Ética, la herramienta fundamental para una autorregulación exitosa

Jun 14, 2013 | Informes

Consejos de prensa, defensor de las audiencias, códigos de ética, son algunos de los mecanismos utilizados por los medios de comunicación en varios países de América latina, como forma de regularse. Hay quienes también apuestan por la autorregulación como forma de hacer mejor  periodismo.

Pero, quizás, sea la ética la principal herramienta que tienen los periodistas para ejercer su profesión con la seguridad de cumplir la función social del periodismo: la búsqueda de la verdad para servir a los ciudadanos.

Así lo considera, Javier Darío Restrepo, periodista colombiano referente en asuntos de ética periodística en América a Latina, quien expuso hace pocas semanas en Quito y Guayaquil, en el marco de Seminario Internacional: «Éticay Comunicación: el contexto Latinoamericano» que organizó Fundamedios con el apoyo de la Fundación Konrad Adenauer. En este encuentro, al que asistieron cerca de 200 personas, además, se mostraron experiencias exitosas sobre regulación, corregulación y autorregulación en países como Perú y Uruguay. Lea el informe completo

ETHICS: A fundamental tool for successful self- regulation.

Press Regulation Boards, Audience Ombudsman, Ethic Codes, are only a few mechanisms used by the  media in different countries of Latin America to regulate themselves. Many people hold self-regulation as the best way to create and foster a better journalism.

Nevertheless, ethics are journalists’ main tool to perform their job. An ethical approach to the exercise of journalism is the best way to ensure that its main role is duly performed; which is the search for the truth as a service to the citizens, as colombian expert in journalism ethics Javier Dario Restrepo mentioned a few weeks ago during the International Seminar “Ethics and Comunication in Latin America”, organized by Fundamedios and Konrad-Adenauer Foundation.

At least 200 persons attended the Seminar, in which success stories on self – regulation by the press in countries such as Perú and Uruguay were presented.

The essence of ethics

According to Javier Darío Restrepo, ethics provide dignity and respect to the exercise of journalists, as these constitute the true nature of the profession. “When such nature is unobserved or distorted by unworthy actions, professional unworthiness appears”. Restrepo asks then, “are you satisfied with the way in which the audiences see you?”.  Furthermore, he considers that when a journalist lies to the audience for any reason, he is unworthy and unethical.

Regarding the Ecuadorean scenatio, the colombian expert indicated that the current situation of journalism  in the country is “both a risk and a challenge” since it is imposible that journalists perform rutinary tasks, because it is always required abandon traditional schemes. He believes this is so due to the fact that currently in Ecuador there is “someone that is accusing the press of performing low quality journalism”.

Restrepo indicated that the persistence of the government accuse Ecuadorian journalists as being corrupt, is a demolishing statement, since “ it is ill-founded and jeopardizes the moral rights of each journalist and journalism as a whole”.

The expert believes that the situation of jounalism in Ecuador demands some “heroic answers”, which means that the media must serve society and perform its roll in spite of all the risks ahead.

According to Restrepo, President Correa´s speech against independent media has undermined their credibility, which is the basis of journalism.   He further mentioned that “when audiences do not perform in-depth analysis and build criteria based on emotional rather than rational basis, whatever the President says is automatically accepted without any questioning or doubt”.

Furthermore, he believes that when the audience has a poor concept of a journalists his or her work becomes even harder to perform. Nevertheless, he affirmed that journalists must build and strengthen their credibility from scratch, in spite of any adverse situation.

Restrepo highlights, however, a positive aspect within such a complicated scenario: “every crisis can be turned into an opportunity, therefore, we are now before a great opportunity for Ecuadorean journalism”.

In this regard, Restrepo explains that the excessive criticisms is an oportunity journalists must take to ask themselves “have we provoked this?”, and they can develop a healthier approach: self-criticism. According to Restrepo, it is important that journalists “realize their mistakes first, and then start rebuilding whatever it is that was destroyed by the attacks from the President or by the mistakes of journalists themselves, whatever that was done to foster the public opinion´s view that holds journalists as the public enemy or at least someone that can hurt them with the information they deliver”.

With regards to the on-going conflicts between the governments and the press in different countries, Restrepo believes that this responds to a logic of power: “ it turns out that the presidents in Latin America distrust, like a power they cannot control”. Therefore, they call the press a de facto power, when in reality, according to  Restrepo, “the press is a power that puts a limit to the governments’’ power. The limits set by the press conflict with the aspiration of unlimited power and authority that some governments have. This is particularly true when the press holds the credibility and respect from the public”.

The Colombian journalists believes that when governments’ powers are limited, is exactly when speeches that want to put down the job of the press appear, as well as accusations that suggests that journalists serve economic powers, that journalism is a destructive force”. For example, governments may say something like: “when a good  bill is passed, the press criticizes it and forces authorities to turn it down”. Bottomline is, some presidents in the región cannot accept the normal workings of the press. The Annual Report of the United Nations Program For Development on Democracy in Latin America warned about this phenomenon in 2004 already”.

