Three-D Issue 17: Hackgate and media reform

Hackgate has shocked the world. But this latest media scandal is shocking not because of the awfulness that the practice of phone hacking is and the lack of humanity it has revealed but because it has exposed a system that is deeply flawed. This system of commercial news and journalistic practice is now under the spotlight. The Leveson inquiry into phone hacking and has been launched to interrogate the culture, practices and ethics of the press; there is a Lords Select Committee into the future of investigative journalism, a joint Select Committee on privacy and injunctions and numerous police investigations; all of which will feed into a Communications Review leading up to the New Communications Act in 2013. Each of these bring with them unprecedented opportunities to critique contemporary news and come up with solutions to ensure that news operates in the public interest.

However, parliamentary inquiries and select committees are notoriously difficult to access particularly if you are a small campaign or pressure group. Those with vested interests, the news corporations and media conglomerates are putting the full weight of their PR machinery and legal teams into influencing the outcome of these inquiries. Unless citizens and civil society can get their voices heard in these elite processes it is likely that big business, will once again, rule the day and the remedies proposed will likely be in their favour. The Co-ordinating Committee for Media Reform has been established to try and counter this imbalance.

The Co-ordinating Committee for Media Reform has been initiated by the Goldsmiths Leverhulme Media Research Centre and has been joined by many of the leading media reform groups including the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, Voice of the Listener and Viewer, Media Standards Trust, National Union of Journalists, 38 Degrees, Open Society Media Programme, MediaWise, Compass, Coalition of Resistance, PEN, as well as the MeCCSA Policy Network. It is an independent coalition of groups and individuals committed to promoting a media system that operates in the public interest and not for predominantly private or shareholder gain.

In the light of the forthcoming public inquiry into the regulation and ethics of the press (the Leveson Inquiry) as well as the Communications Review that is set to advise on a new Communications Bill in 2013, there is a real need to co-ordinate and support the work of advocacy groups campaigning to protect the public interest in news and beyond. The aim of this Committee is to bring key organizations into a collaborative partnership and to better influence the terms of debate and outcome of the inquiry and Communications Review.

The objectives of the Committee are precise:

  • To ensure  the most effective contribution by NGOs, academics and media campaigners to the Leveson Inquiry and the Communications Review, by providing co-ordination and other forms of support;
  • To stimulate research and campaign activities that focus on advocating media policies that serve the democratic needs of citizens, that sustain news in the public interest and that challenge unaccountable formations of media power.

We are currently developing policy briefing papers, around the following key areas:

1. Plurality and the Public Interest
What is in the public interest in relation to the provision of news for democracy to thrive? Can we regulate for the relationship between news and democracy while retaining independent journalism and freedom of the press and if so, how? This theme addresses three key concepts: freedom (how much freedom do the media have to operate in the interests of democracy as opposed to the interests of commercial practice?); pluralism (how can we ensure a genuine plurality of voices and views in the news?); and control (if concentration of media ownership affects its internal practice and external output, how do we prevent it?).

2. Ethics
Recent controversies concerning the use of phone hacking, the pursuit of injunctions, the use of plagiarized copy and the legal implications of emerging social media platforms have undermined the integrity of journalists and news organisations. Codes of conduct, regulations and legal remedy are in place but have too often been ignored in the pursuit of audience share and profit. The debate needs to move on from a concern with ethical codes towards a concern with ethical practice.  Any policy discussions and legislative developments that impact on professional journalism must acknowledge the ethical foundations of newsgathering and to reflect on what interventions are necessary to leverage an ethical framework into news practices. We need to consider how technical advances can aid transparency and how journalists can be protected from news desk pressure that too often undermines the possibility of ethical practice. How can we provide the environment that is required to enable journalists to do the job most of them want to do – to scrutinize, to monitor, hold to account, interrogate power, to facilitate and maintain deliberation?

3. Funding
How do we address issues concerning the economic performance and sustainable growth of the news industry? How do we invest commercial news with public interest priorities? How can we develop new funding models that will sustain local and national ventures? This will require looking beyond the traditional free-market models that underpin UK print journalism which are proving to be increasingly less viable. We need therefore to consider and propose a range of alternatives funding models and structures including (but not limited to) trust structures, local/regional news hubs, tax incentives, subsidies and levies.

We want as many people as possible to get involved and contribute to the debate.

Please email info@mediareform.org.uk to join the campaign and help make history. www.mediareform.org.uk

Posted by Einar Thorsen