What we do


Media Ethics

What media workers ought and ought not to do is part of moral philosophy. Hence, says author L. M. Oothuizen (2007), “media ethics should ideally be applied voluntarily and as the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights states in Paragraph IX: “Effective self-regulation is the best system for promoting high standards in the media”.


For media to act as a watchdog and hold public office holders to account, they have to operate freely and independently of external pressures. To ensure that the media at the same time act professionally and ethically, a self-regulatory system, conducted by media themselves offers the best framework for guaranteeing that media can fulfil their democratic functions while following a professional code of conduct. A well-designed system of media self-regulation provides for impartial adjudication of complaints about unethical behaviour by journalists, quick and cost-free redress for persons affected and the disciplining of offending media institutions by shaming them or imposing a penalty.

Fesmedia: self regulation
Member of the public feels offended > Writes a Complaint to Media Ombud > Arbitration > Apology
Media councils or similar institutions, set up voluntarily by the media themselves as self-regulatory bodies on the basis of a code of ethics are common features regionally and internationally. Their task is to stand up for the freedom of the media, to promote and maintain professional standards.  In practice such self-regulatory systems have come under increasing political pressure by governments who are trying to impose statutory media councils arguing that the media have not been effective in disciplining its members. This argument is not without validity as media practitioners have been slow to install sustainable media councils. Often these efforts are hampered by internal divisions or indifference in the industry, lack of funds, government pressure and the alternative of litigation.

However, the driving forces behind the criticism of self-regulatory systems are usually politicians, who are also increasingly making use of defamation legislation to silence their critics. In many African countries outdated defamation laws have remained on the statute books since colonial times.

That is why fesmedia Africa promotes the concept of self-regulation and supports professional ethics in the context of self-regulatory mechanisms. Besides supporting the idea of purely self-regulatory media councils (administered solely by media representatives) and co-regulation, which includes representatives of other civil society sectors, fesmedia Africa encourages the institution of the public editor or (in-house) news ombudsman. This person is hired by a media house to deal with complaints by the public and to point out ethical lapses in editorial content. The public editor is not part of the newsroom and can hence fulfil a mediating function by possessing the respect of the editorial staff while at the same time gaining the trust of the public.

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