Also, Restrepo considers that nowadays there are certain presidentes in the región that want to hold as much power as posible, and for that they need media, in one hand, and in the other they fin dan obstacle in free press. Therefore they each create mechanism to have control over independent media and journalists. Restrepo cited the cases of Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina an Nicaragua to illustrate this point.

With regards to new technologies, crisis in journalisms and the role of ethics in these fields, Restrepo underlines that “the role of ethics is to keep the identity of journalism strong, meaning that a journalist must know where is he standing, and to be proud of his role”.

For Restrepo, an ethical work is not fulfilled only by abiding with norms or ethical codes; it is “the inner rush that every person has within that moves to be a permanent critic of what surrounds him and then foster permanent change and improvement of such current conditions. One must be critical not only with oneself but with everything that is around us. The ultimate changing factor is hope in change itself, and the power that everyone has to provoke such change: I can change, I should change, I must change. This is ethics”.

Restrepo believes that new technologies are doors to new opportunities, considering that the digital era has provided a wide range of possibilities to contact the entire world. Certain traditional concepts, such as that of “fellow men” are seriously questioned.

We must consider that all that is powered by new technologies, everything is larger and wider. Technologies provide universal and global dimension to everything we do. Restrepo thinks that nowadays journalists have a greater responsibility for the power they hold due to new technology. However, more responsibility comes with such power, which may suggest that a new set of ethics are required to guide our actions, but no: it is the same ethics and set of values, but applied in a wider, more rigorous, demanding and superlative way.

Two success stories on regulation and self regulation in Latin America.

The case of Perú, and the premise to Foster a more ethical journalism to defend freedom of expression:

Attorney, Anthropologist and Legal Institutions Master José Perla – Anaya presented the Peruvian case on regulation and self- regulation. Anaya holds that, unlike other cases in the Region, Perú went through a very oppressive era during the government of Alberto Fujimori, in which restrictions, censorship and manipulation of information were precisely some of the facts that later on fostered the creation of self- regulation processes within the written press.

Perla-Anaya narrated that back in those critical days, 51% of the media were controlled by the State and 49% remained in hands of businessmen. Furthermore, certain bills that were promoted by the Executive passed, alongside with several judicial processes against journalists and media outlets.

Between 1998 and 2000 at least US$22’000.000 were invested in the official press, and in 7 newspapers gathered by Francisco Montesinos, personal advisor to President Fujimori.

Also, there was a large increase in the number of judicial procedures against the press, as well as physical and verbal attacks to journalists, while high-ranked State agents permanently diminished journalistic investigations. Most audiences received only information that supported the regime’s view, while national broadcasts threatened and harassed social communicators. As a result, both the media and journalists lost their credibility.

Under these circumstances, several groups within the written press decided to unite in 1997. The self-regulatory process that started in Perú at that time, and which subsists until these day, was originally a way to overcome the harsh situation in which the press and its workers were at that time, as well as to attend to the numerous critics that most citizens had regarding their work. The premise was to foster ethical journalism, as well as to defend the right to freedom of expression and access to information. This is how the Council of Peruvian Press was created, a group founded by the most important representatives of the written press: El Comercio, La República, El Popular, among others.

Perla-Anaya indicated that this non-partisan body has an Ethics Tribunal characterized by its Independence and impartiality, and its members are people that are not related to the journalistic work.  Its main objective is to receive and respond to requests for rectification and complaints regarding information presented by the press that might jeopardize journalistic values. Nonetheless, it must be highlighted that the Tribunal does not entertain requests regarding opinion notes or the editorial line of the media.

The Ethics Tribunal studies each case and delivers a moral sanction, which must be executed by the members of the Council. In cases where the Tribunal receives complaints of  unethical behavior of journalists or media that are not part of the Council, these media are summoned and may freely chose to abide with the decision of the Tribunal or not.

The moral sanction must be made public by the media, and by all the members of the Council as well. According to Perla-Anaya, some 400 complaints have been entertained and solved up to this day.

Here is an example of a decision made by the Tribunal on 2012. The complaint was presented against Diario Perú 21.

“On May 26, 2010, the Ethics Tribunal aproved Decision N° 006-TE/2010, declaring that the claim presented my Ms. María del Pilar Tello with regards to the information presented about the judicial cases under which this person is investigated by the Public Minister is well founded, whereas, with regard of the investigation on the National Financing Fund of State Bussiness Activity (FONAFE)”.

