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Social Responsibility of the Media

On October 24, 2012, Institute for Public Affairs, Slovak Donors Forum and International Press Institute Slovakia organized a panel discussion in Bratislava, an event within the FORUM 2000 conference. The theme of the discussion was the Social Responsibility of the Media.



The event brought together six experts and representatives from the media sphere: Jan Urban (Journalist, Member, Program Council, Forum 2000 Foundation, Czech Republic); Václav Mika (CEO, Radio and Television of Slovakia); Matúš Kostolný (Editor-in-Chief, SME, Slovakia); Eva Babitzová (Director, Radio Expres; President, Association of Independent Radio and Television Stations, Slovakia); Branislav Ondrášik (Media Expert, Faculty of Mass Media, Paneuropean University, Slovakia) and Miroslav Kollár (Media Expert, Institute for Public Affaris; Chairman of the Council, Radio and Television of Slovakia).

The panel discussion saw the attendance of journalists, politicians, media experts, diplomats and students.

Video recording is available here (Slovak version only).

PANEL SUMMARY

Miroslav Kollár, in his opening remarks, pointed out that all outputs of the media sphere, both private and public, have impact on the society that is by no means negligible. The question is, whether we have the right to enquire this issue in detail, in such small country as Slovakia with a specific state of the media market that struggles with a range of difficulties. Furthermore, the problem of the responsibility of the media is sometimes limited to the question of new regulations. The topic for the debate, as Kollár proposed, is whether this is a vital debate, especially when we consider other problems in the sphere? Or is it a relevant theme, and, if so, what should we do with it?

Václav Mika explained that, having worked for a number of years in commercial media, he runs the public broadcaster – the Slovak Radio and Television. He considers the Slovak market to be unique in this field. With a relatively small target group, there is a wide range of television channels. Nevertheless, the trends in the private sector – namely the intense rivalry between the two main commercial TV stations – bring benefits and opportunities for the public media. There is a place for a serious public type of broadcasting. It is obvious that both private and public media must show certain amount of social responsibility; the duties and regulations are clearly stated by law. And the challenge for the Slovak public media is, according to Václav Mika, to create appealing programmess, which are in touch with values, social and cultural issues, and offer them to recipients in a proper arrangement, a process he called “cultural evangelisation”. This process can’t be limited to the question of reshaping the daily news; it is related to the new types of programmess, where themes should be discussed continuously and comprehensively.

Jan Urban opened with an opinion that, in contrary to the social responsibility of the media, we should better speak of a social responsibility of a journalist. This type of occupation provides a sharp and powerful tool for influencing the society and people’s lives. A good and responsible journalist is, in his view, a craftsman – educated master aware of principles and thus „his relation to his job should be based on the fact, that journalism is essentially value- forming activity”. He illustrated this fine craftsmanship through several examples, for instance by referring to the output of some of the Middle East satellite broadcasters: they have produced a number of distinguished programmes on such themes as terrorism and gender equality. On other hand, as soon as we limit the scope of the responsibility to the media as such, a bunch of politicians and regulators will arise, trying to enforce rules and regulations, for what they have no competence.

Matúš Kostolný stressed that any reflections about the social responsibility (of the media) should take into consideration one basic fact – the size of the audience. “You can make super responsible medium for nobody - without the audience, you do nothing.” The media choose the way to attract the widest possible audience, and then, once established, they can disseminate socially sensitive themes. He thinks that the media in Slovakia are, after all, responsible; there are several examples from the past, when even the tabloids acted very responsibly. The current intense topic for the society and the media concerns minority rights. “The so called Roma problem in Slovakia and its media coverage is an issue that worries me a lot. I don’t want to be an instrument for crazy politicians“. On other hand, this theme has been forgotten in media, and underestimated for years, he explains. This is a challenge, how to approach it and not to produce further frictions; it’s a serious difficulty, stated Kostolný.

For Eva Babtizová, the debate about the social responsibility of the media is a legitimate one. Yet to speak about „idiotisation“ of the public space caused by a couple of private televisions and newspapers (a remark that can be heard in Slovakia), is a nonsense, she stated, especially when we take into consideration the common cultural situation in the country. The notion of the dictate of the market is inaccurate, she believes. As a director of a private radio station, she said she didn’t need to let the market determine the themes or structure of broadcasting. “I am deeply convinced that there is such a thing as a social responsibility of the media, and this institutional level of responsibility doesn’t take away the individual, personal consciousness of each journalist, the thing Jan Urban was speaking about“. Lastly, Eva Babitzová stated that the social responsibility depends on the decisions of the leaders in the media, and this attitude basically does not limit its prospective success.

Finally, Branislav Ondrášik suggested that the media should be aware of their responsibility, defend for it, and try to become responsible entities especially in the eyes of the public. For him, the term “mediocracy” is a false one, as the media does not determine the solutions to the problems of the society; but the politicians do. Yet the media still influence the society, and this is the foundation of their social responsibility. Today, a decent number of people receive news from social networking sites and the internet, and this is a chance for the mainstream media to show their social commitment and profoundness by the quality of their news and reports. He concluded that the social responsibility of the media can be divided into the responsibility of the media towards the employees and the journalists; the responsibility towards the other media involves ethical standards in relation to the concurrence. Last but not least, there is also the responsibility towards the recipients, the entire society.



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