The Standard resulting from the ‘Journalism Trust Initiative’ is available from 19 December 2019 to serve as an instrument to promote transparency and accountability of news media, but also to incentivize and reward compliance with professional norms. Its development, initiated by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), has been facilitated by the French standardization body AFNOR and supported by its German sister organization DIN on behalf of the European Committee for Standardization.
Over a time-span of 14 months, a dedicated, diverse group of participating organizations and individuals developed the final text by consensus. During a public consultation phase, over 200 comments on the draft standard were received and most of them, fully or in parts, incorporated in the document. It was then adopted by a majority, with one vote against and two abstentions, at a plenary session of participants in Brussels on 22 November, 2019.
As a benchmark for self-assessment and voluntary disclosure of media outlets, the JTI Standard features 18 clauses that range from ownership and sources of revenue to the editorial process, including topics like correction policies, labelling of opinion or sponsored content, and ensuring accuracy. Every newspaper, or news agency, TV channel or radio station, website or blog can use it as a checklist for a thorough, internal diagnosis of its manufacturing chain and for optimizing it, if needed. Media outlets are encouraged to meet the requirements of the JTI Standard and to be transparent about it. Full compliance may potentially be validated through an external audit as it is common in many industries.
Journalism worthy of its name must be clearly distinguishable, by humans and by algorithms. That’s why JTI has translated mostly existing professional norms into machine-readable code. At the production level of journalism, these commonly agreed criteria of quality and independence can drive transparency and get verified to reinstate trust. To that end, JTI provides indicators for media outlets to self-assess and comply with – and for citizens, advertisers and regulators to recognize and reward it. It does not, however, allow for the rating of individual pieces of content as such a mechanism might be misused to curtail the freedom of speech.
Like any other standard, JTI is driven by demand. Algorithmically driven indexing, ranking and distribution of news, particularly by social media platforms and other tech companies, is under growing scrutiny. Therefore, externalizing this process and source, govern and further develop the underlying criteria independently, is becoming a viable option that JTI can deliver. Both Facebook and Google had joined the group of stakeholders early on and contributed to its work, particularly with a view on the machine-readability of this Standard document.
Also, media development actors, as well as regulatory and self-regulatory bodies, like press councils, participated and now consider the JTI Standard as a valuable instrument to better fulfil their diverse duties. Advertisers, last but not least, have expressed their vested interest in criteria and related signals that can steer spending towards safer environments online, in order to protect the integrity of their brands, and thus help to remonetize journalism worthy of the name.
JTI was invented to translate this growing demand into tangible incentives for media outlets that chose to apply this Standard in the first place. Compliance with professional norms is an investment that must pay off, in audience’s trust, in reach and visibility, limitation of liability, and eventually in better business. The voluntary, self-regulatory and multi-stakeholder approach of ‘official’ standard setting is proving this logic in other sectors every day worldwide. It is a tested and scalable mechanism that JTI now makes accessible for every media outlet, big or small. Ethically and professionally sound actors in the information space deserve a competitive advantage, which the ‘Journalism Trust Initiative’ is facilitating very practically.
After a first drafting and pilot phase in 2019, RSF and its partners will refine and offer an online tool for JTI self-assessment. In addition, a mechanism for independent audits will be further developed. This second phase starts now.
Read the Standard document here
More information on JTI is available here.