What Romanian media need: educated public, strong professionals, responsible politicians

The University of Jyväskylä in cooperation with the Finnish Commission of UNESCO are organising a MEDIADEM panel at the ‘Speaking is silver’ conference which will take place on 13-14 December in Hanasaari, the media and the journalistic profession. The panel will be held in Finnish with simultaneous translation in English.

The agenda of the conference ‘Speaking is silver’ is available here (in English). You may register for this event here.

Finland has no real problems with the freedom of expression and media freedom. Instead, with emphasis in four issue areas: a) the implementation of the freedom of expression, b) the improvement of the general trust in the media, c) maintaining high quality journalism, and d) evaluating the role of the public broadcasting company (YLE) in competition with the commercial media.

Professor Hannu Nieminen of the University of Helsinki, who was invited to comment on these recommendations, talked about the citizens’ point of view in the freedom of expression. This refers to the role of the media in general in giving voice to the people and the responsibility of YLE to produce relevant content, among others. Mr. Risto Uimonen, chair of the Council for Mass Media, supported Nieminen’s remarks by underlining the danger Finnish media may face because of rapid technological changes. Conveyor belt-like production of news may weaken journalists’ ability to react to important issues, while the media’s ambition for higher profits pushes down editorial resources, eventually leading to poor journalism.

Mr. Juha Rekola, head of international affairs of the Finnish Union of Journalists, shared the view that the public role of journalism is currently under commercial pressure. Increasing work load and time pressures have a negative impact on journalists ability to actually do their job.

Associate Professor Paivi Tiilikka of the University of Helsinki expressed doubts that updating regularly the Finnish translations of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) online database would be enough for promoting domestic judicial interpretations more favourable for the freedom of speech. According to her, the ECtHR’s interpretations are not always unambiguous and, hence, they are difficult to apply to the Finnish court practice. Often, they do not specify what the aspects that should be taken into consideration by the Finnish courts are.

Mr Mikko Hoikka, Director of the Federation of the Finnish Media Industry reminded that media houses do not anymore compete with each other only. Instead, the media have fragmented with new players and techniques and competition is now about getting the public’s attention first. Concerning YLE, Mr Hoikka raised the question whether public service media should complement the current output of commercial channels or they should bring something new to the market. YLE, for instance, should not copy the ways in which the commercial channels are trying to attract young audience .

Director Juhani Wiio from Wiio Co. criticised the commercial media for considering that YLE is only a marginal actor who patches up what the commercial media are not interested in. According to Mr Wiio, YLE should not be seen as a competitor to commercial media. As regards the evaluation of YLE’s new services, parliamentary control would be the best way to go.

The agenda of the conference ‘Speaking is silver’ is available here (in English).

Video recording of the 2nd day of the ‘Speaking is silver’ conference is available here.

For more information you may contact Heikki Kuutti.

Policies for free and independent media in Romania were the core topic of the workshop organised on 26 November 2012 by the Hertie School of Governance (Berlin) in cooperation with the Romanian Academic Society and the Center for Independent Journalism in Bucharest, Ioana Av?dani and Cristian Ghinea presented the policy paper produced as part of the project. Among the proposed policies were developing a comprehensive strategy for promoting broad access to information for the public; striking a fair balance between public and commercial broadcasters; and increasing the transparency of, and democratic participation in, consultations on draft media legislation.

The participants – representatives of the public authorities (the Presidency and the Audiovisual Council), the public media, journalists and NGO activists – agreed that the main priority in Romania is increasing the public’s media literacy. Without an educated public, able to critically evaluate editorial content, the down-spiraling of the media cannot be stopped.

The situation of the public media also stirred heated debate. Participants agreed that it is of utmost importance to rapidly eliminate political control over the public media (especially over the public television). Free and strong public media could also play an important role in promoting the much needed media literacy.

The credibility crisis that affects the journalistic profession was another topic that received attention. The journalists’ reaction to pressures coming from both outside and inside the newsroom has been weak and has made them lost control over the profession. To correct this situation, the self-regulation process should re-start, with the direct participation of the persons in charge of editorial control.

Part of the problems faced by the Romanian media can be solved only via honest and balanced intervention of state actors, called upon to formulate and apply clear and predictable media policies. The final decision lies inevitably with the political actors, which makes it necessary for the political class to embrace and renew their commitment to the principle of media freedom and independence. Since in Romania the most efficient instrument to promote this principle has been pressure from the European Union, participants agreed that a pan-European approach for the promotion of free and independent media is necessary.

The agenda is available here (in English).

 For more information you may contact Ioana Av?dani.