Local media not accountable 's study

  • 2009-06-10
  • By Adam Mullett
VILNIUS - A recent study of six Baltic Sea region media houses has shown that Lithuanian 's and to a lesser extent Latvian 's newspapers are not up to Western standards in terms of transparency and accountability, including corrections, ownership information, staff policies, reporting policies and interactivity.

"Transparency standards used by [and] promoted by Western scholars and employed by progressive world media are still new to Lithuanian press. Compared to Swedish daily papers, Lithuanian and Latvian press continues to lack in standards aimed at transparency and accountability of mass media," the Pilot Media Accountability Study by Transparency International Lithuania said.

Researchers were unable to find any corrections in four of the five Lithuanian newspapers surveyed 's a vital part of a newspaper to guarantee accuracy. Necessary information about the owners or their property interests was also unavailable for all the newspapers.

Inese Voika, a Transparency International media expert and a former journalist in Latvia, told TBT that media transparency was of utmost importance in fledging democracies.
"Media is a very important integrity pillar 's if media is corrupt, then the politicians aren't clean and are corrupt. It is a pillar of a clean society. It is important to see how clean and accountable our media is."

"The most important thing in the study was the study of transparency of ownership. If you understand who owns it, you know what the policies are," Voika said.
Romas Sakadolskis, a lecturer of journalism at Vilnius University, also took part in the study.
"The readers ought to know what other financial interests the owners have. If you look at the New York Times, you will find lots of information about their commercial interests 's also you can find information about The Guardian," he said.

"If you look at the owners here, you don't know. We know some things about it, but we should know of the interests of the owners so we could gauge whether they are being objective about a matter of public interest."

Sakadolskis said that Lithuanian media was far behind in transparency.
"If you look at ownership 's does the reader know who the owners are? In Sweden they offer information on the Internet about the corporate ownership. Here, it is close to zero. Lithuanian newspapers are some way behind their Latvian counterparts and way behind the Swedes," he said.
The study also found that none of the newsrooms have their own written codes of conduct 's rules that would clearly separate editorial and business functions, or the guidelines for information provision, which would aim to clarify the way a newsroom selects and publishes information.

Sakadolskis said the selection of information is very important because media owners have the right to choose not to publish information, some of which could be damaging to their other interests.
"If you look at how the media business is being run, transparency and accountability, it is part of the business model in the West 's here and in most of Eastern Europe, they don't have it. So we don't know whether or not to trust them," Sakadolskis said.

"It doesn't mean that these people are corrupt, but it means we don't know 's we are put in the position where we are forced to believe it."
The researchers were unable to find editorial letters to the public that would explain the policy of selecting and publishing information or readers' questionnaires aimed to evaluate the accuracy and impartiality of the newspaper. Also, none of the newsrooms had an ombudsman institution.
The study was conducted using the Lithuanian newspapers Lietuvos Rytas and Respublika, Latvian Diena and Latvijas Avize and Swedish Dagens Nyheter and Svenska Dagblatet.

To compare the accountability of different types of Lithuanian newspapers, the researchers also analyzed three other Lithuanian newspapers Verslo Zinios, Lietuvos Zinios and Vilniaus diena.
The study analyzed five areas of media transparency: corrections, ownership, staff policies, reporting policies and interactivity. The study used an adapted methodology used in the "Openness & Accountability: A Study of Transparency in Global Media Outlets" by the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda of the University of Maryland.

The Lithuanian newspapers used for the study were unavailable for comment as The Baltic Times went to press.