Independent media council, self-regulation should be supported
- Written by CHRIS CONYBEARE
The World Association of Press Councils (WAPC), believes that freedom of communication is a basic human right.
This includes freedom of the media in reporting the news. It also includes the right of the public to be informed on all matters of public interest.
As secretary general of WAPC, it was my honour to be in Uganda recently to meet with representatives of the Independent Media Council of Uganda (IMCU), media stakeholders, and representatives of civil society.
An independent media council is an association of journalists not beholden to media owners and government interests. These organisations offer very real and practical ways to promote a positive media climate, excellence in journalism, and freedom of expression. Independent media councils promote ethical conduct and excellence in journalism through establishment of codes of conduct and training of journalists.
Journalism is important to democracy, and doing it with ethics and moral strength, instills pride in the individual practitioner.
Journalists with this kind of courage have been important in Uganda and around the world in struggles for independence and democracy. Media excellence removes excuses for government intervention. Independent media councils also provide education about the media to the public and build support for media freedom.
They may offer mechanisms by which the public may lodge complaints about treatment by the press. An alternative dispute resolution process that is effective will cost less than court proceedings, and restores balance.
These complaint mechanisms involve senior media professionals, leading academics, and public representatives. Public awareness of media and pride in professional conduct build trust. It is also important in times of crisis for freedom of expression.
A public that understands and supports the press can be rallied when democracy is threatened. All of these big picture ideas start small. The IMCU has developed by building consensus within the media community and the public. A prestigious board has been assembled, and an outstanding code of conduct has been developed. I was impressed to see the code of conduct prominently displayed on the wall of a major media news room.
In meeting with a media manager, I was treated to a first-hand example of the effectiveness of this work. The manager told me that he had asked his photographer to take pictures of women in mini-skirts to illustrate a story that was not about fashion. The photojournalist pulled a copy of the IMCU code of conduct out of his pocket and said; “That is not an ethical approach, and I don’t want to do it”. The media manager agreed and the assignment was changed.
IMCU is on the right path. Beginning steps have been taken and proven effective. A movement toward appreciation of ethical conduct has started. Participants in ICMU include some of the most respected names in Ugandan journalism. They should serve as role models in bringing the code of conduct to the attention of students and practitioners. This is more than training. It can begin a mentoring relationship that will help the next generation of journalists.
Next steps may include a complaints process, public forums on media policy and practices, or discussions of history and future of journalism. Programmes and activities need to be guided by Uganda’s unique realities. The digital age will bring new and important challenges.
With your support, IMCU will build a strong civil society organisation that promotes a culture of excellence in journalism, strengthens democracy, and can be rallied in times of crisis.
Chris Conybeare is a television journalist, media and human rights lawyer, and is currently on the faculty of the Centre for Labour Education and Research (CLEAR) at the University of Hawaii West Oahu. He is also president of the Media Council Hawaii.