Media Accountability Systems
Non-governmental means of inducing media and journalists to respect the ethical rules set by the profession. They are extremely diverse but all aim at improving news media, using evaluation, monitoring, education, feedback and communication. Here is a list of over 110, but more can, and will, be invented. The most obvious classification of the M*A*S is into three groups according to their intrinsic nature: documents (printed or broadcast) / people (individuals or groups) / processes (long or short).
Text, Broadcast or Website
- A written code of ethics, or an "ethics handbook", listing rules which media professionals have discussed and/or agreed upon with, preferably, input by the public. And which should be made known to the public.
- An internal memo reminding the staff of ethical principles (maybe the "tradition" of the paper 1) and providing it with guidelines as to behavior in particular circumstances.
- A daily internal self-criticism report circulated in the newsroom.2
- A correction box, or column3, published, very visibly. Or time taken to correct an error on the air.
- A regular « Letters to the Editor » column/program, including messages critical of the newspaper/ magazine/ station.
- An accuracy-and-fairness questionnaire, mailed to persons mentioned in the news or published for any reader to fill out.
- A public statement about media by some eminent decision-maker, abundantly quoted in the news 4.
- A space or time slot purchased by an individual, a group or a company to publish an "open letter" about some media issue 5.
- An occasional "Letter from the editor", expounding values and rules, or explaining how media function.
- A sidebar explaining some difficult editorial decision to publish or not to publish.
- An "Editors' blog" by senior staff to explain operations and decisions; also to take the reader/viewer "behind the scenes" and respond to his/her remarks.6
- A newsletter to readers, inserted or mailed, to keep them informed of what goes on at the newspaper or station.
- A regular media column, page, section7 in a newspaper, newsmagazine, trade review - or a program on radio or television, that does more than just mention new appointments and ownership changes.
- A regular ethics column in a trade magazine.8
- Regular reports by media-oriented citizens' associations that are published by newspapers.
- A daily online clearing house carrying info on events in the media world, quotes and criticism.9
- A web site systematically posting corrections of media errors, 10
- or the grievances of working journalists 11,
- or abuses by advertisers.12
- A website offering journalists information and advice on "promoting accountability" .13
- A website devoted to debate on media issues (e.g. media and the children).
- A section of a newspaper's web site devoted to immediate feedback by readers to a particular article.14
- A website teaching the public how to evaluate media.15
- A satirical presentation of the news implicitly exposing the failings of regular TV newscasts.16
- An online newspaper whose material is entirely supplied by citizens.17 Or readers' blogs within a newspaper's site to cover neighborhood news and issues. A printed newspaper can also make good use of readers' input.18
- An alternative periodical (esp. published by a minority), non-profit station or website, that publishes facts and gives viewpoints which regular media ignore, including criticism of the said media.
- A "journalism review", on paper or the air or the Web19, devoted principally to media criticism, exposing what media have distorted or omitted, and whatever other sins reporters or media companies have committed .
- "Darts and Laurels", a page or website consisting of short stories in criticism or praise of some media action, such as most journalism reviews have had.20
- Guides to "media empowerment" i.e. getting involved in media policy.21
- An annual report by a newspaper presenting a social and ethical audit of its contents and services, based on the opinions of thousands of readers.22
- Publication on the Web of full transcriptions of interviews and emails by news sources angered by bias or distortion.
- A petition signed by hundreds or thousands to put pressure on media directly or via advertisers or via some regulatory agency.
- A yearbook of journalism criticism, written by reporters and media users, edited by academics.23
- A weblog run by a journalist, or by an amateur, that scrutinize mainstream media, critiquing what they say and don't say.24
- An article, report, book, film, TV series about media, informative about media and, to some extent at least, critical.
- Newsletters emailed to subscribers by media-watch organizations.25
- The review of a consumer group (regional or national) which occasionally deals with media.
