Remarks by Ambassador Charles Garrett at the launch event as part of UK-Macedonia programme assistance for strengthening the media sector.
Dear guests, associates and colleagues, Macedonian Radio Television team, representatives of the media community,
This is a big day. We are here to launch a product, a truly positive product, which could, if we all stick to it, make a significant contribution to the democratic strength of the coming elections. So I would like to thank you all for your support in being here to help mark an important step forward.
To give it its full name, we are launching Macedonian Radio Television’s Ethical and Professional Principles for Media Coverage of Election Process. This document is the result of several months of close cooperation between the BBC’s Media Action team in London, the British Embassy in Skopje and Macedonian Radio Television. The Macedonian Institute for Media are playing their role through facilitation. The Council for Media Ethics have also made a valuable contribution. And I am deeply grateful to all these partners. It has been a great team effort.
I am glad to say that these Election Guidelines, as we refer to them in short-hand, have now been adopted by the Programme Council of Macedonian Radio Television.
Balance, impartiality and independence of media are essential ingredients of free and fair elections. That is why the British Embassy has prioritised the media sector in our bilateral cooperation. It should go without saying that the elections this year have a lot riding on them. Done well, they will mark a significant step out of this country’s chronic political crisis. And to do them well, it is essential that the media sector fulfils its responsibility as a democratic institution.
The central goal of these Election Guidelines is to raise quality, in particular through strengthening capacity for professional and balanced reporting during the election period. And in producing this document, its authors have done a great job. But I should stress, and this is a key point, that the document alone cannot achieve that central goal. It is only the media professionals who can do that. Only by endorsing this document in word and spirit, only by doing your election work entirely in line with the principles of this document, can you hope to achieve that goal.
That makes it sound like the hard work starts here. But in fact, with the adoption of this document, the hard work has just been made a little easier. The Election Guidelines will provide an important framework for you as you work to meet your democratic responsibility.
In any democratic society, the media, especially the broadcast media, are a key player. They serve as public watchdog, calling leaders and others to account. They ask the questions of politicians that their audiences would like to ask themselves. And in doing this, they can make a powerful contribution to pluralism, to democratic development and dialogue. The broadcast media have a duty to provide election coverage that gives the voter comprehensive, accurate and reliable information on all aspects of the elections. They must ensure that they are giving voters the information they need to make informed choices. They have a responsibility to be professional and impartial in their election reporting and not to discriminate against any one political party or candidate.
It is important that the public-service broadcaster lives up to this responsibility. The public debate in the UK about balance and impartiality at our own public-service broadcaster, the BBC, is loud and vigorous. That is not just because of the importance of the principles we’re talking about. It is also because the BBC, just like Macedonian broadcaster is paid for by the people. It therefore has a duty to serve all the people of the country, and not just some of them, by offering high quality, balanced and impartial election coverage.
I am confident that, in sticking to these Election Guidelines across your election coverage, you will make a significant contribution to democratic standards in the elections.
The Election Guidelines are, in essence, a kind of self-regulation mechanism. So they will, if applied faithfully, contribute to a greater understanding among political players, including the political parties, about what they can expect from MRTV. That will allow MRTV not only to demonstrate greater professionalism, but also to protect themselves from undue political influence.
But these principles are no less important for other broadcasters: all, whether public or private, share the public airwaves, and all share a responsibility to serve the people. So we hope that others will be inspired by the leadership that MRTV are showing today. We hope that they will draft and publish their own set of election guidelines to allow their viewers to know and judge for themselves whether the news they are watching is balanced and professional.
The work starts today with MRTV leading the way.
With the adoption and launch of the Election Guidelines, MRTV are making a bold and important statement: that they will work for the benefit of all the citizens of Macedonia.
That they reject political interference in the way the news is reported.
And that throughout the election period and beyond, they will strive to uphold the highest standards of professionalism and impartiality.
Macedonians deserve no less from their public broadcaster.
The UK has been a longstanding supporter of Macedonia and the reforms you are undertaking. We have invested in our bilateral relationship over 20 years through collaboration and support in many areas where you and we together have identified a need. This latest example of our collaboration is a particularly important one. And I wish you every success with it. Thank you.