ONO Newsletter April 2020

From the bunker

Well, not the bunker really.

But like so many of us, I am working from home – in my case a little cabin at the bottom of the garden.

The only difference is that this has been my normal place of work for a while now, since I stopped full time paid employment as the Editorial Director of the ABC. So the cabin was already well set up with a strong internet connection, a good desk and chair, a couple of monitors, and a bottle of single malt whisky for those late night international phone hook ups.

Covid-19 has forced many more of us to work from home, and it is leading to significant stress, disruption and other challenges. A little while ago, ONO shared some thoughts on the importance of maintaining strong and transparent editorial standards in the midst of a dramatic and chaotic story like this. If you missed it, you can find it here on our website.

One thing we didn’t canvas at any length is the pressure this story puts on ombudsmen, reader’s editors, public editors and standards editors. Reporters are exhausted and worried, advertising and other sources of revenue are down, while at the same time the public are hungry for information. And because the public is stressed and worried too, there are more complaints and more concerns to deal with.

These are challenging times for our membership, and ONO is here to provide whatever support and information we can.

Despite the pressures and the constantly changing nature of this story, ONO members have done sterling work to provide guidance for reporters and to communicate with an anxious public.

Too much sterling work for us to include it all here, but it includes:

I am sure there are many more, but the point is clear. ONO members are in the thick of the story, providing sound advice and communicating with the public on how the best journalism operates in the darkest hours, and what key principles inform our work.

Stay safe everyone, and congratulations on some excellent work.

Alan Sunderland

ONO Executive Director

Sydney, Australia

Survey extended – there is still time!

Given the current disruptions to everyone’s work and life, the deadline for this important piece of research into the role of news ombudsmen and standards editors has been extended.

So I would encourage you all to take some time to complete it and help inform this valuable work.

ONO Member (and Toronto Star Public Editor) Kathy English wants to know a little more about your job and how you do it.

The link to complete the survey is here and for those of you who have already done it – thanks!

Member Profile

A warm welcome to Grazina Ramanauskaite, the Inspector of Journalist Ethics in Lithuania, who joined ONO as an associate member in 2019.

Tell us about yourself. What is your current role and how long have you been in the position? What are your chief duties/responsibilities?

I was appointed as the Inspector of Journalist Ethics (this is the official name of the media ombudsperson in Lithuania) for a five-year tenure by a decision of the Seimas (the Parliament of the Republic of Lithuanian) in the middle of the 2015. I manage a team of 16 employees. The main functions of the Inspector and the Office are protection of personal non-property rights: dignity and honour, privacy, investigation of violations of personal data processing while disseminating public information. Following the entry into force of the General Data Protection Regulation, the Inspector shall supervise the processing of data for journalistic, academic, artistic and literary purposes.

What was your career/background prior to taking up your current role? 

I graduated Lithuanian Philology at the Faculty of Philology at Vilnius University and go  Master’s degree in Lithuanian Language and Literature. After graduation, I worked for 16 years at the Lithuanian news agency ELTA, including 8 years as CEO.

What are the biggest challenges and/or opportunities faced by your organisation/the media in general in your country?

There are quite a few challenges. I will mention the main ones. One of the biggest challenges is propaganda and hate speech in the Internet. While fighting against propaganda traditional media play a key role as the subject informing the public. Another challenge is the merger of politicians, business and the media. In recent years, as social networks have grown in popularity, there has been a synergy between media, social networks, making professional media compete with social networks for content, speed, and quality. Maintaining the highest standards of professionalism becomes more complicated and reduces the quality of professional media. As the General Data Protection Regulation came into force, it is important to strike a balance between the general interest in data protection and the protection of human rights. The particularly high number of complaints in recent years (20% more complaints each year) poses a serious challenge to the smooth running of the Office.

Feel free to share any of the most significant or challenging issues you have had to deal with recently in your role.

One of the biggest challenges is the fight against the hate speech in the Internet, usually spread through comments and social networks. Public and media education is a must have and is of top importance for my team. For these reasons, we focus on the educational function.

Is there any question or comment you would like to make to the ONO membership generally as part of this profile? Something you would like advice or input on?

I am delighted to be a member of the ONO organization and to find like-minded people here. I believe that the organization uniting of the world’s ombudsmen is a very important platform to the exchange the views and experience.

Update on the ONO Conference

When the ONO Board made the decision last month to postpone the conference scheduled for May in Copenhagen, it was clear that the impact of the coronavirus was going to make it impossible to hold it as planned.

That has clearly proved to be the case.

The decision was just a postponement and not a cancellation, which means that ONO is still keeping open the option of rescheduling the conference (still in Copenhagen) for later in the year.

As the situation around the world has worsened, it is clearly doubtful whether it will still be possible to reschedule and whether members would be free to attend if we did.

Rest assured that members of the ONO Board are continuing to monitor and discuss the situation on a regular basis. We understand that members need some certainty and time for planning if a conference were to proceed.

At this stage, the Board is planning to meet early next month (May) to make a final decision on whether to continue postponing the conference for 2020 or cancelling it altogether and planning instead for a great conference in 2021.

If you have any views or thoughts on this that you would like to share, we are keen to hear from all members, so drop us an email to newsombudsmenorg@gmail.com and let us know.

A Final Word…

Elizabeth Jensen, the Public Editor for National Public Radio in the US and a long time ONO member and board member, finished up at NPR on April 3 after more than five years in the role.

Over many decades in journalism, Elizabeth wrote for the New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Columbia Journalism Review and a range of other publications.

Elizabeth has written wisely and well on all aspects of the news business, and her contribution here at ONO has been substantial. We hope to continue to hear from Elizabeth and welcome her as part of our community of members and colleagues, but for now we would like to share with you all her final column as NPR Public Editor, which reflects both on her time in the role and the challenging times that now face us all.


Bjarne Schilling                                                                                           Alan Sunderland

ONO President                                                                              ONO Executive Director

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