Basic agreement of the Council for Mass Media
The task of the Council for Mass Media is to cultivate responsible freedom in regard to the Mass Media as well as provide support for good journalistic practice. Media associations, journalists’ unions and independent media companies that have affiliated to the Basic Agreement are bound to adhere to its principles. They also endeavour to ensure that their members and those working for them act in accordance with the intentions of this agreement.
For the purposes of this agreement, the Council for Mass Media is referred to hereafter as ‘Council’, those bound by the agreement as ‘Affiliate Organisations’ and the media companies within the sphere of its operation as ‘Mass Media’.
Council and chairperson duties and sphere of operation
1 § Council functions
The general task of the Council and the chairperson is to interpret good journalistic practice as well as defend freedom in regard to speech and the right to publication.
The Council and the chairperson handle issues on the basis of submitted requests, but can also, on their own initiative, take up a matter that concerns a question of principle and major importance.
In individual cases the Council may, in addition to its rulings, issue statements of a general nature.
The chairperson leads the operations of the Council and its office in matters related to complaints and their preparation. The chairperson takes an active role in public discussion concerning journalistic ethics and self-regulation.
2 § Scope of operation
The Council and the chairperson may review editorial content published by the Mass Media that have affiliated to this agreement. News agencies that have affiliated to the Basic Agreement also fall within the jurisdiction of the Council and the chairperson.
The Council and the chairperson may review the discernibility of advertising material from editorial content.
Additionally, the Council and the chairperson may review the discernibility of content produced by the public from editorial content and the administration by editors of online forums allocated to the public, as stipulated in the Annex to the Guidelines for Journalists.
The Council and the chairperson may also review the procedures used by those serving as employees or freelancers for the Mass Media or news agencies for the purpose of gathering information.
The chairperson and Council office have the opportunity, prior to the official handling of a complaint, to mediate the matter if both parties consent thereto.
The Council may likewise take a stance on any attempts by the authorities or individuals to limit publicity or hamper the use of the freedom of speech.
3 § Ruling principles
The Council and the chairperson base their rulings on free deliberation in respect to the Guidelines for Journalists, its Annex and other established principles of good journalistic practice.
The Guidelines for Journalists are drafted and approved by the Management Group of the Council for Mass Media. This approval must be unanimous.
4 § Consequences of violation of good practice
A Mass Media or news agency that violates good journalistic practice will receive a reprimand from the Council. If the violation is gross or the actions of the Mass Media otherwise show disregard, the Council can issue a ruling that includes a severe reprimand. Such reprimands must be publicised without delay and without direct comment in accordance with the following principles:
1) In all cases on the website of the Mass Media or news agency, if the media in question has a significant amount of its editorial content on the web.
2) If the reprimand concerns a printed paper or magazine, news of the ruling may be published based on normal news release criteria. If the paper or magazine does not publish news items, it must publish the reprimand in full in the print edition and online.
3) If the ruling only concerns an online publication, it is sufficient that the reprimand is published online only.
4) The online publication or online version of the publication in question shall include a remark about the reprimand as issued by the Council. Whenever technically possible, the remark shall include a link to the ruling published online.
5) Radio and television media fulfil the obligation to publicise by publishing the news of the reprimand, based on normal news release criteria, on the relevant programme’s website and in connection with the programme in question.
6) If the publication of the reprimand does not meet the provisions of the Basic Agreement and the procedures of the Council, the Council or chairperson can require that the reprimand be published again in the required manner.
The Council will specify in its procedures the manner in which the obligation to publicise is to be fulfilled in practice.
5 § Exculpatory ruling
Although the obligation to publicise does not apply to an exculpatory ruling by the Council, it is recommended that news of such a ruling be publicised as well.
The composition of the Council and the election of the chairperson
6 § Council members
The Council is made up of 13 members, in addition to the chairperson. The term of office, other than that of the chairperson, is three years and starts at the beginning of a calendar year.
The Management Group of the Council shall appoint eight of the members as well as personal deputy members for them. Those appointed should be professionally experienced and well versed in ethical questions. Jointly they should represent expertise in respect to both the press and the digital media. The appointment decisions shall be unanimous.
The Council shall appoint, as representatives of the public, five members and personal deputy members for them. The representatives of the public are not permitted to be in the service of the Mass Media nor in related positions of trust. Two of the representatives of the public and their personal deputy members must, if possible, have a special knowledge of matters concerning freedom of speech or ethical questions.
If a personal deputy member is prevented or unable to serve as a substitute for a Council member representing the public, the chairperson may invite another deputy member representing the public to the Council meeting.
Representatives of the public, and their personal deputy members, are selected on the basis of motivated applications, submitted in writing to the Council in the manner defined by its chairperson.
Upon the end of the term of office, a Council member cannot be immediately appointed for a new three-year term. This restriction does not apply to deputy members.
Regardless of the above, a Council member and deputy member may, with sufficient reason, be appointed for a further term of one or two years. The decision on the further term shall be made by the Management Group for a representative of the media, and by the Council for a representative of the public. Upon consultation with the chairperson of the Council as well as the background organisation of the member in question, the Board shall propose to the general meeting of the Management Group that the member representing the media be appointed for a further term. For a further term to be held by a representative of the public, the proposal shall be made to the Council by its chairperson.
