PRAVNI ZAPISI • Year III • No. 1 • pp. 73-89
JOURNALISTS’ CODES AND MEDIA LAW IN SERBIA: INSUFFICIENT SELF-DEFINING
Prof. dr dr h.c. Vladimir V. Vodinelić
Redovni profesor, Pravni fakultet Univerziteta Union u Beogradu
Pravni zapisi, No. 1/2012, pp. 73-89
Original Scientific Paper
journalists’ ethics; media law; mutual relation; de-judification; auto-regulation; Serbia; NUNS and UNS Code of Journalists’ Ethics of 2006; extent of Code development
1. Journalists’ codes of ethics include rules mainly relating to the same groups of issues concerning the work of journalists, but do vary in contents, systematics and scope. There is no singular self-understanding of the identity of the profession, partly because the contents of the ethical rules of journalism are influenced by other normative and value systems, which vary in different environments. 2. A journalists’ code has a number of functions. Among others, its rules help journalists to discuss their actions articulately, within the profession, whilst others use them to assess the work of journalists and their ability to comply with their own norms. Institutional support to codes, e.g. through a press council, authorised to sanction violations of the rules, increases the effectiveness of such rules. 3. Journalists’ ethical rules cannot be equated with the general rules of moral nor with the rules of positive law. Some forms of discrepancy between the legal norms and journalists’ ethical norms are shown on the example of the 2006Journalists’ Code of the Independent Journalists’ Association and Journalists’ Association: when ethical responsibility exists even without the legal one, and vice versa, when there is a legal responsibility but not an ethical one. Media law should constitute only the ethical minimum – everything else should be left to auto-regulation, to autonomous rules of the journalists’ profession. Solid limits of de-judification of journalists’ work lie in the responsibility of the state to legally regulate the matter of journalists’ work in line with the guarantees of both freedom of the media and other values that may be violated in the course of journalist’s work. The extent of legal regulation of journalist’s work depends on how developed the deontic rules are and the extent to which they are observed. Advocating for a radical legal de-regulation, particularly by journalists, during the drafting of the Republic of Serbia Public Information Act in 2003 is hence more difficult to understand keeping in mind the lack of simultaneous advocacy for a substantial strengthening of auto-regulation. 4. The rules of journalists’ code are not directly legally binding, and when in conflict with statutory rules, they have less force. Despite that, they are undoubtedly important for the law and for a judge. This is particularly true when the court has to apply norms that direct it (as the Serbian media law of 2003 does) to establish whether something is in accordance with the rules of the journalists’ profession, in particular concerning the so-called due journalists’ attention. This is why deontic rules, provided they are sufficiently specific and are published, not only facilitate the completion of their tasks to journalists, but also help lawyers complete theirs. 5. After the fall of the authoritarian regime in 2000, journalists’ codes in Serbia are more developed than before, but still lack a number of rules. This is due to the lack of readiness on the part of the journalists to publicly state, to a more substantial extent, precisely how they understand themselves, and consequently, make a certain image of a journalist self-binding, and do this not only in terms of principle, but more specifically and in more detail. The example of the NUNS (independent journalist’s association) and UNS (journalists’ association) Code of Ethics of 2006 shows that such, insufficiently developed code is not a satisfactory indicator judges when assessing the work of journalists. Out of some forty rules comprising the Code, some are expressed twice, whilst a considerable number of them are rules that are in fact already in force as legal norms, which are binding on everyone, not only on members of the journalist profession. Even though these rules are not redundant in the Code, barely twenty rules that are stricto sensu ethical rules of the journalist profession do not suffice for auto-regulation to render the heteronomous legal regulation and heteronomous application of the general legal regime to journalist’s work superfluous.