- A website showing how foreign media report on your country , with translation of stories.26
- A television network27 or weekly newsmagazine28 entirely made up of material borrowed from foreign media, enabling users to evaluate their own media.
- A non-profit regular daily newspaper, immune from share-holder and advertiser pressure.29
- [Very exceptional] A newspaper given by its publisher to a journalism school to serve as a "teaching hospital".30
- An in-house critic, or a « contents evaluation commission » 31, to scrutinize the newspaper, or monitor the station, for breaches of the code - without making their findings public.
- An ethics committee or a « staff review group » (a rotating panel of journalists) set up to discuss and/or decide ethical issues, preferably before they occur.
- An ethics coach operating in the newsroom, occasionally, to raise the reporters' ethical awareness, to encourage debate and advise on specific problems.
- A media reporter assigned to keep watch on the media industry and give the public full, unprejudiced reports 32.
- An outside critic paid by a newspaper to write a regular column about the paper.
- A whistle-blower who dares to denounce some abuse within the media company.
- A consumer reporter who warns readers/viewers against misleading advertising - and intervenes on their behalf.33
- An ombudsman, "editor in charge of reader relations", or a team of reporters, employed by a newspaper or station, to listen to suggestions and complaints from customers, investigate, obtain redress if need be and (usually) report on his activities.
- A Complaints bureau or Customer service unit to listen to grievances and requests.34
- A disciplinary committee set up by a union or other professional association to obtain that its code be respected - under pain of expulsion.
- Unions of journalists have shown everywhere a keen interest in media ethics, drafted codes and initiated press councils.
- A watchdog's watchdog, monitoring established M*A*S.35
- A liaison committee set up jointly by media and a social group with which they may occasionally clash 36.
- A citizen appointed to the editorial board; or several (often chosen among users who have complained) invited to attend the daily news meeting.
- A panel (or several specialized panels) of readers/ listeners/ viewers regularly consulted 37 - a Readers Advisory Committee to serve as the eyes and ears of the newspaper in their communities.38
- A club (of readers / listeners / viewers) that uses perks to attract members and leads them into a dialogue about the medium (most often a magazine).
- A radio club, to listen together and debate issues, to provide local news and suggestions to the regional broadcaster which supplies equipment and training.39
- A local press council, i.e. regular meetings of some professionals from the local media and representative members of the community.
- A national (or regional) press council set up by the professional associations of media owners and of journalists, and normally including representatives of the public - to speak up for press freedom and to field complaints from media users.
- A national ombudsman appointed by the press to deal with complaints, either in association with a press council (Sweden) or independent (South Africa).
- A watchdog agency set up by a media-related industry (like advertising) to filter contents - and ask that some not be made public, for ethical reasons 40.
- A militant association dedicated to media reform 41 or to helping persons with grievances against media 42.
- "Media observatories" set up by journalists to monitor attacks on press freedom and adherence to a code, receive complaints, debate ethical issues with publishers.
- An single-issue federation of many kinds of NGOs (civil rights groups, labour unions, consumer associations etc.) to fight a battle for better media.43
- A foundation that funds projects or institutions aiming at the improvement of media. 44
- A media-related institution, national 45 or international, that has a direct or indirect interest in promoting media quality 46 through conferences, seminars, publications etc.
- A "combination M*A*S" like the Poynter Institute in Florida, involved in research, data-gathering, publication, training, advice
- A national or international NGO to militate on behalf of journalists' freedom and welfare.47
- An NGO that trains personnel, and provides free services to media, in emerging democracies (Eastern Europe) and under-developed nations.
- An NGO that organizes regular public debates or campaigns on media issues. 48
- A citizen group (like a labor union or a parents' association) which, for partisan and/or public interest reasons (e.g. the welfare of children49), monitors the media - or attacks a special target, like advertising 50.
- A consumers' association, especially one of media users, using awareness sessions, monitoring, opinion polls, evaluations, lobbying, mail campaigns, even boycotts to obtain better service. 51
- A commission set up by Parliament 52 but independent, in order thoroughly to study a major media issue, like concentration of ownership.