If a Council member or deputy member resigns during the term, a successor shall be appointed for the remaining duration of the term. A person who has been appointed as a successor to a Council member or deputy member can be appointed for a three-year term immediately after the term of succession.
An individual cannot serve simultaneously as a Council member and a member of the Board of the Management Group of the Council for Mass Media.
7 § Chairperson of the Council
The Management Group of the Council for Mass Media shall elect, by a unanimous resolution, the chairperson for the Council for a five-year term.
The chairperson shall always be elected through an open recruitment. The same individual can be elected as the chairperson for a maximum of two successive terms.
If the chairperson resigns or is dismissed during the term, a new chairperson shall immediately be elected for a period of five years in accordance with this agreement. The resolution on the dismissal of the chairperson need not be unanimous.
8 § Vice chairpersons of the Council
The Council shall, on an annual basis, select three vice chairpersons from among its members. 3. The third vice chairperson shall be selected from the representatives of the public.
Vice chairpersons may be re-elected.
Handling complaints and other matters within the Council
9 § Commencement of action
Any individual may submit to the Council a matter that falls within the jurisdiction of the Council or the Council chairperson. This can be done by sending a written complaint to the Council office, or by signing a writ completed by the Complaints Analyst on the basis of oral notification.
The matter shall not be taken up without the consent of the party concerned unless there are particularly good reasons for doing so. The party concerned refers to the individual or organisation on whose behalf the complaint is to be made. If the consent of the party concerned is lacking, the Council office will advise the complainant to supplement the complaint.
The Council may, on its own or the chairperson’s initiative, take up for deliberation an issue that is of principle and major importance, and concerns freedom of speech or publication or good journalistic practice.
10 § Acquisition of clarification
Prior to issuing a ruling, the Council must hear the complainee. In addition to the parties in question, the Council may hear specialists and also acquire further clarification in writing. The hearing of the parties and specialists may be carried out on either a written or an oral basis.
If necessary, the Council office will advise the complainant to supplement the complaint. If the complainant can identify the publication that is the object of complaint but the provision of the publication to the Council is unreasonably difficult for the complainant, the Council can request that the Mass Media in question provide it.
11 § Dismissal of a complaint for consideration
The Council and the chairperson shall not, without a pressing reason, handle any matter that has been published more than three months earlier
A complaint that is submitted anonymously or does not concern a Mass Media affiliated to this Basic Agreement shall not be handled.
If legal proceedings are pending in the matter or if the complainant is clearly seeking a Council ruling for the purposes of filing an action on the same matter in a court of law, the matter shall not be handled or its handling shall be interrupted or ended.
The chairperson may, as a matter of discretion, end the handling of a complaint if it is deemed to be clearly unfounded or if, upon requested supplementation, it still remains substantially deficient.
The chairperson may, if the conditions set out in the procedures of the Council are met, leave also other matters unhandled or interrupt their handling, unless the handling of the complaint is necessary for the purposes of specific interpretation of the Guidelines for Journalists.
12 § Disqualification
The chairperson or members of the Council are disqualified from handling any issue to which they are party or in regard to which they are in such close liaison that this may affect their impartiality. Attention must also be paid to matters that may affect the perceived impartiality of the Council.
The above shall be applicable to Complaints Analysts as well.
Any dispute concerning the possible disqualification of a member of the Council or a Complaints Analyst shall be resolved by the chairperson of the Council.
Any dispute concerning the possible disqualification of the chairperson of the Council shall be resolved by the vice chairpersons through a majority decision.
In order to guarantee its decision-making capacity, the Council shall ensure that it has a sufficient number of qualified members to handle any complaint. If it is not possible for the Council to form a quorum, the Management Group shall appoint temporary members, including a temporary chairperson, to handle a specific complaint.
13 § Duties of the chairperson
The chairperson shall take the propositions for rulings to the Council for decision.
The chairperson may, as a matter of discretion, issue rulings on matters of principle that are of minor importance and which clearly will lead to an exculpatory ruling.
The Council shall be informed of the exculpatory rulings issued by the chairperson, as well as of the chairperson’s decisions not to handle a complaint or to end the handling of a complaint. If the Council is dissatisfied with the chairperson’s ruling or decision, it may, on the initiative of a Council member, take the complaint up for a ruling through a majority decision. Such an initiative shall be made within three months from receiving the information of the chairperson’s ruling or decision.
If the chairperson is prevented or unable to perform the assigned duties, one of the vice chairpersons shall perform them. However, the vice chairperson cannot issue any rulings individually.
14 § Duties of the Complaints Analysts
The Complaints Analysts acquire documents and clarifications needed for the handling of complaints. They also prepare the ruling propositions for the chairperson. Prior to the resolution, the Council shall be informed of the propositions and their motivations, as prepared by the Complaints Analysts.
Possible dissident opinions of the Complaints Analysts shall be presented in the relevant preparatory documents and recorded in the ruling protocols.
The Complaints Analysts shall not take part in making the resolutions, but they have the right to be heard in the Council meetings.
