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Journalism ethics body to launch

A permanent committee dedicated to journalism ethics in the Middle East is expected to be launched at a regional conference.

DUBAI // A permanent committee dedicated to journalism ethics in the Middle East is expected to be launched today at a regional conference as part of a programme to encourage higher standards within the region's media. The committee, led by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), would be based in Bahrain. Aidan White, the federation's general secretary, said the committee would "play a crucial role in assessing work from this region" and would help prepare and implement a standards programme.

The voluntary programme is expected to be adopted by leading media organisations in the region. The committee could then draw attention to organisations that were not meeting the standards set out in areas including ethics, objectivity and accountability. The UAE Journalists' Association, which hosted a two-day IFJ conference in Dubai, welcomed the ethics committee and said it could "form a future framework controlling this profession and all its professionals in a way that surpasses the power of laws, which depend on penalties and compulsory limitations".

The UAE recently released a new law governing media organisations, which has been criticised by some journalists as being too vague. Mohammed Yousef, the president of the journalists' association, also called for a "press council" that would manage the affairs of the country's media. Speaking at the sidelines of yesterday's conference Mr Yousef said: "I would like to suggest a council in the UAE comprising journalists, media professionals, law enforcement officers, readers and intellectuals."

He said in his welcome speech: "Such councils have proved to be more effective contrary to the laws of press and publication enacted by governments, which think, in good faith, that these laws organise and support the development of press, but they no longer do." The council would hold responsibility for the actions of media groups and even take action if required. "If any violation is committed, the council bears the responsibility to refer the matter to a civil court but not to a criminal court," he said.

The council would ensure that media groups correct, apologise and eventually even compensate people for any errors committed. Mr Yousef said that the most important principle of such a plan would see members of the media working together to establish a system that would lead to press accountability. "A free, developed and well-established press only stems out of the conscience of journalists, media organisations and press federations under the state's protection of the principles of freedom of expression, which are established by all constitutions and form the basis of press freedom," he said.

Mr Yousef said the committee would not impose fines or penalties initially, although as more countries from the region joined it could adopt greater powers. Speaking about the media laws in the country, Mr White said: "In the UAE, there is a high area of disagreement between the government and the journalists. Confrontation is not going to solve the problem and I think the government should step back and should listen to the suggestions given by journalists."

pmenon@thenational.ae

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