Archive for the ‘Independent’ tag
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.
“Grassroots turn against Brown” The Independent splashes on its front page. According to an exclusive poll by the paper, Andrew Grice writes, “The Labour Party’s grassroots have turned decisively against Gordon Brown and a majority want him to stand down”.
The article goes on to cite the poll’s finding that “54 percent would prefer someone else to lead the party into the next general election”, and that David Miliband is Brown’s favoured successor.
Given that the Labour conference is about to start this poll might appear, at first glance, to be significant – possibly even significant enough to strengthen the cause of a leadership challenge.
But wait, take a closer look both at the poll itself and at the way it is reported in the paper and its significance begins to crumble.
The Independent commissioned the poll from LabourHome.org, a “A pro-Labour, group-blogging effort, that gives the like-minded the chance to have their say” according to the site. LabourHome used its mailing list to invite its community of users to take part in a ‘Labour Grassroots Survey’. 788 did (or the 788 ‘Labour members’ that were used in the eventual results – unclear how these were distinguished).
There are at least three reasons why this poll cannot be considered a representative sample of Labour grassroots. First, it’s too small. Second, it’s self-selecting and therefore – without considerable distillation – inevitably unrepresentative. Third, it overwhelmingly favours new media savvy younger, active Labour supporters.
Alex Hilton, the editor of LabourHome and previously an exec researcher at NOP (according to his comments on the site), recognises the limitations of the survey. He would much prefer, he says, that the Labour Party did its own grassroots research with its 100,000 email database. But, he writes, “most of you have seen the drivel we get as emails from the party”.
If only The Independent had similarly recognised – and highlighted – the limitations (by putting it a few pages back in the paper for a start), as opposed to making it appear as though this represents a clear message from the Labour rank and file.
Indeed even if it was a representative poll of Labour grassroots the Independent’s coverage is still misleading. Based on the figures it could as easily have written ”Grassroots say stick with Brown for next election’, given that 55% of those who responded to the poll do not believe that changing their leader will improve their chances. On top of which, as Hilton points out, 46% supported Brown which, in a leadership contest, would almost certainly give him enough to win.
A remarkable example today of how the same news story, based on exactly the same government report, can be spun in such a completely different way by two different newspapers.
‘Drug Nation’ dominates the Independent’s front page, and documents some of the findings of a Department of Health report which found that 2 million people in Briton now take illegal drugs every month. Though clearly designed and written to make the reader conscious that drug-taking is far greater and more widespread than before, the article is not explicitly judgmental about the increase, nor does it try to ascribe blame.
Compare this to the Daily Mail which also leads on the drugs story. ‘Shocking toll of drugs on under-16s’ the main headline reads. ‘Hospital admissions for mental problems and overdoses doubles under Labour’ (the online version is more political still). In case you missed the subtitle the first sentence of the article re-emphasises who the paper believes is to blame: ‘The number of children taken to hospital because of drug use has soared since Labour took office, figures revealed yesterday’. A few sentences later it suggests ‘critics’ blame Labour’s failure to “tackle the scourge”.
Neither story is factually incorrect with respect to the data, but whereas you might leave the first simply conscious that there has been an increase in drug taking, you can’t help but leave the second believing it is a political issue for which Labour is responsible.
Perhaps it is, but there are innumerable other factors that could help explain the increase. The Independent, for example, quotes Harry Shapiro from Drugscope who connects drug use to income and lifestyle. Therefore whereas use of heroin and crack has not risen, cocaine use has and this might be partly due to higher disposable incomes. If Labour gets the blame for higher drug use, shouldn’t it also get the blame for higher disposable incomes?
Framing every issue – from drugs to knife crime – through the narrow prism of party politics might make for stories with political bite but does very little to explain the issue, and helps create the skewed impression that politicians are always to blame.
Us older generations (i.e. post 35) have spent alot of time over the last decade lamenting the decline of ‘news duty’ amongst the young. Feeling that young people don’t make enough effort to keep up with the important (occasionally dull) public interest stuff that helps make you an active member of democratic society. Humbug humbug…
This lament has slowly died down as we older generations ourselves have become less and less prone to plough dutifully through a daily paper and then sit patiently through a couple of evening news bulletins.
But is there a new, much more active ‘news duty’ developing amongst the younger generations? A duty that doesn’t stop once you’ve read the paper or watched a news bulletin? A duty that sees involvement – rather than simply awareness – as a pre-requisite?
The success of http://www.avaaz.org/ suggests there may be. Avaaz is not a news outlet in the sense most of us would understand one. It doesn’t have breaking news stories. It ignores lots of world events most of us would see as significant. It has no big name columnists voicing their opinions.
Instead, it motivates. It stimulates. It galvanises people to take action. Worried about the increasingly frightening situation in Israel / Gaza? Sign an emergency petition at Avaaz and they promise to deliver it, accompanied by a billboard campaign, to Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Too passive for you? Then you could volunteer to participate in one of Avaaz’s mass rallies, or host a climate change party, or sponsor a billboard in the Middle East promoting peace.
Avaaz’s theory is that “people-powered politics” can make a material difference – especially when co-ordinated via the web.
You could argue this is just a campaign group and has little to do with news. But Avaaz uses news media to inform its campaigns and provoke its participants (e.g. check out their ‘Stop the Clash of Civilizations’ video). And of course once the campaigns are going then they generate their own ‘news’ and blogs etc.
It’s a model (itself borrowed from http://www.moveon.org/) that other NGOs are now adopting (e.g. RSF, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth). With the difference that most of them also try to recruit mainstream media to their campaigns.
How long before mainstream news organisations themselves adopt the same tactics? The Independent newspaper is pretty close already. It’s not a massive step to go from ‘Click here to have your say’ to ‘Click here to sign our online petition’ to ‘Click here to participate in our rally’. And, if you use this sort of approach, why not partner with NGOs that share your viewpoint? Especially if they’re willing to do alot of the legwork on a voluntary basis. You never know, it might not be long before we see the first news org / NGO partnership.