Media Mistakes? Award-winning project puts the spotlight on media ethics (and mistakes)

In the age of fake news and information overload, the role of journalism has been blurred. The audience is bombarded with messages from vloggers from Youtube, bloggers from the internet and of course traditional media everywhere. Media Mistakes? — or Not? gives the audience insight into the ethical commitments of quality journalism.

What is fake news and what is actual news? What is the difference between journalism and any other kind of information or message? We journalists of course know the answer to the latter; quality journalism commits itself to certain ethical guidelines: fairness, truthfulness, accountability etc. But although these guidelines are carved into every journalist’s brain, the wider audience is quite unaware of their existence.

This was the key point when we sat down with the Finnish Council of Mass Media to think about how we should celebrate their 50th anniversary. The Council is a self-regulating committee whose task is to interpret good professional practice and defend the freedom of speech and publication. Most countries in Europe have similar councils. We in Yle Learning (part of the Finnish Public Broadcaster, Yleisradio) were looking for projects in the area of media literacy.

Real-life cases (and mistakes) from the media

One of the main tasks of the Media Council is to handle complaints from the public. Any person who considers that there has been a breach of good professional practice by the media can make a complaint to the council.

These complaints were the key element in our joint project, Media Mistake? or Not? What better way to introduce the ethical guidelines of journalism than real-life cases from the media:

  • Should the victims of a terrorist attack be asked before publishing their photo?
  • Is a young interviewee entitled to his media space?
  • Did the radio hosts go too far by joking about the plight of the refugees?
  • Did clickbait headline go too far?
TerroristVictims – Yleisradio

The point was to challenge the audience to think about the ethical decisions that journalists make everyday. In newsrooms around the globe, journalists and editors make thousands of these critical choices daily, and all of them are based on the ethical guidelines that the industry itself has created.

Despite the fact that we are good storytellers, we journalists have not been very good at telling the story of these guidelines to the public.

So in Yle Learning we picked 8 different cases, e.g. on product placement, source criticism, journalistic integrity, etc and made short animations that presented each case:

  • What was the complaint?
  • What were the problems in each case in relation to the Guidelines for Journalists?
  • What was the defence from the accused media’s editor-in-chief?

Every video ends with a challenge to the viewer: was this a media mistake or not? example video with english captions.

The videos were embedded in Yle Learning’s website, where you could vote: Mistake or Not? And of course you could read the actual decision from the Finnish Council of Mass Media. Some cases were mistakes, some were not. It is also important to highlight the fact that media professionals can make mistakes, we are human after all.

School councils: You be the Judge

We also urged teachers to use the Media mistake? materials in schools, where it is possible to set up junior media councils. This is an easy way to discuss the meaning of ethics in journalism in schools and spread the understanding of journalism to younger audiences.

The animations were also a part of a museum exhibition celebrating 50 years of the Finnish Media Council.

In March 2019 Media mistake? or Not? was awarded with the Award for the media literacy project with the greatest European potential in EU Media Literacy Week. Here is what the Jury for this award had to say about our entry: “Media mistakes? has a clear focus on increasing the Media Literacy skills in citizens of all ages. It is based on real cases, has a multi-stakeholder approach and gives citizens the possibility to redress mistakes.” The jury also thought it would be easily scaled up to other EU Member States and it would not be too expensive to reproduce.

Awards – © European Union, 2019

We in Yle Learning believe that if we want to stay relevant to our audiences, media should be more open about our mistakes, methods, guidelines and work processes. In the transparent digital age, the days of the ivory towers are over.


Ville Alijoki

Executive Producer, Yle Learning