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ABU GA – Broadcasters must build relationships with their audiences

Good journalism involves building relationships with one’s audiences, one of the world’s leading media ethicists told an ABU conference in Vietnam.

Aidan White, Director of the Ethical Journalism Network, gave the keynote address at a special seminar in the run-up to the ABU General Assembly in Hanoi.

The seminar – which was co-sponsored by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung of Germany – looked at “Building Public Trust in Media: An Asia-Pacific Perspective”. 

Mr White said the media must work in partnership with their audiences to build trust. This involved rethinking acts of journalism, rebuilding its ethical base, an industry commitment to change, good governance with self-regulation and leadership from within journalism itself.

He said journalism’s conventions and standards were set out in more than 400 codes agreed at national and global level, and in respect for human rights. These too were agreed international standards such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Convention on Civil and Political Rights and Regional Human Rights Instruments.

He reminded participants that journalism was not free speech – it was constrained expression. It worked in a framework of values, had purpose and was a public good.

There were ethical constraints such as truth, independence, impartiality, humanity and accountability, together with other constraints such as the Internet, a changing industry, political and social challenges including hate speech and intolerance. 

Mr White said it was important to tell stories in context, with truth, Independence, impartiality, humanity and accountability. He said journalists should avoid a “rush to publish”, be transparent and be accountable.

He wrapped up his presentation with two sets of principles for self-regulation. Internally at company level these included mission statements and codes of conduct, good governance, transparency and responsiveness to concerns and complaints. Externally there were national structures such as industry-wide systems of self-regulation, political independence and a mix of professional and public representation on regulatory bodies. 

In her opening remarks, Ms Ta Bich Loan, Managing Director VTV 6 and Chair of the VTV Journalist Association, said new technological platforms were transforming the shape of the international media environment, and creating a broader, globally connected public sphere. 

Se Deuk Ahn, Director ABU News, said that to deal with the waves of change brought about by developments such as Social Network Service, broadcasters should return to basics, to those fundamental services and ethos based on public trust and support.

Klaus Bergmann, Director International Relations at Deutsche Welle, said that media and good governance was a challenging issue in every society, even in those countries with a democratic political system.

“The defence of media freedom continues to be a battle,” he said, “a battle of vigilance in the democracies of Europe and a battle against oppression and injustice in the totalitarian regimes still scattered across the globe.”

Ms Sabine Franze, Project Coordinator for FES, questioned how trustworthy news and information obtained from alternative media platforms were, without legislated rules and self-imposed professional ethics and standards.

“Do they really provide an alternative for citizens to make informed political decisions?” she asked. “How can or should public service broadcasting organisations make use of this information without endangering their credibility?”

Magdalene Kong, of UNI Global Union Asia & Pacific, said the media as the Fourth Estate needed to reinvent itself and be relevant and accountable to the citizenry it serves. It needed to open the space to incorporate new media into existing heritage media and to resist regulation that steers away from fundamental principles of universality, diversity, independence and impartiality, innovation, wide coverage, high technical quality and high production levels.