- A team assigned by a social group (women, ethnic minority, physicians etc.) to monitor the media coverage they are receiving.
- A representative group of journalists in the newsroom, endowed with some rights, as allowed by law in Germany or required in Portugal.
- An Order of journalists, statutory but totally independent, one of whose purposes is to formulate and enforce ethical rules.53
- An association of publishers and editors to debate issues and promote quality.54
- A team formed by a group of specialized journalists (investigative reporters, women etc.) to exchange information and promote their interests.
- A "sociйtй de rйdacteurs", an association of all newsroom staff, that demands a voice in editorial policy - and preferably owns shares in the company so as to make itself heard. 55
- A "sociйtй de lecteurs", an association of readers which buys, or is given, shares in the capital of a media company and demands to have a say. 56
It seems reasonable also to place in this category three types of institutions that some experts would leave out of the M*A*S concept. Provided they do not take orders from government, to the extent that their purpose is to improve media service, it does not seem possible to leave them out completely. They might be called associate M*A*S or para-M*A*S:
- The regulatory agency, set up by law, provided it is truly independent, especially if it takes complaints from media users.57
- The international broadcasting company, public or private, using short wave radio or satellites, that makes it difficult for national media to hide or distort the news.58
- The autonomous non-commercial broadcasting company 59, whose sole purpose is to serve the public and which constitutes implicit criticism of commercial media. That category might be widened to include all high quality media whose primary aim is good journalism and which can serve as models.
- A higher education, a crucial M*A*S. Quality media should only hire people with a university degree, preferably (though this is controversial) one in mass communications.
- A separate course on media ethics required for all students in journalism.
- Further education for working journalists: one-day workshops, one-week seminars, six-month or one-year fellowships at universities. Such programs, quite common in the US 60, are very rare elsewhere.
- An in-house awareness program to increase the attention paid by media workers to the needs of citizens, especially women and cultural, ethnic, sexual or other minorities; or
- Offering readers a news menu and asking them to pick what they want to see on the front page next day.61
- Teaching journalists how to respond appropriately to readers/ listeners/ viewers on the phone or on the Web.
- Internally investigating major failures by a media (serious inaccuracies, unfounded reports, lack of adequate coverage, etc.)62
- Teaching journalists, through seminars and publications, how to organize and fight for quality.63
- Building a data-base, within a media outlet, of all errors (type, cause, person involved) so as to discern patterns and take measures.
- An internal study of some issue involving the public (like a newspaper's relations with its customers).
- An ethical audit: external experts come and evaluate the ethical awareness, guidelines, conduct within the newspaper or station.
- Giving the email addresses and/or telephone numbers of editors and of journalists (whenever a story of theirs is published).
- The (controversial) "readback" of quotes to sources to avoid errors.64
- A "media at school" program to train children from an early age in the understanding and proper use of media.
- A "media literacy" campaign to educate and mobilize the general public.
- A listening session: once a week or irregularly, editors man the phones to answer calls from readers. 65
- The regular encounter of news people with ordinary citizens in a press club , on the occasion of neighborhood meetings - or even on a cruise 66!
- A regular (e.g. quarterly) opinion survey (polls, public meetings, internet forum), commissioned by the media, to get feedback from the person-in-the-street; also a questionnaire on a newspaper or station website.
- A nation-wide survey of public attitudes towards all or some media (e.g. towards public broadcasting).
- Polling the public or groups within it so as to operate a barometer of satisfaction as opposed to the conventional systems of sales, ratings and shares.
- Non-commercial research, done mainly by academics in the universities, but also in think-tanks or scientific observatories 67, studies of the contents of media (or the absence of them 68), of the perception of media messages by the public, of the impact of those messages.
