UNESCO and media councils discuss impact of algorithms and disinformation on media ethics

Responses of press councils to the disinformation challenges were discussed during the Annual Meeting of the Alliance of Independent Press Councils in Europe (AIPCE) with active participation of UNESCO. The event also focused on the use of algorithms in journalism and its impact on ethical standards. The conference took place on 11 and 12 October 2018 in Helsinki, hosted by the Finnish Council of Mass Media.

In addition, Organization supported participation of seven participants from South East Europe and Turkey within the framework of the EU-funded project “Building Trust in Media in South East Europe and Turkey”.

“This is a new topic for us press and media councils. Until very recently, we did not even consider the use of algorithms as journalism but rather as something technical. This resembles the time when photography or graphic design was not seen as journalism either,” said Elina Grundström, chair of CMM in Finland in her opening remarks.  “The decisions about news automation or personalized news feeds are in the core of the journalistic decision making because they dictate what is published to whom. We cannot leave these decisions to computer programmers who work outside the newsrooms. If we want to maintain and strengthen the credibility of journalism, we have to keep up with the rapid changes in media technology”, she added. 

International experts such as Emily Bell founding Director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at the Columbia University in New York, Esa Mäkinen from Helsingin Sanomat or Carl-Gustaf Lindén, from Helsinki University addressed the participants. They engaged in discussions about transparency in the use of new technology and why ethical codes should address transparency in the use of algorithms or why readers should know they are in a personalized space.

Adeline Hulin from UNESCO Brussels presented the various international initiatives currently developed to address disinformation such as the new UNESCO handbook titled “Journalism, ‘Fake News’ & Disinformation” and the need for press and media councils to unite in order to raise their voices as key stakeholder in maintaining the credibility of journalism in the digital era.

 “We are small organizations with limited resources, but we are vital in defending our societies against information disorders”, reminded Elina Grundström, Chair of CMM.

UNESCO sponsored the participation of representatives of self-regulatory bodies from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey, and Kosovo (under UNSCR 1244) to provide them with an unique opportunity to exchange with European peers on current challenges and remedies for media ethics in the digital age.  A practical pre-conference session was organized for new media councils to introduce the concrete functioning of CMM and how it handles complaints.