Press Freedom, Ethics and News of the World

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Susan Coughtrie

03 May 2012

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On May 3, 2011 I was covering a photography exhibition in a bizarrely designed building, filled with stuffed animals and other curios, known as the National Ethnographical Museum of Moldova. The photographs on display were part of a competition organised by a local NGO to promote and highlight press freedom in a country that has a relatively short history without state censorship and a present in which self-censorship and other negative constraints on the media continue to thrive.

Spending time in Moldova, and other post-Soviet states, it is often too easy as a Westerner not only to think that you are able to see more clearly the problems blighting these countries’ progress but also to believe that your own ‘developed’ nation is the template for the solution.

When I first experienced living in Eastern Europe in 2010, I was shocked at the level and pervasiveness of corruption and how much it affected the growth of an independent media. As a volunteer at a weekly paper, I was once openly informed that an article I had written would be scrapped to make way for a positive interview piece for which the newspaper had received a fee.

The staff were nonplussed by my explanation that this was effectively advertising the interviewee’s organisation and not informing the reader that a financial transaction had taken place was unethical. “It’s normal here,” the designer replied, “you think it does not also happen in your country?” Naively perhaps, I told him I did not.

Last summer, now based at the Centre for Independent Journalism, an NGO that works to consolidate an impartial and independent press in Moldova, it seemed that everyone wanted to talk to me about a UK national paper I had previously given little thought to – News of the World.

As the story unfolded - and the accusations flew about connecting politicians to the police and the police to media and back again- I watched as my Moldovan colleagues experienced the kind of shock I had felt previously albeit in reverse. “How could this happen in the UK?” they exclaimed.

Since I came back to London in September, I, like many others, have followed the Leveson Inquiry hoping discover the answer to that question. Hopefully, May 3, 2012 will signal the start of a better year for independent and free press not just in the countries we work in abroad, but also at home.

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David Lush says

11 May 2012 12:45

The British media's approach to self-regulation, and the ethical standards that were supposed to go with it, inspired press regulation throughout much of Africa. I've just finished a review of the Africa Media Barometer (http://fesmedia.org/african-media-barometer-amb/), and the consistent reports of "brown envelope journalism" and editors being in the pay of politicians - an ironic reversal of the UK situation - is alarming.