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Now the Details

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

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Shakespeare and Existentialism at the ONO Conference

Edwin Booth as Hamlet (not an ombudsman)

Copenhagen was the perfect place to hold the annual conference of the Organization of News Ombudsmen.

Not only was the conversation stimulating and the mingling of new and old members
revitalizing, just being in Denmark was a tonic.

Some overall observations:
  • The Danes are sharp and I was impressed by their constant wit. Example: After the newspaper Jyllands-Posten published the Mohammed cartoons, other journalists in the same shared building put up a sign in Arabic on the street with an arrow pointing up saying "Jyllands-Posten 4th Floor."
  • Denmark is not in the Eurozone so the Danish Kroner is the local currency, not the Euro. There is a noticeable absence of immigrant workers compared to other European countries. Danes sweep the streets, work in the restaurants and shops. Copenhagen seems to be under constant construction. 
  • Danish public broadcasting is funded by an annual household tax of about $400 per year for a population of only five million. They have a very solid infrastructure and some of the most modern broadcast HQs anywhere.
  • Commercial TV is also supported by the state.  A Danish professor told the conference that more government funding for all media, produces more overall accuracy. Quotes have to be checked with sources pre-publication/pre-broadcast! What a concept...
  • Bicycle are everywhere especially at rush hour. Cyclists have their own bike lanes so foreign pedestrians crossing the street need to take care. Fortunately, Copenhagen cyclists actually obey traffic lights and signal their intention to change lanes or turn. None of that North American anarchism when it comes to cycling.
  • The ONO conference was inspiring, to say the least, with new members from Latin America, India and France. The Leveson Inquiry in the Murdoch hacking scandal is expected to generate increased interest in the UK. ONO's challenge is to renew interest in North America while extending the value of transparency and accountability elsewhere.
Denmark is also home, for those who remember their high school Shakespeare, to Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, noted for his world-class existential and depressive agony ("To be, or not to be, that is the question"). That also turned out to be the unspoken question at the conference.

When journalism seems on the defensive and without a reliable economic model, "to be or not to be - that is the right question". Is there a continued purpose for excellent journalism in a multi-media age, and is there a role for news ombudsmen who support the idea of free and accountable journalism?

There was no sign of gloomy indecision among the ombuds assembled in Copenhagen last week. Guest speakers from the world of politics, academia and journalism told us that powerful journalism is more needed than ever. And ombudsmen/public editors who can act as agents for the public are critically important if journalism is to serve the highest democratic values.

In the end, we left Copenhagen renewed in our commitment to the concept of ombudsmanship and to the work we all do.

If Hamlet had been present in spirit at the conference, we could have told him the answer to his question.

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