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Now the Details

Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Where Next for Ombudsmanship?

With the annual conference in a very rainy Montreal ended, now we have a chance to assess where the Organization of News Ombudsmen is heading.

First, to acknowledge a very solid conference, and thanks to Radio-Canada/CBC and the Canadian Journalism Foundation for their support. ONO had a good turnout of members including newly appointed ombudsmen from Mexico, Switzerland and elsewhere.

Second, there was a sense that the value of ombudsmanship is more vital than ever for the one simple fact that in an increasingly complicated and distracted media environment, an ombudsman is the person who is able to see the issues with clarity and uses that perspective to engage the audience.

We in ONO know that. How can that value be communicated more effectively to media management?

ONO simply hasn't the resources right now to launch a comprehensive survey with the credentials to prove its value. But as we discovered over the past year, there are a number of academics who are devoting their energies to analyzing news ombudsmanship.

Professor Flavia Pauwels at the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina contacted us and through her, another ten Latin American ombudsmen joined ONO. We are grateful to Prof. Pauwels for her help and now we need to find others in the academy who are similarly committed.

In that region, an independent news ombudsman is an increasingly important guarantor of independent media - which in turn is an essential component of democracy.

In developing countries this is ombudsmanship's most powerful value. In North America and Europe where so-called media criticism is looking increasingly like media censorship, the ombudsman is a counterweight to that distressing and growing tendency.

The idea of ombudsmanship needs to change and expand along with the nature of modern media.

I proposed that ONO allow for more public engagement and support for this organization. It was not an idea that the non-Americans leaped on with enthusiasm. But my own thinking - influenced as it is by my time with public radio in the US - is heading toward the idea of asking the public to become members of ONO.

This is what news ombudsmen do best - relate and connect to the public. They do that from the confines of their own media organizations. Why not continue that from ONO's vantage point?


  1. Some non-ombuds might like to support the mission of ONO. Why not allow them to become associate members?

  2. Great idea. We are trying to make that happen.