15 § Publicity in regard to the deliberation and documents
The meetings of the Council are not public, unless otherwise decided by the Council in a specific case.
Any person has the right to obtain information with respect to documents in the possession of the Council. The chairperson of the Council may, however, either on the chairperson’s own initiative or that of a party involved, decide on the confidentiality of a document in its entirety or partially. Confidentiality is required, for example, for sensitive information relating to an individual’s state of health.
16 § Council quorum
The Council forms a quorum when the chairperson or one of the vice chairpersons and a minimum of seven other members are present. Upon the decision of the chairperson and vice chairpersons, a meeting can be arranged as a virtual conference.
17 § Appeal against a ruling issued by the Council
The rulings of the Council are final and may not be appealed, unless the ruling is based on evidently wrong information, in which case the Council can reassess the issue, on its own initiative or on the basis of a motivated appeal by a party involved.
18 § Appeal against an exculpatory ruling issued by the chairperson
The complainant may appeal to the Council against an exculpatory ruling issued by the chairperson. A motivated appeal must be filed with the Council office within two weeks from the date when the original ruling of the chairperson was sent to the complainant.
19 § Reassessment of dismissed complaints
If the decision not to handle the complaint or to interrupt or end the handling of a complaint is based on evidently incorrect or substantially deficient information, the Council may reassess the complaint in question.
The request to reassess a complaint is decided on by the vice chairpersons. The chairperson as well as the Complaints Analyst who prepared the original proposition for the chairperson are disqualified from handling the complaint. The request must be submitted to the Council office within two weeks from the date when the original ruling was sent to the complainant.
20 § Voting
In the event of a lack of consensus, rulings by the Council shall be made by means of open voting. The counterproposal need not be seconded. If voting results in a tie, the chairperson shall have the deciding vote.
In an election, voting shall be by secret ballot, if requested. A possible tie shall be resolved by lot.
21 § Rulings
The ruling must include a record of possible voting, its results and the names of the voters. The members left in the minority shall have the opportunity to have their dissident opinion and a brief statement of the reasons for it included in the ruling. They must notify the chairperson about their wish to do so immediately after the vote.
The rulings shall be signed by the chairperson or a vice chairperson together with the Complaints Analyst. The rulings of the chairperson shall be signed by the chairperson together with the Complaints Analyst.
22 § Minutes of proceedings
Minutes must be taken during the Council meetings. The members present, matters handled, decisions made, results of voting obtained and names of the voters must be mentioned.
A protocol shall be kept on the chairperson’s decisions to qualify or dismiss complaints. The name of person preparing the matter, issues discussed, decisions made and possible dissident opinions of the person preparing the matter shall be mentioned in the protocol.
23 § Council finances
The financing of Council activities and other support shall be overseen by the Management Group of the Council for Mass Media in accordance with its rules.
The Management Group approves the budget for the Council and its operations on an annual basis. The chairperson may, after hearing the Council, introduce a proposal concerning the budget.
The Affiliate Organisations shall pay annual fees, as substantiated by the Management Group, to cover their share of the Council’s expenditure.
The Management Group may accept a government subsidy and, with the consent of the Board, also donations and legacies in support of the operations of the Council.
24 § Fees and expenses
The Affiliate Organisations shall be directly responsible for paying fees and expenses to the members they have appointed to the Management Group.
Other fees and expenses shall be substantiated by the Management Group.
25 § Employed personnel
The Management Group shall decide on the hiring and employment of Complaints Analysts and other personnel for the Council. The nominations shall be made by the Chairperson of the Council.
The election of the Chairperson is prescribed separately in Article 7 of this agreement.
26 § Annual report
The Council shall prepare, on an annual basis, a report on its operations to be presented to the Management Group by the time of its annual meeting.
Provisions concerning this agreement
27 § Affiliation to the agreement
A media association or Mass Media unanimously approved by the Management Group may be affiliated to this agreement.
In approving affiliation to this agreement, the Management Group shall determine the relevant annual fee and its amount, as prescribed in Article 23.
The media association or Mass Media that has been affiliated to this agreement shall be entitled to use the identifying mark of the agreement in its publishing operations.
28 § Agreement-related obligation
The Organisation affiliated to this agreement is obliged to follow this agreement and to endeavour to ensure, by any means at its disposal, that the members of the Organisation and those in their service will comply with the Guidelines for Journalists and its Annex and operate in a manner prescribed in this agreement.
29 § Termination of affiliation
The Organisation affiliated to this agreement may terminate its affiliation by giving a written notice of resignation to the Management Group. The termination of affiliation shall come into effect one year from the notification.
The resigning Organisation is obliged to pay its annual fee until the actual date of termination.
The Management Group shall decide on questions of dismissal due to a breach of agreement or failure to pay the annual fee. The resolution shall be a majority decision.
30 § Changes to the agreement
This agreement may be amended only by a unanimous resolution of the Management Group.
Provisions concerning the entry into effect
31 § Validity of the agreement
This agreement was adopted unanimously at the meeting of the Management Group on 15 September 2020 and it replaces the previous Basic Agreement approved on 19 May 2015.