- Organizing an occasional street demonstration to promote some cause.69
- Sponsoring a national or regional forum on a big issue (e.g. The Hutchins Commission in the US -1937-1947) or limited issue, like local reporting.
- An annual conference bringing together media decision-makers, political leaders and representatives of citizens' groups of all kinds 70.
- An annual seminar on journalism criticism organized by a Journalism School.71
- Attracting the finest minds to journalism by creating bridges between academe and media.72
- International cooperation to promote media quality and accountability.73
- A prize, and other tokens of satisfaction, to reward quality media and ethical journalists74 - or an anti-prize 75.
Another classification of M*A*S depends on who is involved: some M*A*S function exclusively inside the newspaper or broadcast station; some exist outside of it and escape its control; others require that media and non-media people work together. Those boxes, however, are not air-tight: they allow variants of one M*A*S to slip from one into either of the other two.
The internal M*A*S constitute self-regulation proper, quality control in the narrow sense.
External M*A*S prove that accountability can be applied to the media without their acceptance; their aim is not reparation to aggrieved individuals but benefit to the public as a whole.
Cooperative M*A*S are certainly the most interesting since they imply that press, professionals and public can join together for quality control.
- Media Ethics and Accountability Systems, New Brunswick (NJ), Transaction, 2000 - 164 pages [Originally published in French, translated in Armenia, Brazil, China, Georgia, Greece, Italy, Japan, Korea, Portugal, Romania & Turkey). Albanian, Polish and Russian translations in progress]
- ^ , Cresskill (NJ), Hampton Press, 2003 - 420 pages. [Originally published in French (Economica, 1999), translated in Brazil (2002) and Japan (2003)].
1 To its "Standards & Ethics" code, the Washington Post appends Eugene Meyer's (its former owner) 1933 "Principles".
2 Like at Zero Hora, a daily of Porto Alegre in Brazil.
3 As in ^ , the British quality daily.
4 A huge ballyhoo greeted US Vice-President Spiro Agnew's two 1969 speeches against "liberal" media.
5 Like the one against toxic popular culture published in newspapers all over the US by 56 eminent Americans in July 1999.
6 As initiated in 2005 by the CBS network and the ^ .
7 Like the Media Guardian within the Monday edition of the Guardian (London).
8 As the monthly "Ethics Corner" in Editor & Publisher since 1999.
9 Like the Romenesko column since 1998, on the Poynter Institute website.
10 Like www.slipup.com in the US.
11 Like, in the US, the News Mait site maintained by Maurice Tamman for 3 years until 1999.
12 Like www.adbusters.org in Vancouver, run by former Madison Avenue types.
13 Like the IFJ (International Federation of Journalists) website for African news people: www.ifj.org/regions/africa.
14 The online edition of the French daily Le Monde actively solicits such feedback. Also BBC News Online.
15 Like John McManus' San Francisco Bay Area website focussed on television news: www.gradethenews.org
16 Like Jon Stewart's ^ on Comedy Central (USA), very popular with young viewers.
17 Like Ohmy News in South Korea which uses thousands of amateur reporters and scores 2 million page-views a day. Similar is Scoop.co in Israel.
18 Two pages in the Spanish daily ^ . The French Dйpкche du midi has thus widened its staff to several thousands.
19 Like the American JR (University of Maryland) or the On-Line JR (U. of Southern California).
20 See also the internal bulletin circulated by the ^ , called "Winners and Sinners".
21 Like that produced in the US for the Consumers' Union. Or a book by anti-dysinformation militants on how to access the columns of Le Monde.
22 As the British Guardian and Observer have done since 2003. In Sweden, a similar audit is produced by the University of Gцteborg and an association of publishers.
23 Like the one put out by the University of Tampere, in Finland, after an annual seminar on the topic.
24 Like university-based Media Lens in the UK "correcting the distorted vision of corporate media".
25 Like FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) or Project Censored in the US.
26 Like ^ in the US, with articles and audio and video clips.
27 Like SBS in Australia.
28 Like Courrier International in France.
29 Like the St Petersburg Times (Florida) whose profits go to the excellent Poynter Institute.
30 The ^ , whose assets were given in 2003 to a foundation that will join the University of Alabama in running a "community journalism" program.
