Defining a news ombudsman in a digital world

By Sally Begbie
Special Broadcasting Service, Australia

As news organisations become increasingly connected to their audiences, and those audiences equally become increasingly networked, the capacity for the news organisation to be held accountable by their audiences can only intensify. As we know, news organisations hold themselves accountable to their audiences through the application of a commonly held set of journalistic principles.

It is the task of news ombudsmen to assess whether their particular organisations have met those principles. The precise scope of the news ombudsman’s role reflects the legal and regulatory environment in which particular news organisations operate.

If we look at the present membership of the ONO, we see there are various types of news ombudsman:

— in-house ombudsman, eg US model – an independent but internal critic of the news media and specifically of the news produced by the employer;
— internal codes ombudsman – who assess complaints formally against a Code of Practice and represent the organization before the media regulator; and whom may or may not be involved in broader discussions about editorial standards;
— media performance based ombudsman – commonly journalists who have television or radio programs through which they comment publicly on viewers’ complaints or provide media criticism; and
— television editorial standards executives, who have a role in complaints handling and also are involved in the processes of setting editorial standards.

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