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Ethical journalism, human rights and new vision of media needed, says IFJ

(IFJ/IFEX) - 1 March 2011 - The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the regional body of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), today launched a call for a wide-ranging debate about ethical journalism, human rights protection and a new vision of media regulation to strengthen democracy in Europe.

The call was made by the EFJ General Secretary, Aidan White, in a lecture on Ethical Journalism and Human Rights organised by Thomas Hammarberg, Commissioner of Human Rights of the Council of Europe

Referring to the economic and structural crisis in media which threatens to overwhelm journalism in Europe, White told an audience at the European Parliament that journalism as a public good was a theme being taken up by journalists' groups across the continent.

"It is time for a new narrative that will place moral values in media and ethical journalism at the heart of strategies for embracing the information revolution," he said. "Governments must keep their hands off media and must respect human rights while journalists must rise to the challenge of putting their own house in order."

In a wide-ranging talk White argued that journalism as a public good involves reporting stories based on principles of truth-telling, accuracy and fairness. He said governments should provide more access to public information and should lift the burden on journalism of repressive laws such as those covering criminal defamation, blasphemy and national security.

He particularly targeted the threat to press freedom from attacks on the confidentiality of journalists' sources and the hounding of journalists by governments both in the courts and through covert surveillance.

"There is no place for discipline of dissent in a democracy," said White. "Weak legal protection of journalists stifles legitimate scrutiny of people in power and has a chilling effect on independent reporting." He welcomed the support of the European Court of Human Rights in preserving the anonymity of sources but he warned the Court not to stray into areas of journalism by passing judgment on the editorial choice that journalists make and their behavior.

"When judges move from testing rights and the law and start casting their eyes over headlines, pictures and stories, alarm bells ring in the halls of journalism," he said.

Introducing the lecture, Thomas Hammarberg, urged governments to use the law to enhance human rights protection and not to hinder journalists. "Public transparency and access to information are necessary for independent journalism," he said. He welcomed the Ethical Journalism Initiative of the IFJ and said the lecture was the first in a series he has commissioned on journalism and human rights.

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