Archive for February, 2009

Media Law 101

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Today was a day for media lawyers.

There are two sorts of media lawyers. Those who tend to work for publishers (nb. news organisations), and those who tend to work against publishers (e.g. Carter Ruck, Schillings). Both appeared today in front of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee.

Funnily enough, they didn’t agree.

Media lawyers for the press told the CMS Select Committee (based on reports, not on transcripts – though rather wonderfully, the proceedings can be viewed on the HofC video player) that libel costs were constraining press freedom because papers, especially regional papers, are not publishing stories that they are anxious could provoke a legal challenge (see journalism.co.uk). 

Media lawyers against the press told the Select Committee that legal action was often only necessary because, in the case of tabloid newspapers ‘As a policy they don’t notify. Victims – whether it’s a celebrities or anyone else, they aren’t told in advance. The damage is done, sometimes permanently’ (Mark Thomson, Carter Ruck, from Press Gazette).

Meanwhile, while lawyers made their case in front of the Select Committee, the government seemed to have already made its mind up about one issue. It would, according to Press Gazette, take steps to limit libel costs ‘unless compelling arguments emerge against doing so’. It based this ‘decision’ (is it a decision or a procrastination of a decision?) on the Ministry of Justice’s libel consultation paper.

If so, it should hurry up and take action so that the arguments about the principles behind Conditional Fee Agreements and about legal precedents surrounding privacy and public interest, can be discussed without being muddied by legal fees.

Even better if it would shift attention to the points Marcus Partington raised about the reluctance of newspapers to use the Reynolds defence and make precedents on that defence. Their reticence, according to Partington, is because using this defence means ‘you’re on a back foot’ (from Journalism.co.uk). This is a great shame because a better definition and understanding of the public interest defence would give journalists more confidence if threatened by legal action.

Written by Martin Moore

February 24th, 2009 at 6:42 pm

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Some responses to the report

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I’ll detail elsewhere some of the things that have happened in the past week, but for now I thought it might be worth linking to some of the coverage (not a comprehensive list):


You can hear a panel discussion on the issue of press self-regulation on this week’s Media Guardian podcast with Matt Wells. In it Maggie Brown says that ‘This report is only really Part 1 because this is the analysis of all of the failings’ and that it will not be until Part 2 when ‘we’ll really see some fur fly’.

Roy Greenslade’s blog said that the report ‘raises several questions we should not ignore’. The four Greenslade suggests are most important are: (1) ‘that the tight remit of the PCC means that there are times when the press gets away with gross misbehaviour (the treatment of the McCanns and Robert Murat, for example, or the topic of asylum seekers)’ (2) ‘the PCC’s remit also prevents it from defending press freedom and there is no alternative body that can act as an effective, united voice to do so. Therefore, laws have been enacted which could restrict journalists trying to reveal matters of public interest’ (3) ‘the growing use of the European Convention on Human Rights to pursue privacy actions places serious journalism at risk’ and (4) ‘the PCC’s total lack of independence from the industry it regulates’.

The BBC and the FT published news stories about the report (‘Economy ‘threatens’ news accuracy‘, ‘Study: respect for papers falls with standards‘, and ‘PCC rejects media watchdog criticism‘), along with others on the Independent and Guardian websites.

Online, Peter Bale of MSN UK, wrote a feature on ‘News: who can you trust‘. Judith Townend started a debate about some of the questions raised at journalism.co.uk. Obsolete asked ‘Why does lack of trust not equal lack of sales?’. Martin Belam commented on his own attempts to complain to the Press Complaints Commission. Matthew Cain  blogged about ‘reforming the PCC’. EUReferendum said this was ‘a debate which needs to happen and needs to be resolved’. Baroness Scott, the Liberal Democrat President, called on the government to stop waiting ‘for the next passing Tsar – just get on with the job of pushing these press barons into the 21st Century’Other blogs referencing the report included; Peter BurdenEtan Smallman, mediabeak, and Charlie BeckettThe NUJ found in the report ‘Strong support for the NUJ’s concerns at the effect of industry cutbacks on standards of journalism’.

Wales Online and Press Gazette published more critical news reports, leading on Sir Christopher Meyer’s comment that the publication was ‘careless and shoddy’ (‘Press Complaints Commission rejects Media Standards Trust report‘ and ‘PCC criticises ‘careless and shoddy’ report on trust‘). The Society of Editors said that the ‘MST report could breach code‘ with regards accuracy.

