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Archive for May, 2009|Monthly archive page

Debate around the web

In links on May 29, 2009 at 3:55 pm

John Prescott on Comment is Free has written of the need for reform of the Press Complaints Commission and cited our first report as supporting evidence

The White House press secretary has suggested of the British press: “If I was looking for something that bordered on truthful news, I’m not entirely sure it’d be the first pack of clips I’d pick up” – via journalism.co.uk

Don’t get mad – get accurate is a blog dedicated to complaining to the PCC

Headlines and Deadlines reports “Media cannot stick to one form. Text, photos, video, music, audio, animation, etc are a flow.” . . . which certainly poses challenges to different regulatory regimes.

@lobbydog on Twitter reports that a Sky News presenter has called the Daily Telegraph the Torygraph, live on air. Whoops.

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Debate around the web

In links on May 28, 2009 at 11:03 am

Mark Pack has noticed a Telegraph report on Baby Peter with a small note for the legal team which was presumably meant to remain private but made it into the online version.

Journalism.co.uk has summarised the response to the conference held last week by the University of Westminster: journalism in crisis.

Gordon Taylor of the PFA is taking libel action against the Daily Mail – via Press Gazette.

Anton Vowl wonders whether the Daily Mail has used a photograph of a peaceful protest to illustrate a story about a very different protest.

UPDATE: Journalism.co.uk also has a piece on Community Care’s campaign: Stand up now for social care.

Judith Townend reminds me of this piece she wrote about the challenges UK news regulation and convergence on BeatBlogging.

Debate around the web 27.05.09

In Uncategorized on May 27, 2009 at 1:02 pm

Jon Slattery reports that one newspaper group has lost £200,000 in potential revenue after banning advertisements for sex from its newspapers. The revenue has been diverted to the internet, according to the police force.

George Dearsley is a journalist and media trainer. His blog is interesting for anecdotes about ‘fleet street’

Liberal Conspiracy reports on a payout from the Daily Mail to a women who were subjects of an inaccurate Femail piece about attitudes towards adoption. Apparently the story was changed after the intervention of an unnamed executive. The Daily Mail’s apology can be viewed in full and came three months after the initial story – apparently through the PCC process. The legal action took a further three months.

The Times has paid £15,000 after being found in contempt of court – via Press Gazette.

Iain Dale disputes the Telegraph’s sequencing of events in the Simon Heffer vs Alan Hazelhurst story and suggests that the failure to put a byline by the article is an indicator of poor journalism.

Peta Buscombe: a change of style

In Debate on May 27, 2009 at 9:00 am

Baroness Peta Buscombe was interviewed on 5Live on Thursday to mark her recent appointment as chairman of the Press Complaints Commission. It was a 30 minute interview by Colin Murray, standing in for Simon May. It was an interesting interview because the style was markedly different from her predecessor. You can listen again from 1.05.

Buscombe said that she joined the PCC to discover an “amazing team” at the commission and whilst the organisation faced “challenges” it had a “good story to tell”. She did accept, however, that there was “probably room for improvement”.

1. Encouraging people to use the PCC
Her focus for improvement was on encouraging the public to use us – “the most important thing”. This picks up on a theme of her predecessor, Christopher Meyer, who told the culture media and sport select committee that “the industry could do more to advertise the services that we provide”.

However, Buscombe did not place the onus on the members of the commission to boost its profile and perhaps the forthcoming open day in Ipswich is a sign that the PCC is going to be more proactive in increasing its profile.

She later cited the publication of a leaflet by the Greater Manchester Police which would be distributed to every victim of crime on how to deal with the media, as an example of promoting the role of the PCC.

2. Defining the role of the PCC
The PCC does not have a publicly available mission statement, set of principles or any other description of who it serves. However, Buscombe has a clear sense of purpose, telling 5Live that “we’re here to take on people’s complaints and concerns whenever or wherever they have them”.

3. Promoting pre-publication work
Buscombe is clearly impressed by the work of the PCC prior to publication. She said that she hadn’t been aware of the extent of the work undertaken by the “advice bureau” provided to editors who regularly consulted the PCC prior to publication of a controversial article. Buscombe said that the PCC was “good at stopping a lot of things being published”.

She also argued that if we had a privacy law, we may never have found the truth about Baby P. I inferred from this that she considered that this would have been a bad thing.

4. Promoting independence
The presenter put it to the chairman that the PCC lacked independence. Buscombe thoroughly disagreed saying that the PCC was “not on the side of newspapers . . . that’s the great thing about self-regulation”. She explained that the press funds it (saving money for the taxpayer) but does not control it – a state which Buscombe thought was the “joy of self-regulation”.

