Selfregulation to save the independence and the quality of journalism

The hectic development of the mediaworld has prompted a radical change of the image of the press. Traditional standards and conventions in journalism have become, at least partly, invalidated. The introduction of internet, the worldwide use of mobile phones, the perspective of the E-newspaper, the spreading out of websites, weblogs and podcasts are part of a revolution which is fundamentally affecting the profession of journalism.
Journalism all over the world is nowadays blamed, rightly or wrongly,  for almost everything that is wrong. It is going at the cost of the badly needed respectability of journalism and its highly responsible role in a democratic society.

That is why a new approach is urgently needed. Not by government, not by other institutions or organisations, but by journalism itself. Selfregulation is the only way to maintain the independent stance of the newsmedia and to reach the level of respectability required
to win back the credibility of journalism. Selfregulation is needed as well to have the newsmedia adapt renewal and modernisation of themselves in order to keep pace with the fast developments of the mediaworld.
In different countries efforts are made to try to raise the media standards. In the US the Project for Excellence in Journalism(PEJ) was set up, using empirical methods to evaluate and study the performance of the press. PEJ, a non-partisan and non-political research organisation, is helping both the journalists who produce the news and the citizens who consume it to develop a better understanding of what the press is delivering. In the UK a Media Standards Trust is trying to have a fundamental debate on journalistic standards.

In The Netherlands, the country with the longest tradition of press freedom in the world, an initiative has been launched to come to real selfregulation in journalism. The Foundation Media Ombudsman The Netherlands (MON) is set up by journalists to raise an authoritative voice from inside journalism about adapting standards of ethics and deontology on a national level for traditional and digital media as well. It is the goal of the MON-foundation to speak out about structural issues of ethics in journalism, to open a broadly supported debate about the ruling journalistic standards and the need for adaptation of existing or introduction of new standards for the newsmedia, including the digital ones. The foundation wants to raise more awareness among journalists of their responsible role in a democratic society, hoping this will underline the importance of quality-journalism above infotainment and entertainment.
The MON-foundation does not have the intention to enter into competition with the existing Council for Journalism (RvdJ) or the Netherlands’Association of Journalists (NVJ), but it is striving for cooperation and it merely wants to add up to the new need for selfregulation of modern journalism. On a broad scale it will introduce scientific research into all relevant structural issues of media-ethics, cooperating with ethical specialists of different Dutch universities. Agreements have been made with the academics prof.dr. Hans Renders (RUG), prof. dr. Jan Renkema (UvT), dr. Richard van der Wurff (UvA), dr. Huub Evers (Fontys Hogeschool Journalistiek) and dr. Dolf van Harinxma thoe Slooten (UvT), who will take part in the research-activities of the MON-foundation.
The research into which the MON-foundation enters will focus on issues like

  • the role of media-ombudsmen,
  • the need for ethical standards,
  • is there a need for a professional code for journalists?,
  • does the upcoming use of indecent language affect the image of the press?,
  • the importance of regional journalism for local democracy,
  • is civil or citizen journalism a new part of the profession?,
  • the protection of privacy in the digital age,
  • is embedded journalism acceptable ?,
  • manipulation of images in the digital era,
  • the notion of free speech etc.  

The MON-foundation is a fully independent journalistic organisation. It is non-partisan, non-ideological and non-political. The ruling body of the foundation is the Executive board, merely consisting of professional journalists. Added to it is an Advisory board, presided by Hans Dijkstal, in which the academics mentioned above are meeting with senior journalists, editors in chief  and public personalities who are committed to the cause of independent journalism. Within the foundation an ombudsman-office is incorporated, which will speak out, online and in print, on structural issues of media-ethics.
The foundation has acquired membership of the Washington-based Organisation of News Ombudsmen ONO, which assembles media-ombudsmen from around the world. It will seek cooperation with identical organisations abroad like the Swedish national pressombudsman and the American Project for Excellence in Journalism PEJ. It is striving for contact with the European Journalism Observatory EJO in Lugano. Cooperation will come i.a. from prof. Chris Frost MA , active in media-ethics at the Liverpool JMU university in the UK.


Jan van Groesen
President MON-foundation
(okt. 2006)