These dedicated media organisations are defined as ‘organised, permanent groups with a precise purpose’ (see Bertrand Verfaillie in Journalist associations, is there a soul in editorial organisations? Collection journalisme responsable, Alliance Internationales de Journalistes, March 2008).
These associations were created in France just after the war. The association for Ouest France, founded in 1949, was one of the first, followed by the association for Le Monde in 1951. These then extended to neighbouring countries, notably Switzerland and Belgium.
Since then, these sorts of professional organisations have become more widespread in periods of extreme press crisis, e.g. at the end of the 1990s when there was professional insecurity, the buying up and selling off of titles, the expansion of new technologies, the deterioration of public trust, changing economic models, etc.
A permanent forum for journalist associations was formed in 2005 to unite these groups in order to defend the profession, beyond the competition presented by new formats. Today, this forum brings together about 30 collective members representing around 3 500 journalists but it has been dormant since 2012.
The forms and subjects of these associations are varied. Bertrand Verfaillie groups them into four main categories:
Participative associations: “These are principally civil companies with variable capital whose administrators are also the managers”. They have real weight in the news organisation and a solid financial base but this varies according to the capital structure (le Monde, le Figaro, le Temps in Geneva in French speaking Switzerland, etc.).
Staff and related associations: “These are similar to participative associations. They have the same status, participate in the same institutions and benefit from corresponding resources. They benefit from the capital and represent all the personnel of the company concerned” (Libération).
Ordinary associations which generally have the status of a 1901 association. “Most follow these procedures: voluntary membership dependent on the possession of a professional journalist identity card, a fixed-term or open contract or being a regular freelancer and often with some seniority in the company”.
Public service companies which look like the ordinary associations described above. They are non-profit associations or collectives without statute e.g. France 2, France 3, Radio France or Radio France Internationale.
The main activities of these associations are:
. Change of ownership: the journalist associations who have a financial stake in the company have a voice in these circumstances.
. Editorial management: the journalist associations who have a financial stake in the company or are on the monitoring council can oversee the appointment of editorial management staff.
. The way the company is run: they can influence company strategy.
. Questioning professional standards and principles: they provide an environment for reflecting on professional ethics and standards. Some associations have initiated the drawing up of internal editorial charters as a result.
. Monitoring adherence to professional principles: journalist associations can also have a role as professional ethics watchdogs – discussing press trips, keeping an eye on the advertising/editorial relationship, highlighting the dangers of conflicts of interest, etc.
There may be a clash of roles with trade unions which are also involved and monitor questions of ethics and professional standards. There are six national trade unions in France: SNJ (it instigated the first professional charter in 1918 and is autonomous), the SNJ-CGT, CFDT, FO, CFTC and the general confederation of senior managers (CFE-CGC).
Finally, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is the biggest journalist organisation in the world. It brings together about 500 000 members of the profession, in the broadest sense of the term, and regularly expresses its views on questions of ethics and professional standards.
For 10 European countries (Germany, United-Kingdom, Austria, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland and Sweden), see the study of comparative law n°205 Les sociétés de journalistes dans la presse écrite by the French Senate in february 2010.
The Flemish community in Belgium has two editorial committees (equivalent to journalist associations) for print media as a whole and four bodies which assume the role of a specific legal administration (foundation, non-profit association, unincorporated association). Flemish public television (VRT) also has an equivalent of a journalist association.
The French language print media has eight editor associations in the strict sense of the term (Le Soir, La Libre Belgique…) and a representative structure of journalists which is similar to it.
The principle of journalist organisations in the form of editor associations also exists in Switzerland in many editorial offices.
There is no formal journalist organisation associated with a Brazilian title that concentrates on ethical principles or the role of the press within civil society. Only Observatorio da imprensa (Observer of the Press), a radio and television broadcaster, provides opinions and criticisms concerning journalistic output. The FENAJ (National Federation of Journalist Trade Unions) handles salary or professional diploma issues only.
This type of organisation does not exist in Spain but some editorial structures have a commission of journalists which monitors professional standards and principles.
In Germany, at least nine newspapers have an editorial statute (Redaktionsstatut) which provides for the creation of an editorial committee (Redaktionsauschuss). Not all of them are operational. There are also informal editor committees which have no written statute but which play an effective role in negotiations with newspaper editors.
De Standaard : No
Europe 1 : Yes
France 24 : Yes
Le Monde : Yes
The Association of Editors for Le Monde (SRM - Société des Rédacteurs du Monde) is a participative association created in 1951. It has been the reference for the group for some time. It closely monitors editorial choices, how news is dealt with and questions of professional standards.
It has no power of sanction and since the arrival of new shareholders, the association is slowly losing its influence.
Ouest France : None
In 1965 Ouest-France created one of the first editor associations in France. It closed down in 1973.
There have been several attempts to start another one but these have always resulted in conflicts with the management and it still does not exist.
Berliner Zeitung : An equivalent
Three journalists are elected to the Redaktionsausschuss (internal editorial committee) by all the editorial staff. They monitor the application of the internal charter and their role is one of consultation and mediation.
The committee meets the Editor-in-Chief once a month, sometimes in the presence of the commercial management of Neven DuMont, the publishing house that owns the newspaper.
ZDF : An equivalent comity
The Redakteursausschuss (committee of editors) within the channel’s works council is similar to a French journalist association but is more institutional.
The Irish Times : An equivalent exists
The editorial committee made up of eight journalists, elected for two years, treats a number of issues, including ethics and professional standards. It meets on request.
BBC : No
The Guardian : No, but…
There is no internal Association of Journalists but in Britain the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) is represented within the editorial organisation by a ‘chapel’ directed by the Mother or Father of the Chapel (M/FoC). The chapel Mother or Father monitor journalistic practices and news quality.