After the ongoing discussion on Wednesday, Arminas Lydeka, a member of the Seimas Culture Committee, who chaired it, announced that the formation of the working group would be decided at the next committee meeting.
At that time, the Lithuanian Union of Journalists and representatives of several media outlets who participated in the discussion stated that the change in the mechanism of media self-regulation should be taken care of by journalists themselves, not politicians.
“That working group is a place where journalists and other public information representatives can put their proposals, it will be a work table on which those proposals could lie,” A. Lydeka said on Wednesday.
Dainius Radzevičius, the head of the Lithuanian Union of Journalists, emphasized that “self-regulatory issues must come from the media”.
Prior to the meeting, the union circulated a statement “that the relentless desire of politicians to set up and participate in working groups for the development of media self-regulation poses a serious threat to the independence and freedom of the press and could have serious international consequences”.
“The Lithuanian Union of Journalists wrote to the Seimas Culture Committee reminding politicians that media self-regulation is a system created voluntarily by media specialists, ensuring respect for their professional and ethical attitudes and clearly outlining guidelines for professional work, as well as the principles of accountable media,” the statement said.
It states that the media council of the Ministry of Culture and the Association of Public Information Ethics could consider the LRT’s appeal regarding the change of the media self-regulation model and continue the discussion on the changes in the self-regulation system.
“The Media Council is an advisory body that performs the functions of an expert and consultant in analyzing, evaluating and resolving issues in the formulation and implementation of public information policy. The aim of the Association of Public Information Ethics is to ensure the observance of the norms of professional ethics, the fostering of the principles of public information ethics, and to raise public awareness when assessing public information processes. Both of these organizations have expert experience and together with the LRT can professionally discuss new ideas and proposals, which, if necessary, may be submitted to the Seimas Culture Committee for consideration, ”the Lithuanian Journalists’ Union said in a statement.
Last December, the national broadcaster appealed to the Seimas to resolve the situation, when its activities would be ethically evaluated by several institutions. LRT General Director Monika Garbačiauskaitė-Budrienė pointed out that the Institute of the LRT Ethics Ombudsman will soon start operating, and it is not clear what its relationship should be with the Public Information Ethics Commission. It also handles complaints about the ethics of journalists.
Ms Garbačiauskaitė-Budrienė argued that the current system of media self-regulation is too regulated by law, which limits the possibilities for the community to make decisions relevant to it.
At present, the procedure established by the law for the formation of the Public Information Ethics Commission does not comply with the principle of autonomy and the rule that the activities of journalists must be evaluated by their colleagues.
According to M. Garbačiauskaitė-Budrienė, the requirement for media members wishing to participate in a media self-regulatory organization to belong to associations can also be considered an unjustified restriction.
The head of the LRT reminded the interpretation of the Constitutional Court that membership in the association can only be voluntary.
“Why should LRT join an association, being a large media group itself?” She said.
Some of the journalists and broadcasters who took part in the discussion are accused of bias and unreasonable decisions by the Public Information Ethics Commission.
Television producer Vytautas Masalskis claimed to have been forced to sue the commission and won all the courts. According to him, the courts have found that the Public Information Ethics Commission, in examining the complaint, relied exclusively on the allegations made by the applicant, did not examine the whole and adopted an unmotivated decision.
Ramūnas Terleckas, a journalist with the publication Verslo Klasė, stated that the commission has become a criminal tool, not a self-regulatory tool. He stressed that this commission must be trusted, otherwise its decisions will be disregarded.
Vaiva Žukienė, the chairwoman of the Public Information Ethics Commission, denied that many of the committee’s decisions were annulled in court. According to her, about a third of the media appeal against the decision of the Ethics Commission, and one of the ten appealed decisions is declared unfounded.
“Everyone who works has the right to make mistakes. If it were the case that every erroneous institution needs to be destroyed, then neither the Tax Inspectorate nor others that are losing a lot of cases would be, ”said the head of the commission.
The current Law on Public Information stipulates that the observance of the professional ethics of journalists is ensured by the Public Information Ethics Association, which unites public information producers, disseminators and journalists. Decisions on specific complaints were made by the Public Information Ethics Commission composed of delegated members of the members of the association.