Very few Latin American countries have adopted national or regional regulations on ethical journalism. Although some larger newspapers have introduced press codes, most private and state-owned media organisations do not require their journalists to uphold the basic ethical standards applicable to their profession.
Furthermore, very few independent press councils have been established to monitor compliance with quality standards in journalism on a voluntary basis. Members of the public whose right to privacy has been violated in media reporting can contact the national human rights ombudspersons. However, these authorities currently lack the training they need to deal competently with this type of complaint.
The project therefore aims to raise awareness of basic human rights standards in media reporting among ombudsman authorities and journalists in member countries of the Ibero-American Federation of ombuds offices (FIO).
At its working meetings in early 2013, the Network of Communication Departments of the National Ombudsman Authorities (RedCOMFIO) redefined its fields of work and identified human rights violations in journalism as one of its core tasks.
At a meeting of the FIO in September 2013, a proposed model for a training workshop and selected case studies were considered, amended and confirmed in detail.
One of the project’s landmark events was a regional workshop in Quito, Ecuador, in May 2014, which was attended by representatives of ombudsman authorities from 17 FIO member states, freelance journalists from 10 countries, and judicial and NGO representatives from Ecuador. In all, 75 people participated in the workshop. Using case studies describing examples of positive and negative media coverage, the participants discussed the importance of human rights standards in journalism. The workshop was designed as a ‘training for trainers’ (ToT) event, and participants undertook to implement the Quito workshop model in their own countries. The project materials approved for use at ToT events consist of a systematically organised collection of case studies (as mentioned above), a manual on ethical standards in journalism, and a toolkit describing the methodology to be used for workshop delivery in the FIO member states.
In the meanwhile five national workshops (in Ecuador, Panama, Brazil, Guatemala and Argentina) have taken place. Workshop participants describe the training materials developed as part of the project, including the case studies/toolkit, as very useful. Further national workshops will take place in El Salvador and Honduras.
A regional database, containing examples of unethical reporting by journalists and positive alternatives, and the toolkit for independent workshop delivery are available online. Based on randomly selected comments made by previous workshop participants, it would appear that the toolkit is in active use. For example, a participant in Ecuador’s national workshop said that she used it to deliver workshops for journalists in the border region between Ecuador and Colombia. There are plans to hold further national workshops in Honduras, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, probably with direct support from PROFIO.
The manual on human rights-compliant reporting, which sets out basic ethical standards in journalism and provides human rights guidance for journalists, was also discussed and developed as part of the project. COMFIO is now considering whether to produce a more detailed document covering issues such as human rights-sensitive language.
The representatives of the ombudsman authorities and participating journalists state that they have a better understanding and awareness of human rights issues and ethical standards in reporting.
The project has boosted the human and organisational capacities of the COMFIO communications network and ombudsman authorities and has strengthened the links between them. New scope for knowledge sharing, dialogue and capacity building has been created as a result of the ToT regional workshop in Quito and the participation of ombudsman representatives and journalists from 17 member countries. The regional workshop’s content and methodology were assessed very positively in participants’ feedback and are now being adapted and replicated in national workshops. These workshops promote dialogue between ombudsman authorities and journalists at various levels (regional and national) and, by promoting dialogue among journalists, raise awareness of the need for human rights compliance in reporting. The project thus supports the development of a human rights-sensitive, critical, pluralist and high-quality media culture in Latin America and promotes critical dialogue about the ethical and legal dimensions of press freedom and freedom of expression.