Press council overruled more complaints than it upheld in 2019

Press council chair Gunna Siiner.
Press council chair Gunna Siiner. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

More than half the decisions made by the press council in Estonia (Pressinõukogu) last year resulted in an acquittal, which, the council says, indicates that editorial staff are generally sticking to the rules when it comes to journalistic ethics.

Of 73 decisions, the regulatory body acquitted 47, with the remaining 26 resulting in procedures, ERR's online news in Estonian reports.

The most common decision concerned section 1.4 of the council's code of conduct.

In the case of condemning decisions, section 1.4 of the Code of Conduct was the most common violation.  This paragraph stipulates that a journalist is responsible for his / her own words and material, and that a press organization takes all due care not to publish inaccurate, distorted or misleading information.

Another frequent section which came up was 4.1, which requires news to be clearly distinguishable from opinion and other assumptions, with the first of these needing to be based on verifiable factual evidence.

Section 4.11 concerning photos and their captions, titles etc., which should not mislead the readership.

While many of these issues could qualify as violations, they were often not anything which would distort things for the normal readership, Gunnar Siiner, the Press Council's chair, said.

"Many of the complaints received by the Press Council concerned minor details that qualify as violations of the Code of Ethics, but are not decisive for ordinary readers in the context of the issue," Itter said. 

"So looking back to a year ago, we can say that editorial staff are generally good at dealing with complex topics."

Last year, the Press Council resolved six complaints at pre-trial or settlement phase. Five more complaints were withdrawn or rejected. 

As of 31 December 2019, the Press Council had 11 complaints pending, ERR reports.

The number of complaints has remained more or less constant in recent years, with 84 complaints received by the Press Council in 2016, 87 in 2017, 84 in 2018 and 82 last year.

Gunnar Siiner is publisher and editor-in-chief of regional daily Saarte Hääl. Deputy chair of the press council is Toomas Mattson, advisor to the National Audit Office (Riigikontroll), and the board includes lawyers, journalists and business people.

ERR additionally has its own best practices (Hea tava) code of conduct, and a supervisory board which includes Riigikogu members from each of the (currently five) elected parties.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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