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Persona non grata: The media ombudsman

Conveying criticism and holding editors to account can be a lonely task - we look at the role of the news ombudsman.

Last Modified: 13 Oct 2013 09:35
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On the Listening Post we like to go back stage and show how the news media works from behind the scenes.
This week, we take a look at the role of the media ombudsman, or the reader's editor as some newspapers call it.

An ideal ombudsman has got to be a diplomat, possibly a masochist, but mostly a diplomat.

Stephen Pritchard, the president of the Organisation of News Ombudsmen

The job of the ombudsman is to represent the views of those who consume the news, address their complaints and take them to the editors of their organisations.

It is a professionally perilous job as Yavuz Baydar, Turkey's first and longest serving ombudsman found out this year.

Earlier this year anti-government protests erupted in the centre of Istanbul over a project to build a shopping mall on a local park. Most local media coverage ignored the protests – then gave more air time to the government than the protesters.

Baydar was working for the Sabah daily and he cited a number of readers' letters criticising the paper for its coverage. The articles were censored. Then came his New York Times op-ed – a fiery piece taking media bosses to task for their close business ties with the Turkish government. For the editors at the Sabah daily he had gone one step too far. They fired him.

But it is also a job that can hold news editors in check when the public feels they are letting official power off too lightly - as the recently appointed ombudsman for the New York Times Margaret Sullivan is showing.

The job comes with a warning attached though: Do not expect to make any friends at work - and do not be surprised when you lose the ones you had.

The Listening Post’s Marcela Pizarro reports on the poisoned chalice that is the work of a media ombudsman.

Listening Post can be seen each week at the following times GMT: Saturday: 0830, 1930; Sunday: 1430; Monday: 0430.

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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