Separating the facts from the fiction in today’s media is becoming mission impossible. In the era of the #fakenews hashtag, the internet, and the media in general, are concerned by the emergence of fiction which is sometimes much stranger than truth! So what rules and initiatives exist in Europe to help ensure the accuracy and objectivity of news and current affairs reporting? How far can the European and the various national legislators go to protect us from dubious reporting or at least ensure that codes of good conduct exist? The European Audiovisual Observatory, part of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, has just published its latest legal report Media reporting: facts, nothing but facts?. Download it free here.
The first chapter looks at the various definitions of “accuracy, objectivity and fairness” by the different media and indeed their own interest in applying these principles. The “quality” press has long upheld accuracy as a basic moral duty of every journalist, in the name of professionalism and credibility. Broadcast organisations link the guarantee of accuracy, objectivity, and fairness to the aim of gaining the trust of viewers. Reputation and indeed audience figures are at stake here. There’s also a public interest question in this context: Strasbourg’s European Court of Human Rights treats news reporting and current affairs coverage as subject to the highest protection under the right to freedom of expression where it concerns “matters of public interest” and “matters of legitimate public concern.”
The second chapter looks at European law on accuracy and fairness in news and current affairs. Since the EU has virtually no binding legal texts on this subject, it is Strasbourg’s Council of Europe and its neighbouring European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) which lead the way for good practice in the fields of broadcast media, print media and the online coverage of news and current affairs. The reason for this is that the Court watches over and applies the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Article 10 of the ECHR actually guarantees the right to freedom of expression, so that member states have a positive obligation to “ensure” that the public “has access through television and radio to impartial and accurate information and a range of opinion and comment”. As a result, Strasbourg’s European Court of Human Rights has developed considerable case law on these issues. Indeed, the authors point out that “adherence to the ethics of journalism can provide media with additional protection under Article 10 of the ECHR; however, a lapse in “responsible journalism” may indeed result in the European Court finding sanctions imposed on the media to be consistent with Article 10.”
The third chapter examines European standards and policy, looking at the various Council of Europe bodies before moving on to the instruments adopted by media and regulatory organisations. The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers and Parliamentary Assembly have made over 80 Recommendations and Resolutions relating to the media since 1970. Some of the key issues covered include media and journalistic ethics, the duties of public service media, the right to reply and defamation of people featuring in the media, for example. This chapter also looks at the codes of conduct adopted by professional media interest groups such as the International Federation of Journalists (with its Declaration of Principles on the Conduct of Journalists), the Ethical Journalism Network, the European Federation of Journalists and indeed the Alliance of Independent Press Councils of Europe.
The remaining individual chapters of this in-depth study focus on the national rules and legal instruments concerning accuracy and objectivity in broadcast, print and online media in eleven different country reports covering: Germany, Spain, Finland, France, the UK, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, the Russian Federation and Slovakia.
The report concludes with a résumé of the Council of Europe’s most recent actions in this field. Its latest Resolution, adopted in April 2018, concerns the protection of editorial integrity. This new Resolution reiterates that media professionals are accountable to the public, and should maintain high editorial standards and adopt codes of conduct that promote essential ethical principles, such as truth and accuracy, independence, fairness and impartiality, humanity and accountability. This new Resolution also reaffirms the Council’s aim to decriminalise defamation, provided that the statement was “made without knowledge of their inaccuracy and without conscious intention to cause harm, and that their truthfulness was checked with proper diligence”. The authors conclude by emphasising the role of national regulatory bodies who “play a vital role in providing redress to viewers, readers and subscribers, and ensure the public’s continued trust in media reporting of news and current affairs.”
Fighting fake news in Europe? Find out who’s protecting your rights in this brand new legal report!