The Tribunal decided, inter alia:

“1. That the complaint with regard to the information for which Ms. Tello is investigated by the Public Ministry is well founded;

2. That the complaint presented by Ms. Tello regarding the investigation of FONAFE is unfounded;

3. Recomends that Diario Perú 21 publishes this decision in the website of its digital version, and applies the proper rules to avoid further publications of slanderous afirmations against readers.

4. To ordain that Diario Perú 21 publishes this decistion within the next eight days of its publication. Otherwise, the Ethics Tribunal will ordain that this resolution is published in all the media associated to the Council”.

Radio and TV media in Perú had a different process. From 2004, they implemented a system that could be described as co-regulatory. Since the passing of the Radio and Television Law in 2001 several organizations of the civil society lobbied to stop the high levels of corruption within audiovisual media, in particular during the Fujimori era.

The Law was originally proposed by the Executive and the Citizen WatchGroup for Social Communication. Numerous requests were filed to the National Congress from several groups and after a heated debate, the new Radio and Television Law was passed.

This legal norm regulates aspects such as the administration and concession of radio frequencies, and imposes content regulation for independent media. It also included a norm that orders networks to create either individually or collectively an Ethics Code, in which certain dispositions, such as TV Parental Guidelines, mechanisms for self-regulation and conscience clause should be included. The aforementioned Law mandates that not drafting and presenting an Ethics Code is an minor administrative breach. Under these norms, the Advisory Council for Radio and Television, CONCORTV, was created. This body started functioning in 2005, and it was its mandate to improve the organization and administration of the radio and TV sector. CONCORTV is a body that depends of the Ministry of Communications and Transportation. Among its numerous duties, it must Foster good practices within the Radio and Television sector in Perú.

CONCORTV is formed by advisors who represent several groups within civil society, and one representative from the State that has voice but no voting rights it its decisions.

State publicity is also regulated, and it must be administrated under the principles of equito, transparency decentralization.

The Law indicates that any breach will be verified evaluated and sanctioned  by the Ministry of Transportation and Communications. If such breaches are related to the content of programs, an advise from the CONCORTV is requested. The breaches are of an administrative nature before the Ministry, nevertheless in some cases civil or criminal responsibility may be applicable, too.

The Law contains three types of breaches: Mild, severe and very severe. Most of these breaches are related to non-compliance with technical or administrative requirements. The sanctions, on the other hand, may be a verbal sanction, a fine and the cancelation of the frequency concession.

Perla-Anaya believes that it is always better that jouralists set their own limits, so that the State does not do so in an improper fashion. He also believes that the press- enterprise relations should be carried in a profesional manner, aside of any manipulation or influences that may cause a distortion in the information presented by the media.

Uruguay, five stages to illustrate the efforts to improve journalistic work.

Carolina Molla Mosquera, Communicator from CA Info, explained that the process in Uruguay was quite different. As a background, she explains that the media and journalists went through a stage of very poor working conditions: journalists had to get multiple Jobs, private media was systematically closing, there was a dramatic reduction of personnel in many networks and serious cases of property concentration. Those precarious conditions affected the ethics in which the journalistic work was done in Uruguay.

No media network, journalist union or association had an ethics code back then. Therefore, the Uruguayan Press Association APU, the Archives and Public Information Access Center CAINFO and the Group for Media and Society GMs, alongside with the International Program for Communications Development of UNESCO, started working on a Project in order to debate the need to create a set of norms and recommendations on journalism ethics.

Firstly, the working group identified the main ethical problems existing in Uruguayan media, such as copyright issues among journalists, management of sensitive information that may jeopardize children´s rights, privacy rights and censorship from media owners and directors to their employees. Other forms of pressure and sanctions for the information of issues that affected the interests of media owners were also analyzed.

The most relevant aspect of the process was the level of integration of several actors, such as students, professors, private and State entities, journalists and citizens. This was fundamental to  shape the Ethics Code.

Furthermore, the Ethics Code was possible because of the decriminalization of crimes of opinion and information. Libel, slander and desacato were eliminated from the criminal code. Also, several laws were passed, such as the Access to Information Law and the Community Radios Law, as well as other executive decrees that strengthened diversity and pluralism in the access to radio frequencies. Freedom of expression was benefitted under these new conditions.

The Ethics Code for Uruguayan Media and Journalists was developed in five stages, which lasted more or less a year. During this time, several debates, polls, seminars and lectures were organized to discuss its contents. All the actors involved agreed on the fact that compliance with the Code would be optional, and that it consisted more on recommendations directed to improve the journalists’ work.

Stage One:

The process started with the drafting of a document in which the principal mechanisms for self- regulation, as well as comparative anaylis of other Ethic Codes existing in other countries. Several seminars and lectures were held in the most important cities of Uruguay. Experts from Argentina Brasil and Chile shared their experiences with journalists, professors, civil society actors, and citizens, and discussed with them the most relevant issues in Uruguayan press.

