ONO Newsletter January 2021


So far, 2021 isn’t looking that much better than 2020, but we live in hope.

I trust you all managed some kind of festive break. I enjoyed some time at the beach (see above) and I have returned full of enthusiasm for the challenges ahead. Ethical public interest journalism remains as difficult but as vital as it has ever been.


While the challenges of meeting face-to-face remain, ONO is determined to step up its efforts to remain relevant and useful to members by holding more of these events across the year.

We kicked off on January 13th with a discussion entitled “Professional Ethics, Public Actions”.

It was fantastic to have 24 keen and enthusiastic members join us for this discussion, which covered the interaction between the ethics of journalists (and their commitment to fair and impartial reporting) and the growing desire of many reporters to express their own opinions in public forums, whether it be social media, attending marches, demonstrations and protests or any other form of external activity.

The good news is that we have recorded the shop talk and a link to it is now available from our website. You will need a password to access the video, and I would ask you not to provide that password to others or share it more widely, as these shop talks are internal discussions held for ONO members only. The password to access this video is the same as the password you currently use to access the members-only section of our site, which is TRUST2020

You can watch the video here.

ONO Treasurer and NPO Ombudsman Margo Smit expertly moderated the discussion, and our key speaker was ONO Board Member and BBC Director, Editorial Policies and Standards David Jordan.  

David “All Hell Broke Loose” Jordan took us through a range of recent challenges at the BBC where journalists and presenters had posted opinions on social media that challenged the boundaries and guidelines around the use of social media. The issues that emerged from this included the proper way to report objectively on racism, and broader questions of personal activity on social media. The question of attending public rallies and marches also came up.

One of the key outcomes of this process can be seen in the BBC’s revised and reissued guidance on impartiality. The BBC is currently rolling out refresher training on impartiality to all of its journalists.

Margo Smit then opened up the discussion for all members to share their thoughts and experiences, and the conversation was a long and fruitful one. Among some of the comments:

  • Tarmu Tammerk from Estonian public broadcaster ERR mentioned the number of journalists who consider it a basic right to express their views, and contrasted that with audiences who often feel that news has become too opinionated;
  • Steven Springer from Voice of America talked about some of his organization’s staff who have come from repressive regimes, and have trouble understanding why in the US they continue to face restrictions at work on their ability to speak freely;
  • Jack Nagler from the Canadian public broadcaster says it helps to explain to reporters that their desire to express opinions on matters of contention can limit or undermine their ability to then report impartially on those same issues;
  • David Regev from the broadcasting authority in Israel felt that the rules there needed to change, as they only limited reporters from opinionating at work, not on private social media accounts
  • Timo Huovinen from Finnish broadcaster YLE said they had the same fundamental rules as the BBC, where employment contracts of journalists clearly set out the limits on their need to follow the organization’s values;
  • Ignaz Staub from  Switzerland’s TX Group explained that they did not limit social media activity by reporters, but they did restrict political activity;
  • Bjarne Schilling, ONO President and Reader’s Editor at Politiken in Denmark, said they continue to rely on the common sense approach rather than firm rules;
  • Guy Gendron, from the French wing of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, says they invite outsiders to provide the opinion in their output and not the impartial in-house journalists;
  • Alan Sunderland, ONO Executive Director, pointed out his concern at the number of journalists who consider that, on some key public issues, there simply aren’t two legitimate sides anymore;
  • Sylvia Stead, from the Globe and Mail in Canada, referred to their advice to their journalists, which was not to post any content on social media that you wouldn’t be happy to write in the newspaper itself;
  • Elisabeth Ribbans from the Guardian in the UK says they also employ a common sense rule, and there are often concerns about reporters posting material on social media that has often been excluded – for good reason – from their published stories.

Following the discussion, Elizabeth Jensen, the former public editor at National Public Radio in the US, provided this link to a cautionary tale, and Guy Gendron from CBC shared his own organization’s social media policy, which we have placed in the members section of our website here.

We are already thinking about our next shop talk in a couple of months’ time, so if you have any suggestions on issues or topics that matter to you, contact Executive Director Alan Sunderland at newsombudsmenorg@gmail.com with your suggestions.


As if to reinforce the importance of the internal discussions ONO members have been having, a new round of public debate has just opened up this week on the issue of traditional journalistic impartiality.

Lionel Barber, a distinguished journalist and the former editor of the Financial Times in London, has published this detailed defence of traditional journalistic objectivity in the wake of the Trump era. I thoroughly recommend it as a fine read. Parts of it remind me of the far more succinct credo espoused by CNN’s Richard Davis when he was a guest at ONO’s 2019 Conference in New York: “Let the fella make his case”.

However, this view has not been without its opponents already. The most passionate and focussed attack on it so far has come from US journalism academic Jeff Jarvis, via Twitter. Also well worth a read of the whole thread.

My own view is that these two seemingly opposing views have more in common than they think, and certain key words like “onesideism” and “balance” can do more to divide than unite those who have the best interests of journalism at heart.

I say that because Barber doesn’t seem to be arguing that telling both sides of a story fairly and clearly precludes making editorial judgements and being prepared to contextualise and call out lies and deception, while on the other hand Jarvis is not arguing that a commitment to rigorous fact-checking and basic fairness should be jettisoned.

But in any event, this is a debate that all of us have a major stake in, and the discussion is far from over.


A reminder that membership fees are now due for the 2021 year, and to take account of the impact of coronavirus they have been reduced for most members by 50%.

Those of you who have not yet got around to paying will receive a friendly reminder shortly from ONO Treasurer Margo Smit and ONO Bookkeeper Elaine Carlton, with all the information you need to renew.

Keep in mind that I will shortly be changing the password for the members only section of our website, and the new password will be sent out via email to all financial members.


The ONO Board continues to monitor the health and travel situation internationally but it is probably safe to say that a physical, face-to-face conference continues to be unlikely, at least in the first half of 2021.

If that changes, our members will be the first to know. But until then, we will continue to look for opportunities for us to share ideas and discuss key issues and questions “virtually”, and we are also starting to work towards an annual meeting via Zoom towards the middle of the year.

Bjarne Schilling                                                                                  Alan Sunderland ONO President                                                                       ONO Executive Director
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