From Accountability to Dialogue: A Content Analysis of Ethical Codes of Public Communication in Eight European Countries

February 13, 2024

Our partners from the Utrecht University of Applied Sciences (Netherlands) and the Austrian Academy of Sciences (Austria) gave a presentation at the annual communication science conference Etmaal van de Communicatiewetenschap (24 hours of Communication Science).

They prepared an abstract and presentation based on a DIACOMET workshop titled: “From Accountability to Dialogue: A Content Analysis of Ethical Codes of Public Communication in Eight European Countries.”

We are publishing the abstract below.

In the last decade, journalism in many European countries has faced much criticism (Newman et al., 2023). Therefore, journalistic organizations have increased their efforts to establish accountability mechanisms and provide transparency, by employing ombudspersons, publishing letters to the editor-in-chief, and explaining how journalistic stories are created (Fengler et al., 2022). However, they realize that such measures do not seem to be sufficient to establish or regain trust of the public. Simultaneously, a diversity of new content producers (vloggers, influencers, citizen journalists) have stepped in the digital networked communication environment. While these new forms of public communication can enhance democratic well-being, they can also pose a challenge through the spread of hate speech and disinformation as they often are not bound by professional or ethical rules. These ongoing developments raise questions about whether existing codes and guidelines for public communication align with the complexity of today’s media landscape.

Based on the social responsibility theory, since 1948, journalism has formulated its own professional rules on how to practice good journalism (Sjøvaag, 2010). However, in today’s media environment, news organizations are not only questioning what good journalism is but also what good communication entails. In Europe, journalistic ethical conduct predominantly relies on self-regulation. However, these self-regulatory mechanisms have proven inadequate when applied to online platforms and social media. Initiatives proposed by the European Commission to regulate these platforms have been ignored by platform owners (Milosavljević & Micova, 2016) and new legislative proposals on the ‘media exemption’ faced criticism for not providing meaningful safeguards against platforms’ powers (Helberger et al., 2023). Legislation and regulation cannot promptly react to all emerging practices arising from new forms of public communication. Therefore, it is vital to gradually develop and constantly renew a social agreement between the media, including platforms, citizens, and other interlocutors on good communication conduct. The central question remains what good communication conduct is within this evolving landscape.

This study is based on a systemic overview of codes of ethics and guidelines for public communication to identify principles of inclusive ethics of dialogic communication, which is part of the larger EU-funded research project DIACOMET. The project aims to develop an inclusive model of accountability mechanisms that combines media accountability with civic accountability in eight European countries with different histories, political landscapes, and media systems: Austria, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Slovenia, and Switzerland.

In this study, we conducted a qualitative content analysis of codes of ethics and guidelines for all kinds of public communication in eight European countries. Every country collected codes and guidelines from four different categories. First, codes and guidelines for journalists, both at the professional level and at the level of small-scale media organizations. Second, codes and guidelines for other media professions, such as advertising, corporate communication, and PR. Third, guidelines targeted at media users, such as guidelines for social media. Finally, codes and guidelines by public institutions that address how they communicate with the public, including but not limited to governmental institutions.

While the analysis is still in progress, preliminary results demonstrate that there is a vast variety of ethical codes across the eight countries. Most codes are either written at professional level, for a specific sector, such as journalism or advertising market, or at organizational level, from a specific organization. It is noteworthy that a majority of these codes and guidelines are non-mandatory. However, we indicate differences per country in the procedures for using the code. The ongoing analysis will clarify more about how different aspects of dialogic communication are addressed.


Fengler, S., Eberwein, T., Karmasin, M., Barthel, S., & Speck, D. (2022). Media accountability: A global perspective. In S. Fengler, Eberwein, T., & Karmasin, M. (Eds.), The global handbook of media accountability (pp. 3-57). London; New York: Routledge.

Helberger, N., Drunen, M. van, Ronan, F., Naudts, L., Piasecki, S., & Seipp, T. (2023, March 29). Expert opinion on draft European Media Freedom Act for stakeholder meeting 28 February 2023 — DSA Observatory.

Milosavljević, M. & Broughton Micova, S. (2016). Banning, blocking and boosting: Twitter’s solo- regulation of expression. Medijske Studije, 7(13), 43-58.

Newman, N., Fletcher, R., Eddy, K., Robertson, C. T., & Nielsen, R. K. (2023). Digital News Report 2023.

Sjøvaag, H. (2010). The reciprocity of journalism’s social contract: The political-philosophical foundations of journalistic ideology. Journalism Studies, 11(6), 874-888.