Print and Online Media Council in Bosnia and Herzegovina adapts its press code to digital journalism

The fast-evolving digital landscape is creating new ethical dilemmas for journalists that media self-regulatory bodies must tackle to perform their functions adequately. This is why the UNESCO EU-funded project, “Building Trust in Media in South East Europe and Turkey – Phase 2,” which supports press and media councils across the region, enabled the Print and Online Media Council in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) to adapt its press code to the digital age, last revised in 2011.

“As a press council, our key objective is to enhance the circulation of quality information and reduce unethical or unprofessional reporting to the minimum. But as media change and the work of journalists evolve, we must ensure that the standards of the media profession adequately reflect the new digital realities,” explained Dzenana Burek, Executive Director of the Press Council in BiH. “Moreover, most of the complaints we have received since the last press code adaptation in 2011, are related to potential ethical breaches online, so reviewing the code was crucial.”

To adapt the code, the Press Council in BiH established an Expert Group composed of four media experts and reached out with a questionnaire to 62 media in the country to get their views on changes needed in a new code.

“A crucial goal for us was to elaborate detailed and clear standards for journalism without falling into excessive standardization,” said Enes Osmančević, Professor at the University of Tuzla and University of Sarajevo and the President of the Expert Group.

The amended press code includes revisions of specific articles introducing slight changes, while for other issues, it introduced entirely new articles. For example, the article “Working in Public Interest” was extended with provisions regarding access to public information without discrimination and under the same conditions for all media and journalists. Also, editorial responsibility provision has been extended to media content published on social media, as well as user-generated content.

The new articles are the following: Use of Information Technology, Misinformation, Publishing denial, Incompatibility of the journalistic profession, Conscientious Objection, Accepting Gift and Privilege, and Transparency of Print and Online Media. “The new articles were introduced to the press code as a response to the burning issues our country’s media scene faces. For instance, many media are not fully transparent when it comes to information related to their editorial and managerial structure and ownership. This kind of information helps audiences better navigate through avalanches of information and detect persuasive content, which is why we introduced the transparency provision,” explained Enes Osmančević.

The adapted press code also introduces an article to differentiate between acceptable and unacceptable use of information technologies, notably in view of journalistic use of social media.

In 2021, the Press Council received 1040 complaints, of which 476 referred to hate speech, discrimination, and hatred in visitors’ comments. “We received the highest number ever of complaints this year, but, at the same time, 73% of complaints received were resolved through self-regulation, which is a very positive sign,” said Dzenana Burek. “We look forward to seeing how the adapted press code will affect these numbers in 2022”, she added.

The finalized amended press code was presented to the country’s journalistic community in a press conference held in Sarajevo on 18 December 2021.

 

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