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No official complaints to media council during first 10 months

The Media Council of Bermuda has not received a single official complaint in the first ten months of its existence.

The self-regulating watchdog was launched in early February by industry members in response to Government plans to introduce a state-controlled body to handle complaints from the public.

But chairman Christian Luthi admitted yesterday the council had not been “that busy” since then, with just six matters brought to its attention and none leading to a formal complaint.

An advertising campaign will be launched this week to raise the council’s profile among the public, though lawyer Mr Luthi said the aim wasn’t to drum up more grievances.

“We are not into making work for ourselves that isn’t there,” he said. “It’s to make sure that people are aware and continue to be aware of the Media Council and its function.

“When this whole thing started, we didn’t know what to expect in terms of complaints. We didn’t know how active it would be.

“We do want to ensure that the public continues to be aware that the council exists and that there is this route for resolution of their complaints.”

Former Premier Ewart Brown’s plan for a legislated council was revealed in 2008, when he said it would create a code of ethics for news reporting that could protect the public from irresponsible journalism while protecting freedom of expression.

But when the legislation was tabled in May 2010, it prompted an outcry from international press freedom organisations and local critics, who claimed it would lead to censorship.

A Government spokesman said the watchdog was needed because “although there have been many complaints from the public in the past, there has been no attempt on behalf of the media to form a mechanism to address such complaints”.

Industry members urged Government to give them time to form their own body and create their own code, leading Dr Brown to shelve the proposed law in July last year.

Mr Luthi said: “There’s no question that there was a public perception that some form of media regulatory body was necessary.

“This is purely anecdotal, but you hear complaints about the press and yet we haven’t seen them coming to the council.

“I think the most disappointing thing of all is to have members of the public complain about the press and press standards but not do anything about it.”

He suggested journalistic standards and accountability had improved since the introduction of the council’s code of practice, which 20 media outlets have agreed to abide by.

“My information has been that they are more ready to recognise if they haven’t complied with the code and take steps to deal with the complaint directly,” said the chairman.

“I think that the members, so far as I can tell, do their best to adhere to the standards of the code. On the whole, I think standards are pretty good.”

Meredith Ebbin, the council’s executive officer, said several alleged breaches of the code had been reported since February but the complainants had not lodged official complaints.

“People have taken their complaint directly to the media outlet and the matter has been resolved, usually by way of an apology, a correction, or a clarification, to the satisfaction of both parties.”

She said the council’s media working group, which established the organisation, believed the mere existence of the watchdog and the code had led to improvements in reporting.

“An aggrieved person has something tangible on which to base his or her complaint and the media outlet is less able to wiggle out of making an apology.”

Bermuda Sun editor Tony McWilliam, chairman of the media working group, said: “One of the goals from the outset was to heighten the accountability of the media and I’ve been made aware of a number of situations over the past ten months in which informal complaints have been made against various outlets but have subsequently been resolved quickly.

“The outcomes might have been less satisfactory had it not been for the existence of the code and the council. The upshot is that Bermudians are now better served by the media.”

The outlets to have signed up to the code are:

The Royal Gazette, bermuda.com, Bermudabiographies.com, Bermuda Broadcasting Company, Bermuda Media, Bermuda Sports Network, Bermuda Sun, Bermuda Wired, Bermudian Publishing Company, Bermynet, Bernews, BlackAndCoke.com, Breezeblog, DeFontes Broadcasting Company, Inter-Island Communications, Islandstats.com, LookTV, LTT Broadcasting Company, VATV and the Worker’s Voice.

Useful website: www.mediacouncilofbermuda.org.

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Published November 15, 2011 at 8:34 am (Updated November 15, 2011 at 8:34 am)

No official complaints to media council during first 10 months

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