Buscombe argued that had Max Mosley gone to the PCC the newspaper would have been “seriously reprimanded” and his “privacy restored”. This was a slightly different to the impression I was given by Meyer’s remarks to the select committee which were that he “may have got a remedy at the PCC discreetly”

5. Rejecting fines
Buscombe explained that the PCC doesn’t “talk about fines” or “get involved in ex gratia payments”. Rather, its research conducted by Ipsos-Mori suggested that 68% of people would rather an apology than a fine.

Instead, she believes that fines would have a limited impact, arguing that Ofcom’s fine against the BBC didn’t punish the editors involved but the licence fee payer.

The current forms of redress were powerful, Buscombe argued. She cited the prominence of apologies which had improved significantly, and said that there were even apologies on the front page. Recently she had seen in action a negotiation involving a woman she couldn’t mention who had been wrongly involved in a story and agreed an arrangement with a newspaper that at the end of any story about the issue, there would be an explanation of her role. Buscombe argued that deal “restored” the woman’s privacy.

Buscombe argued that she would “certainly look” at issues concerning the placement of apologies “but would rather reserve judgment”.

6. A distinction of style over substance

The response from listeners didn’t appear to be significantly different from the reaction that the PCC often gets. The BBC may be under no obligation to read out a representative sample of messages but the two that the presenter chose were both negative.

Buscombe’s style was conversational and engaging – appropriate for a 5Live audience. She wasn’t confrontational and although her responses were robust, they were more confidently assertive than brash and bluster.

I finished the interview feeling as though I’d heard a different approach from the chairman of the PCC. Once she’s spent some time in the role, we will be better able to judge if there’s a change of substance.

The Daily Telegraph, the law and regulation

In Debate on May 26, 2009 at 8:58 am

The Daily Telegraph took legal action against Tory MP Nadine Dorries over the weekend after comments she made on her blog. She questioned the nature of the Telegraph’s reporting of MPs’ expenses and the political motivations of its proprietors.

Earlier this month, various newspaper editors have been appearing in front of the culture, media and sport select committee to give evidence of the “chilling affect” that the operation of privacy and libel laws is having on newspapers.  The Telegraph did not submit evidence directly to the committee , although the Press Complaints Commission, Press Standards Board and Society of Editors did – and the Telegraph belongs to all of these bodies. They fear that many newspapers are deterred from being able to print controversial stories because of the costs of defending the claims in the courts.

Unlike the Daily Telegraph, Nadine Dorries’ blog is not subject to any regulation other than the law of the land and whatever codes of conduct the Tory party has in place regarding the public utterances of its MPs. Of course, had she have spoken the words in the House of Commons, they would have been beyond the reach of the Telegraph’s lawyers under parliamentary privilege.

Nadine Dorries‘ take on the story is that:

“This was just little me, and two of the richest men in the world who own a newspaper empire and can pretty much say what they want, when they want, to who they want, had, using their wealth and muscle, shut me down.”

In taking the action, the Telegraph clearly recognises that the reporting of inaccurate, false or misleading statements can damage a reputation unfairly. For that reason, the group presumably does not favour unfettered free speech. But the case still poses some interesting questions:

  • What would constitute an appropriate regulatory regime?
  • Is it right that a blog on the Telegraph’s website is regulated by the PCC but that Nadine Dorries’ blog is not regulated by anyone?
  • Or are the courts a sufficient backstop?
  • How do newspapers want to see the law reformed and would this have changed the options available to the Telegraph

Self-regulation of the lobbying industry

In regulation on May 22, 2009 at 2:25 pm

The lobbying industry is currently debating how it can strengthen its arrangements of self-regulation. I have researched the issues within the industry to understand what lessons can be drawn from this for self-regulation of the press.

Currently lobbying or public affairs companies can join the Association of Professional Political Consultants whilst individuals can be a member of the Charted Institute of Public Relations – which is conditional on acceptance of the institute’s code of conduct.

Membership of the APPC is dependent on signing-up to a code of conduct and declaring all of your fee paying clients and salaried staff in a publicly available register. The code is owned by the members of the APPC who can seek election to its board. Judgements for breaches of the code are made by a committee of its members. The APPC is administered from within the industry.

