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Live tonight - Is the press accountable enough?

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Online video chat by Ustream

Tonight we discuss press standards, self-regulation and public trust as we ask the question: Is the press accountable enough? We start at 7:45pm GMT/11.45am PST and if you can't make it to the club in person we'll be streaming it live above, on the club events page and on the Frontline Club live channel,

According to a report published by the Media Standards Trust, the current system of press self-regulation is not successfully protecting either the press or the public. The current system is not, the report claims, effective enough, accountable enough, or transparent enough, and does not reflect the transformed media environment. So should Britain's system of press self-regulation be over-hauled and if it is, will it do anything to restore public faith in the press? link

Taking part will be Roger Alton, editor of The Independent, Steven Barnett, Professor of Communications at the University of Westminster who researched the Media Standarts Trust report A More Accountable Press, Albert Scardino, an independent journalist and commentator and Steve Hewlett is a writer and broadcast consultant and currently presents The Media Show on Radio 4.

1 Comment

Alastair Wright | March 19, 2009 12:11 PM

I was present at this debate, and was worried by the impression I got, possibly erroneously, about Roger Alton’s sense of newspaper editors’ responsibility for maintaining standards in the media.

His view seems to be that if mistakes are made, then those who feel aggrieved can always go to the PCC or use legal means to seek redress. If he was in charge of a medical institution in which poor quality surgery led to deaths, his response would likely be to reassure relatives of the dead that they can always go to the courts afterwards, rather than taking steps to ensure that staff are re-trained and the problems identified. No doubt if such an example of derogation of care occurred in a medical situation, the newspapers would rightly expose the situation, but I have the impression that something similar occurs within their organisations and it is either so standard that it is not noticed or is actively ignored.

Just as standards have been found to have slipped at the BBC and other broadcasters - contributors involved in a story having been perceived by programme makers as resources - it seems likely that members of public who have been involved in “newsworthy” stories are similarly thought of by print journalists as resources to be squeezed for all they are worth.

Just as the broadcast media’s standards have had a light shone on them, so I feel should the print media.

I’m not a journalist, and was surprised to learn from the debate that there seem to be no particular sanctions that may be used to restrain journalists. Why not require a short course –no more than a day or two – explaining to journalists the legal and moral boundaries that they are expected to adhere to, with membership of a trade body being required by those who wish to work for print media. The newspapers could sign up to only recruiting members from this body, with its members standards judged not by editors but by a trade body independent of proprietors/editors. If members fail to follow the guidelines they could be thrown out of the body and hence unable to work for the newspapers that have signed up to this system.

If this fails, then I don’t see why a similar system should not be introduced forcibly through regulation. It should be quite possible for parliament to draw up guidelines that do not interfere with journalistic freedoms but curtail intrusive, hurtful and morally questionable practices.

The impression I got from Roger Alton’s responses is that he has been working in print media for so long that his sense of what is acceptable and/or right and wrong has been skewed a long way from the moral outlook of his readers. Standards within organisations are largely set at the top, and if the top doesn’t know the details of what the foot soldiers are up to, or is not active in controlling questionable behaviour, then that represents a failure of management. If such failure is pervasive throughout print media and there is no real recognition of problems or desire to change from within, then regulation seems appropriate.