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Beijing Summit debates Media Ethics and Freedom

(Beijing) What are the fine lines that separate legal, ethical and moral codes that ensure the achievement of the ideal of media freedom? And what administrative, corporate and community structure might be put in place to sustain a free and ethical media that serve to protect the moral integrity of media professionals and organisations from undue pressure by state, religious and/or commercial forces?

These were some of the big questions that exercised the minds of global media movers and shakers on the first day of the Asian Media Summit, which is being held this week for the first time in the Chinese capital, Beijing.

This year’s Summit, which is organized on an annual basis by the Asian Institute of Broadcasting Development in major partnership with UNESCO, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the Global Media Centre for Development, has attracted over 800 delegates from six continents.

Batswana participating in this year’s Summit include the Minister for Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, the Hon. Lesego Motsumi, and representatives from the National Broadcasting Board.(NBB). 

In his presentation to the Summit, the President of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation and former Secretary-General of the European Broadcasting Union, Dr. Jean-Bernard Munch, observed that universal principles of freedom of expression and information can be upheld in an environment that allows for effective co-regulation of the media industry on the basis of common codes of conduct, as well as self-regulation by individual media houses.

He noted that in Switzerland, mechanisms for co-regulation in broadcasting involve structures through which the Federal Minister responsible appoints an oversight body largely drawn from civil society. 

Amidst calls for re-regulation of global media in the face of mounting evidence of a worldwide decline in public trust in news organizations, the concept of co-regulation found widespread acceptance among diverse Summit participants. As one participant noted regulatory mechanisms, along with guarantees of press freedom, should exist for the protection of the governed, not governments. 

The Senior Editor of The Nation newspaper in Bangkok, Thailand, Mr. Kavi Chongkittavorn, however stressed the importance of grounding concerns about balance and objectivity in reporting in their situational context. In the light of recent events in his own country, he noted that the Thai journalists continue to be challenged in their reporting of domestic crisis situations, observing that human emotion as well as difficulties in accessing information understandably compromise editorial judgment. 

Former head of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, Dr. Mehdi Tabeshian, spoke on the difficulties of reconciling freedom of expression with respect for deeply held cultural and religious values. He nonetheless argued against abandoning concepts of universalism and objectivity. 

The of balancing religion and freedom of expression was also taken up by senior Pakistani journalist and noted human rights activist Mr. Gazi Salahuddin in the context of his country’s recent banning of Facebook and YouTube over their online publication of representations of the Prophet Mohammed.

Ambiguities about the issue were reflected in a snap poll in which a majority of the audience believed that such images should not appear online, but at the same time rejected the suggestion that universal guidelines could be put in place for the banning of such material from the internet. 

Divisions also appeared in discussions over the reporting on child victims. In the context of widespread condemnation of the invasion of the privacy of a young Dutch boy, the sole survivor of the recent plane crash in Libya, many delegates condemned the hypocrisy of western news organisation’s routine lack of similar concerns when reporting on child victims in Africa and Asia.  

It was also pointed out that it was odd for senior broadcast executives to be now condemning the Libyan incident when their organizations had nonetheless carried pictures of the boy. 

The Summit continues.




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