Council of ethics: it is not. The political context is unfavorable (SPIIL)

The independent press publishers declare that they are open to the principle of a Press Ethics Council. However, they consider that this Council cannot be an initiative of the public authorities, and that the conditions are not met for a serene reflection on the subject, has just indicated this Monday (February 11) the Union of the independent press online of which B2 is a member

The 185 publishers who are members of the Online Independent Press Syndicate (Spiil) believe that only high ethical standards can develop an independent press. Professional journalism is distinguished from other content by its respect for strict ethical rules. For this, for 10 years, the Spiil and its members have been working to increase the level of ethical practices, not only specific to journalists, but especially to press publishers. Let us cite the fight for the transparency of aid, the guide to good practices of the Spiil, or even the support for the creation of ambitious ethical charters.

The creation of a Council of ethics could, under certain conditions, be beneficial for all. This is observed in many countries, and is part of a legitimate discussion between publishers, journalists and readers. Such advice could make it possible to limit the abuses that exist in our sector, to encourage good practices and to improve the public's understanding of the professions linked to the production of information. A reflection is engaged within the Spiil on the interests and dangers of such a Council.

However, the political conditions are not currently in place for a calm discussion on the subject. How could we ignore the recent declarations of the Head of State: “The public good is information. (…) We must ensure that it is neutral, finance structures that ensure neutrality.” According to the Constitution, the State is the guarantor of the pluralism of information. In no case of its “neutrality”. Except to think that there would be no more room for an opinion press, the very essence of democratic expression. That the President of the Republic in office publicly evokes a mechanism by which the State would finance a structure which would ensure “the neutrality of information” questions the real objective of the mission entrusted by the government to a senior civil servant, former CEO of AFP, Emmanuel Hoog, to create a Council of ethics of the press.

These presidential reflections, expressed during a meeting with journalists at the Élysée, come after the adoption of two bills which have the effect of limiting the freedom of the press. The first on fake news, adopted in 2018 on the initiative of the President of the Republic. The second on the protection of business secrecy, which encroaches dangerously the Freedom of the Press Act 1881 and has already been used against journalists since, confirming the fears expressed. To these two pieces of legislation is added the recent attempted search of Mediapart premises, founding member of Spiil, in violation of press law because it seeks to undermine the secrecy of sources.

In addition to these two legislative acts, there is the recent attempt to search the premises of Mediapart, a founding member of Spiil, in violation of press law because it seeks to undermine the secrecy of sources. Finally, Spiil considers that it is not up to the State to encourage the creation of a self-regulatory body for the press. A Council born under such auspices will never have the necessary legitimacy. Only a serene reflection stemming from the profession itself and not from political power would make it possible to envisage the contours of an ambitious Ethics Council. It is only in this way that this Council can be at the service of free and independent information.

(The Spiel)

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).