Stephen Glover, the Independent’s media commentator, asked whether the Media Standards Trust might find virtue in Robert Mugabe’s regime (an offshoot of Godwin’s Law perhaps?). Following up on his article last week, ‘Let’s be proud of our press – it’s probably the best in the world‘.

In the same newspaper Matthew Norman wrote that ‘Press watchdog bites back at toothless claim’ and suggested that the organisation had never been wholly independent. In the Guardian Siobhain Butterworth challenged the connection between people’s distrust of the media and success or failure of self-regulation.

Emily Bell commented that ‘Fighting talk is not the best way to start a debate on press freedom‘ but that this ‘should be an important debate for the press’.

Hopefully the debate will continue.

Written by Martin Moore

February 16th, 2009 at 2:05 pm

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A More Accountable Press – Part 1: the Need for Reform

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If a newspaper or magazine publishes something inaccurate, misrepresentative, or unfairly intrusive about you, then there ought to be someone independent and effective that you can go to for redress.

Today we (the Media Standards Trust) are publishing a report – A More Accountable Press – that assesses the current system of press self-regulation, as led by the Press Complaints Commission. It concludes that, as it stands, this system is neither independent nor effective. 

The current system is paid for by the newspaper industry, its rules are written by working newspaper editors, and almost half the Commission itself is made up of newspaper and magazine editors.

You would be forgiven, as a member of the public, for thinking that the system was geared more towards protecting the interests of the press than the public.

And, were you to look into it further, you’d become even more convinced of its partiality. Right now, if you make a complaint, you have about a 250:1 chance of getting an adjudication in your favour (based on the 16 successful adjudications out of 4,340 in 2007, Annual Report). Those are pretty terrible odds. Not surprising then that many people are now choosing to go to court instead.

The failure of the current system to offer the public fair redress is not only bad for the public, it’s bad for journalists. It undermines people’s trust in journalism. A couple of weeks ago an international poll found the UK media was amongst the least trusted in the world (Edelman poll, results publishing in PR Week).

A national survey commissioned by the Media Standards Trust in December, and conducted by YouGov, was similarly depressing. It found that 75% of the public think newspapers publish stories they know to be inaccurate. 70% of people believe there are far too many instances in which newspapers invade people’s privacy (full results can be found at the back of the report).

Nor does a poor system of self-regulation provide journalists with an adequate defence from the State, from the law (in the case of public interest journalism) – or even from their own proprietors.

This report – ‘A More Accountable Press’ – analyses what’s wrong with the current system. Now we plan to think about how to make it better.

From today we’ll be asking news organisations, regulators, journalists and the public how to address the problems we’ve identified. If you have any thoughts as to how things can be improved, please get in touch.

Written by Martin Moore

February 9th, 2009 at 12:00 am

Movie credits for news reports

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Movie credits are strange things. Most of us don’t bother to watch them (unless there are goofs and gaffs along the side, or we know there’s a twist after the credits finish). Many of them are written in a font too small to be legible or roll at such a clip that you have to be a speed reader to keep up. And virtually no-one knows what a ‘key grip’ does.


But it would be weird if they weren’t there. We like to know who directed a film, who produced it, who did the cinematography. If not necessarily when we watch the movie, but subsequently, and for posterity. Similarly, those involved in making a film want to be credited for their work in it.

So why aren’t there credits for other media content? Or if there are, why are they so paltry? Why shouldn’t there be, at the end of a news article about Afghanistan: written by, edited by, produced by, etc.? Instead of just a byline (and even this is often absent). All the information wouldn’t necessarily have to be visible, just available if you wanted it.

Not only would it give people more information about the piece/photo/video (i.e. how much work was put into it, whether it was produced by an organisation with a good track record etc.), but it would mean that those who worked on it were properly and accurately credited for their work.

This is one of the things 
newscredit does. It works a little like movie credits except for news. It enables the journalist to be properly credited for their work and, if they want, to credit other people involved in its production and credit the organisation that published it (it can provide a whole bunch of other helpful information too, like publication date and time, location etc…).

Here’s an example of how a really really simple one might look (go to the bottom of the article and roll over the news credit logo. It could look a lot slicker, and a lot longer, but this ought to give an impression of how it could work).

This is just one of the potential benefits of making news transparent. I’ll talk about some of the others in future blog posts.

Written by Martin Moore

February 2nd, 2009 at 3:34 pm

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