Portraits of media lynch laws

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imagesIlia Valkov, AEJ-Bulgaria
In times of elections the misuse of information becomes frequent, the compromises are growing rapidly and are equal to the numbers of the candidates as the role of the media becomes more important and responsible. In the beginning of the year the groove marked because of political and economical differences among the publishers is getting more profound with the advent of a new media union (Bulgarian media union) and the acceptance of an alternative journalist code. There are two camps of mutual rejection that formed.
On one hand – united in the “Alliance of the publishers” remained “Sega”, “Capital” and “Capital Daily” newspapers, the website “Dnevnik.bg”…, and on the other hand is the print coalition that gathered “Telegraph”, “Monitor”, “Politics”, “Presa” (Press), “Tema” (Theme) magazine, “Weekend”, the website “Blitz”, “Focus” agency, the party newspaper “Duma” (Word)…The division in the media guild allowed the creation of an alternative ethical code that has no difference in its essence from the others but still paradoxically is used as a mean of distinguish.
Alternative to what?
For the last couple of years Bulgarian media (with some exceptions among which are the publications of New Bulgarian Media Group) based their work on ethical code which was largely accepted by the journalist guild. This was one major document that was supposed to serve as a moral compass of triunity:
– right of access to information;
– protection of the personality and the civil rights;
– freedom of speech.
Unfortunately this code failed to unite the media guild nor did it create conditions for improvement of the media environment as a whole. It is respected by few and “read” by ethical commissions with a low effect of public yield.
This however does not make senseless the work of the ethical bodies which are an important instrument of journalist self-control – one of the purest forms of assessment and observation of professional, civil and even universal interest and norms in an information environment. Self-control in media is a complex process of attaining the consensus among publishers, journalist and media experts – and every single participant should respect the universal interest.
Self-adjusting – effective formula for self-control
Self-control is an effective formula for opposing an outside interference and censorship; for regulation at an institutional level (which is the role of the Council for Electronic Media, the Law on the radio and the television, the Law on the obligatory deposit of print products…); for legislative initiatives in the field of media that are in the hands of the executive and the legislative powers.
The only working commissions so far – for the press and the electronic media, towards the National Council for Journalistic Ethic of the “Alliance of the publishers”, remained with low public trust. The decisions and their positions on different cases are lacking wide public resonance. The optimistic view has to respect that at least they are working.
Bulgarian Media Union is about to have ethical commissions in May?
On the contrary, the newly formed “Bulgarian Media Union” still does not have neither working executive bodies nor ethical commissions. Based on preliminary information these bodies of self-control had to be ready in February. In the end of April, the executive director – Grisha Kamburov, informed that “procedures are behind schedule because this process is a multiple bed”. Publishers (media owners), journalists and experts (independent quota) are about to participate in the ethical commission and the one that is going to “interpret” the professional-ethical code of Bulgarian media. According to Grisha Kamburov, the commissions are going to be operational in the middle of May. “If this does not happen, we are going to think it through”, he said.
This insecurity however creates greater danger of violation of the ethical norms in the height of the electoral campaign for the European parliament. If someone from the participants is “affected” by a random publication it is going to be hard to define to whom the complaint should be filed.
Parallel ethical commissions – worsening of the trench war
In general the work of two parallel ethical bodies for self-control can deepen the media war between the publishers where loser would not be only the general public. This creates a serious risk of bending the public debates between politics, business, court, civil society. Media ethical commissions continue to struggle for public reception – the first stage for accomplishing legitimacy among readers, listeners and even spectators. Legitimacy of the decisions and the recommendations and the judgements of the commissions in general depends highly on the trust in them. However it is still missing.
It is a pity that in the past few years the borders between media, power, party head offices and corporative interest became so thin that are now almost invisible for the general public. In this sense it is logical that the trust in the media is interconnected with the trust in the state institutions, political elite, non-governmental organizations, sociological and PR agencies etc. It is interconnected system of publicity that is feeding simultaneously.  It is hardly a coincidence that we are witnesses of not only demonstration against state institutions and corporate head offices but protests are also organized in front of editor’s offices too.
The struggle for the public trust
The struggle for the public trust fills in with substance every journalist ethical code. Its meaning is not to divide to good and bad but rather to outline common professional rules, the search for a balance when covering a certain subject (different points of view); respect for basic human dignity (hate speech, problems of victims, torture); the possibility for everyone to be informed; the problem for the access to the media – minorities in isolation; information behind the curtains of power, state secret; the conflict of interests in journalism etc.
It is said that media are the Fourth power that is meant to criticize and to balance the others (executive, legislative, judicial) to explain the ongoing processes, to guide the audience, to educate…
Dangerous unity – media, business, politics
The mixture of media, business and politics is a great delusion and effective form of manipulation which is exercised by a vast part of the media. In that sense every single violation of the ethical code would be used as an exception and it would be presented as “a danger for the society to remain uninformed about the abuses done by others”. This increases the possibility of media becoming plotters in political and business interest.
That is why the election of universally recognized bodies of self-control of all media is necessary. Furthermore professional journalist ethic has no alternative. The fragmenting would generate new opportunities for people to take the matters in their own hands and media would be more and more focused on themselves. In this situation the general public seems abandoned.

The analysis is part of the project “Mediator” funded by America for Bulgaria Foundation. The responsibility for the content of the whole project is held by The Association of European Journalists – Bulgaria.