are approached with insufficient courage, and this is puzzling especially if you take into account the purchasing power of the population, the current ownership structures and the attitude of the ruling political elites towards the media!
What conclusions were made at the Istanbul Conference and what is next? What is your next challenge?
Since we have successfully realized the “Building Trust in Media in South East Europe and Turkey” project, we are planning to continue to work with our local partners, in order to strengthen the ethical standards and good practice. The topic of ethics in journalism is one of the most important topics, especially now that our digital environment brings new challenges. We deeply believe that respecting ethical standards leads to eternal readership, trust from the public and better business sustainability.
Translated by Angel Dimoski