31 Like the shinsa-shitsu set up by Japanese dailies as early as the 1920s.
32 The best-known, David Shaw (of ^ ) was awarded a Pulitzer prize in 1991.
33 Like the "Action Line" teams common in US newspapers in the 1970s.
34 Like that of the BBC in Britain.
35 Like the FPS association in Germany watching over the press council and other M*A*S.
36 Like the police or some immigrant minority.
37 In Mexico, the ^ group of newspapers uses 60 "reader boards" assigned to various fields. In Argentina, La Nacion has 1500 readers it consults twice a month.
38 Such as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel uses.
39 Common in sub-Saharan Africa, e.g. in Burkina, Benin, Niger, and Congo.
40 Like the BVP (Bureau de vйrification de la publicitй) in France or the Advertising Standards Authority in Britain.
41 Like FAIR in the US (www.fair.org) .
42 Like PressWise in Britain (www.presswise.org.uk)
43 Such a federation in the US in 2004 obtained from Congress that some media deregulation be nullified.
44 Like the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the Friedrich-Naumann Foundation in Germany or the Pew Charitable Trusts in the US.
45 Like the AEJMC (Association of Educators in Journalism and Mass Communication) in the US.
46 Like the International Press Institute or the World Association of Newspapers.
47 Like RSF, Reporters Sans Frontiиres or the US Committee of Concerned Journalists.
48 To be found in the UK (MediaWatch) or the Czech Republic.
49 Like ANDI in Brasilia which monitors Brazilian media, and reports on how they deal with children.
50 Like "Rйsistance а l'agression publicitaire" in France.
51 Like the Spanish FIATYR, a federation of associations of media users in every province or People For Better TV, a US broad-based national coalition.
52 Called Royal Commission in the UK and Australia.
53 Likle the Ordine dei Giornalisti in Italy.
54 Like the Verein fьr Qualitдt in Journalismus in German-speaking countries.
55 The first was set up at the French daily Le Monde (1951).
56 As is the case at Le Monde , of which it owns about 11%.
57 Like the Italian Ordine dei giornalisti (Order of Journalists) or the French Conseil Supйrieur de l'Audiovisuel (equivalent to the FCC in the US)Two very different types of institutions.
58 Like the BBC World Service or CNN – or a Polish radio station aimed at fascist Belarus.
59 Like NSK in Japan or ARD in Germany
60 Like the Knight fellowships at Stanford University and the Nieman Fellowships at Harvard U.
61 Like Chile's ^ or , in the US, the Wisconsin State Journal
62 As done by CBS on a Dan Rather blunder (2004) and by the New York Times on Jayson Blair's plagiarism and its uncritical pre-war coverage of Iraq.
63 What MediaWise does in the UK.
64 As the ^ encourages its reporters to do.
65 As is done at some Brazilian papers.
66 The Belgian daily La Libre Belgique has organized such cruises.
67 Like the European Institute for the Media in Dьsseldorf, Germany.
68 Like Project Censored in the US.
69 In 2005, media watchdog organizations in Romania set up an "Information Fair" to protest harassment by government.
70 Like, until 2005, the "Universitй de la communication" in late August, in Carcans-Maubuisson, later in Hourtin, SW France.
71 Like the one at the University of Tampere in Finland.
72 E;g. Reuters creating a Journalism Institute at Oxford. Millionaire publisher Steven Brill by endowing such training at Yale University.
73 Like the European alliance of press councils (AIPCE) or the Ibero-American Federation of Ombudsmen.
74 Like that started in 1999 by the J-School at the University of Oregon.
75 Like the "Silver Sewer Award" bestowed by Empower America, a conservative media watchdog.
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