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Lithuania – (F5) Company rules against internal influence on newsroom / editorial staff

Score in short:

In most cases, the news media do not have written editorial policies (only a few media have these documents available online); some of the news media that do not have written policies acknowledge that having such document is an important strategic policy decision and are planning to develop such documents in the near future.

Score in detail:

The main media law prohibits any pressure on journalists to air false or biased information. It requires producers of public information programs to have their own internal codes of ethics, which “must set the journalist’s rights, duties, responsibility, employment relations, as well as the journalist’s protection against restriction of his rights”. It pins down the journalists’ duties including the duty “to refuse an assignment by the producer, the disseminator of public information, their representative or a responsible person appointed by them, if this assignment compels [the journalist] to violate the laws or the Code of Ethics of Lithuanian Journalists and Publishers”.

According to the interview results, the majority of journalists say they are independent in choosing their topics and feel no pressure from the media owners. Although media organizations do not have formal rules to separate newsroom and advertising departments, these separations are made and, as our respondents claimed, people from advertising departments are never present in editorial meetings. Some other media also have practices of hiring journalists (freelancers) to write commissioned texts (that include special indications that this journalistic work was commissioned by external sources), thus desk journalists are excluded from such practice.

Normally, newsroom management rules are not formalized, and only a few media (business daily Verslo žinios) have their editorial policies publicly available (TILS 2008). According to our respondents, all news media organizations have established traditions of non-interference in journalistic production. The public service broadcaster (the LRT), for example, has a database with job descriptions of its staff members, where all responsibilities of the professions, for instance, of a journalist or an editor, are explained in a standardized form. In other cases, the norms of professional behavior are written in job contracts (this appears to be the most conventional practice in the Lithuanian media).

Institutionally, it seems that media organizations have developed their own professional cultures (for example, with certain rules and norms of professionalism inscribed in job contracts); in reality, however, there are certain drawbacks. A case was reported in the media revealing that in some dailies (Lietuvos žinios8), the texts of journalists were edited without their knowledge. Another drawback is that the requirement for an internal code of ethics in most media organizations is implemented only formally, as there is no legally binding commitment to ensure editorial independence.