How media accountability is about self-reflection and a critical inward look

Media as drivers for change

When I was asked to participate in a webinar about media accountability for journalism students in Delhi, I had no second thoughts. We should grab every opportunity to discuss the ethics of our beautiful profession with both hands. In my research for this lecture I came across the principle of self-regulation as a tool for media accountability, clearly explained in a paper by Ognian Zlatev for UNESCO:

Media accountability on television

When I grew up in The Netherlands there used to be a television program about journalism with the title ‘De Leugen Regeert’, which translates as ‘Falsehood reigns’. Our former queen Beatrix used that quote to describe the condition of the media in our country back in 1999. And it was exactly what the program was about: discussing the state of the media. Practical cases of misleading reporting or objections from protagonists in certain stories were being debated in the weekly broadcast. I often think about this show because it gave a revealing insight into how the media works if you weren’t a journalist yourself. My latest job in The Netherlands was at public broadcaster Human who produces the television program ‘Medialogica’, translated as ‘Media logics’. Investigative journalists dive into media hypes and construct the sometimes relentless, unwarranted media attention by interviewing the journalists and interested parties involved. Medialogica is a popular part of the curriculum at Dutch journalism schools, to educate the students about the workings and ethics of media.

Problems rooted in the Global North

When you study journalism in The Netherlands and you find a job in the media, all the opportunities for developing your skills and knowledge are very much focused on other countries in Europe or the United States. There’s hardly any serious interest in what is happening in Asia or other parts of the world outside the Global North.
It’s one of the reasons that I left my home country two years ago for what was supposed to be a one-year sabbatical. I wanted to take a year off for a long time already and now was the perfect moment. As Head of Media of Draper Startup House, I got the opportunity to travel around South East Asia in 2019 to visit the different locations of the startup, also here in India, in Bangalore. At the same time, I used the opportunity to connect to journalists and newsrooms in the countries I travelled to. And so after one year of going from Singapore to Myanmar, to Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, India and Malaysia, visiting and speaking at different media conferences, I got a first impression of the media ecosystem in this part of the world.

Solutions from the Global South

Hearing stories from media professionals in the Global South about these issues proves to me that the solutions to the problems Western media find themselves in should come from the Global South. One could say we need out of the box thinking, but it’s actually more about finally realizing that the box is much bigger than we acknowledged up until now. And there are many unheard voices in the global media box that deserve attention.

Inclusive journalism with a holistic approach

The good news of all this is we don’t need to invent the wheel all over again. It just requires us to dust off the foundation of journalism and apply ethics like never before.

Mass media as propaganda

But parallel to that core task should be the constant development of media accountability with a critical inward-looking gaze to our own work.

Grassroots journalism for community engagement

And what about the examples of Grassroots journalism in India, built upon strong engagement with audiences, focusing not just on reporting but on media literacy at the same time and adapting an entrepreneurial approach where transparency about failures is normal and collaboration with disciplines outside of media is crucial.

Media accountability on Instagram

And back to the topic of media accountability, Instagram can also be an excellent platform to discuss the topics of responsibility. The most popular media critic in my home country The Netherlands at the moment is the 28-year-old Madeleijn van den Nieuwenhuizen who runs the successful Instagram account Zeikschrift and the newsletter Vrijbrief. My guess is that most Editors in chiefs follow her. When she highlights incorrect coverage or flaws in reporting in one of the major national news outlets it mostly takes a short time for the organisations to rectify their mistakes.
The way Van den Nieuwenhuizen takes her job seriously, by depending on donations to be able to remain independent, shows there is an opportunity for media accountability even through social media platforms. And the best thing is, the account is open for everyone to follow and not just accessible by the industry.

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Sanne Breimer

Sanne Breimer

Exploring the solutions to the lack of inclusion in journalism, focusing on decolonising journalism and discussing whiteness, Eurocentrism and objectivity.