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Bill Porter, founder of the global media ethics campaign the International Communications Forum, died this morning in Le Touquet, France, aged 89. He had suffered from heart problems.
He founded the ICF in Caux, Switzerland, in 1990 out of his deep concern about the influence of the media for good or ill.ICF has held some 30 major conferences around the world, involving over 2,500 media professionals from 116 countries. He was 70 years old when he founded the ICF and chaired it for the next 15 years, a role which he regarded the crowning fulfilment of his career.
He had founded the British arm of the Dutch publishing multinational Kluwer as Managing Director in 1970, and became Chairman of the Law Panel of the Publishers Association in Britain.
ICF is best known for its Sarajevo Commitment, a declaration of media ethics which journalists are encouraged to sign up to, launched at an ICF conference in the Bosnian capital in 2000. Bill emphasized the balance between freedom and responsibility in the media. He was against censorship, and always regarded the ICF as a ‘conscience to conscience’ activity, based on the sharing of personal experiences.
He regarded the conscience as the best guide to professional responsibility. The conscience was ‘that remarkable piece of high technology that is inside us, albeit often covered over with the compromises of a lifetime, but which enables us to chose right from wrong, truth from falsehood’.
It was a matter of personal conscience to him that he should launch the ICF after reading in the Financial Times that communications in all its manifestations was the largest industry in the world. Yes, but was it the most responsible? he asked himself. His wife, Sonja, told him: ‘If you are thinking that way why don’t you do something about it?’ After Sonja died, tragically young, three weeks later, he launched the ICF, spurred by her words which came back to him with the force of a command. ‘Do something about it—a media man’s story’ became the title of his memoirs, published in 2005.
One of ICF’s major events was hosted by the Financial Times at its London headquarters in 1999, chaired by Lord Nolan who had been appointed by the British government to chair the committee on standards in public life. Other ICF events were held from Sydney to Chicago, Poland to South Africa, India to Ireland.
Bill liked to describe himself, in his journey towards a faith, as a ‘lapsed agnostic’. Reflecting on the ICF, he said, ‘When I decided to take this road, I experienced a sense of inner compulsion that has never left me. Where does it come from, if not from some superior guiding force in the universe?’
Who we are: Initiatives of Change (IofC) is a world-wide movement of people of diverse cultures and backgrounds, who are committed to the transformation of society through changes in human motives and behaviour, starting with their own.
Purpose: We work to inspire, equip and connect people to address world needs, starting with themselves, in the areas of trustbuilding, ethical leadership and sustainable living.
Omnia Marzouk, President, IofC International
'Nothing lasting can be built without a desire by people to live differently and exemplify the changes they want to see in society.'