Stage Two:

At this point, a national poll was carried among some 260 journalists, who were consulted on the main issues affecting ethics and fostering bad practices within the journalistic field, as well as the need to create an Ethics Code. The idea was largely supported by those consulted.

Stage Three:

The results obtained in the polls, and the information gathered in the seminars and lectures served to start the drafting of the Ethics Code. A special council formed by the Uruguayan Press Association APU, the Center of Archives and Acess to Information CAInfo and the Group for Media and Society GMS. The code included issues such as obligations regarding the rights to freedom of expression and information, gender, discrimination, rights of the child, and journalism in social networks.

Stage Four:

Once the code was drafted, a consultation stage that lasted two months was carried out, in which opinions, suggestions, and collaboration from different actors such as journalists, professors, etc were gathered. Afterwards, Prof. Javier Darío Restrepo served as an advisor in the process.

Stage Five:

The Code was officially presented to the public. A meeting with media owners, editors and directors was held. In this meeting, the most important issues on the content of the Code were discussed, such as mechanisms to gather information, interaction with the sources, management of violent footage, digital journalism and information regarding children and youngsters. Comparative studies on similar frameworks in other countries, a matinal poll and a large period of public consultation finally ended on April 2013, when the Code of Ethics for the JOurnalistic Profession was approved in Uruguay. For the APU, the aprobation of this Code is a historic step for improving the work of journalists and the quality of the information braodcasted by the media.

According to the Code, union workers in a media network will ensure that their duties are carried out with quality and with respect to human rights; journalists must focus on gathering and delivering information in a correct manner, taking care on the language and keeping a balance in their job.

The Code fosters the respect to privacy and dignity of citizens, while ensuring the right of journalists to seek and deliver information of public concern, specially that information  at refers to State agents or offices.

The Ethics Code incorporated a section on digital journalism and social network, that promotes the responsible use of the Internet and new technologies under the same ethic parameters as traditional press.

The aforementioned Code created an Arbitration Tribunal, which is entitled to apply and execute the norms in the Code.  The Tribunal can entertain complaints and deliver decisions in the form of recommendations, aimed to strengthen the quality in the journalistic field.

The Uruguayan experience is certainly a success story and an example for other countries in the region that may consider to start a self- regulation process for the press.

The Ethics under the Irreverence.

By: César Ricaurte, article published on Diario Hoy on June 14, 2013.

The other day I was listening to a lecture on journalistic ethics. Around the common discourses that constantly whine about “responsible journalism”, the bright words of Nelson Reascos rose. A unique thinker, that does not pursue fame or self promotion, that has not sold his soul to the power for a few scrums, and keeps his sight free from distortive glasses, as Marx himself used to say, is the example of ideology.

Reascos posed important questions around ethics: Is there a single “ethic”? Who decides the main values that form such ethic? The answer to these questions was unbeatable: the ethic values are determined by those in power. This is crucial when it comes to discussing journalistic ethics, and even more when the ones that are discussing are those who have control over the situation. Under this view, many of the ethic values that presented as fundamental to journalists, are in fact chains which are meant to bind an activity that should be inquisitive, critical and irreverent. In other words, free.

Reascos is a faithful disciple of Arturo Andres Roig, one of the most outstanding philosophers of the Americas. As such, he sustained that the journalistic job is more related with the ethics behind complaining than with Orwell’s vision of ethics as “acceptable” and “responsible” truths. Let us not forget that one of the most interesting essays by Roig, “The Ethics of Power and the Morality of Protest” basically holds that in contrast of an oppressive objective ethics, we must present a subjective morality, therefore, diverse and free. We must ask ourselves, are there any solid values, set in Stone? Or, in the other hand, everything is relative and “liquid”? Under this view, anything that threatens life is unacceptable. And viceversa.

The ethics of power are usually deathly and opressive. They ends up destroying everything they touch. For instance, lets analyze the actions of the National Secretary of Communication and his propaganda machinery. When he declares himself absolute owner of an only truth (the oficial truth), he eliminates the chance for other truths to emerge, thus, mutilating the possibility of having a real democratic debate. What to do? Obviously, irreverence, protest and desacato are the only way to go. To look at the King directly in the eye, even when this is considering a major offense.

Journalisms must be irreverent, or not exist at all. Furthermore, irreverence must be  its premise. It is the only way to preserve life, even if this displeases those in power. Nowadays, being irreverent may be informing about an oil spill, for instance. Or the struggle for water within indigenous communities. Or the big fiasco behind the new Airport in Tababela. Or unraveilng corruption acts within the government, denounce the killing of uncaontacted indigenos peoples (while the Government denies it)

Irreverence is, for instance, what journalist Jorge Latana does in Argentina. Because being irreverent is legitimate when it serves to rebel against some people that , aside from stealing democratic institutions to themselves, have the gut to call others “subversives”! in order to take the whole loot.


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