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Journalists and Media Accountability

An International Study of News People in the Digital Age


Edited By Susanne Fengler, Tobias Eberwein, Gianpietro Mazzoleni and Colin Porlezza

Media accountability is back on the political agenda. Debates about the phone-hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World have shown that the need for free and responsible journalism is more pressing than ever. Opinions, however, differ on the measures that need to be taken. Do existing structures of media accountability – such as press councils, codes of ethics, and ombudspersons – suffice, or do we urgently need new instruments and initiatives in today’s converging media world?
These questions were tackled in an international survey of 1,800 journalists in twelve European and two Arab states conducted by the EU-funded research project, «Media Accountability and Transparency in Europe» (MediaAcT). The results provide a solid empirical basis for the discussions taking place. This book advances research on media accountability and transparency, and also offers innovative perspectives for newsrooms, media policy-makers, and journalism educators. Its systematic comparative design makes it an unprecedented venture in international journalism studies.
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6. Little Impact? Journalists’ Perceptions of Traditional Instruments of Media Self-Regulation: Salvador Alsius, Ruth Rodríguez-Martínez & Marcel Mauri de los Rios



Chapter 6

Little Impact? Journalists’ Perceptions of Traditional Instruments of Media Self-Regulation

Salvador Alsius, Ruth Rodríguez-Martínez & Marcel Mauri de los Rios

This chapter focuses on journalists’ views of traditional ‘self-regulatory’ instruments that pre-date the Internet—first, ethical codes, some of which are general, while others are implemented internally within media companies, and second, press councils and ombudsmen, both designed precisely to ensure compliance with the essential principles of the codes (Gore 2008, 33). We also take into account other long-established instruments which, although less explicitly, contribute to media accountability, such as trade journals and media criticism in the news media, while the impact of innovative online MAIs will be discussed in the next chapter.

Not many previous empirical studies exist on journalists’ attitudes towards media accountability and self-regulation. However, it is well known that journalists from many countries have different attitudes (and not always solid ones) about the concept of self-regulation and its instruments. In some countries, the idea that seemed to prevail among professionals was that it is undesirable to excessively regulate any information activity (Haraszti 2008; Puddephatt 2011). The sentence “the best press law is that which doesn’t exist” was frequently stated. Consequently, many journalists supported self-regulation. However, this perception seems to have shifted in recent years, with many journalists beginning to call for more (co-)regulation after finding that the concept has not always been as effective as originally intended (Alsius 2012). For this reason we...

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