In addition to the code and the register, the APPC requires that:
“the member firm, its staff and non-executive political consultants should accept and agree to abide by this Code for itself and that members will be jointly and severally liable for the actions of their staff in relation to the Code. Regulated political consultants are required to endorse the Code and to adopt and observe the principles and duties set out in it in relation to their business dealings with clients and with institutions of government.”

However, after examining the relationship between lobbying and national politics, the public administration select committee found these arrangements to be insufficient. In particular the select committee found:

  1. The guiding principles of conduct may not go far enough, but they are nonetheless a welcome and noteworthy step towards consistency of approach
  2. The APPC does not seem to attract sufficient trust throughout the lobbying industry and among its clients for it to suggest with any authority that only its members should be eligible to apply for public contracts. But the spirit of this suggestion . . . recognises that the current situation allows consultancies to pick and choose the rules that apply to them in a way that is incompatible with effective self-regulation.
  3. A complaints system that was working would have produced more than three cases in the last ten years . . . Reprimands and “severe” reprimands . . . are not of a kind that would give confidence to any outsider that disciplinary processes are robust.
  4. The APPC’s policy of expecting complainants to be prepared to bear the costs of an investigation, including the legal fees of the member complained against, is unacceptable.

Next week, I will examine the debates around reform of the self-regulatory system to identify the similarities and differences with other self-regulatory systems.

Debate around the web 22.05.09

In links on May 22, 2009 at 9:28 am

Kelvin Mackenzie wants to know about Justice Eady’s private life, via journalism.co.uk

Media Guardian reports profits at the Daily Mail group, DMGT, are down 47%

Mediating Conflict reports on the regulation of BBC journalists’ Twitter accounts

Martin Moore‘s post on the Alfie Patten story has generated a discussion about the role of the PCC

Media Guardian reports that the UKRD has ‘buried the hatchet’ with Ofcom after his previous criticisms

John Rentoul comments on the corrections and apologies received by Tony Blair. He suggests that they were too late to stop the damage being done.

The New Statesman asked ‘who guards The Guardian’ after complaints from other media organisations that its media reporting and commercial practices are unfair

Debate around the web 20.05.09

In links on May 20, 2009 at 5:14 pm

Tom Watson has published a press release from Carter Ruck regarding legal action against Associated Newspapers

The Sun – Tabloid Lies blog focusses on the newspaper’s reporting of the Alfie Patten case.

John Prescott praises new media for its ability to help people like him hold the media to account.

The challenges facing regulatory reform of parliament

In regulation on May 20, 2009 at 8:03 am

Gordon Brown has said that the system of self-regulation of MPs conduct, pay and expenses has to end. He told his monthly press conference:

“The keystone for any reform must be to switch from self-regulation to independent external regulation. Westminster cannot operate like some gentleman’s club where the members make up the rules and operate them among themselves.

“If MPs continue to set their own codes and rules, however objectively they try to do so, the public will always question the transparency and the standards that they rightly demand. And MPs themselves are currently put in the invidious position of having to be judge and jury of their own pay and rations.

“We will set out our proposals for an independent . . .  external to the House of Commons (which) would oversee the system . . . maintain the register of members interest and take appropriate sanctions . . .

“(in order to) respect parliamentary sovereignty it would be for parliament itself to devolve this power in these specific matters and put this on statutory footing.

There are four key questions facing parliament as it determines the nature of this regulatory body:

  • If it is to be independent, who will appoint its members?
  • If the rules are to be set by an external body, how will that body maintain the confidence of MPs and the public?
  • If the body makes a decision that the public or an MP do not like, what means of appeal will it have?
  • What powers of sanction will the body hold which still respect the democratic system eg. will it be able to force a by-election?

Gordon Brown believes that if MPs set the rules, the public will always question the transparency and standards by which the rules were set. But would an independent body maintain public confidence just because it is independent?

Any regulatory system has flaws. Just because self-regulation has failed, it does not necessarily mean that “independent external” regulation will be better, unless these key questions can be resolved and constantly reviewed.

Has self-regulation changed journalism since 1999?

In Press review on May 18, 2009 at 4:32 pm

Paul Bradshaw has set out 10 ways that journalism has changed in the last ten years. His full article is well worth reading.

However, there is one notable absence: self-regulation. The issues that Paul talks about are critically related to regulation:

  • Journalists producing more content, for more platforms.
  • Instant measurability of journalism
  • Readers having a direct influence on output. Readers being able to create their own output.

But self-regulation doesn’t figure on his list. The PCC – and leading advocates such as Paul Dacre – firmly believe that the PCC has changed the industry for the better since the “excesses of the 1980s”. Have journalists noticed the difference?