Archive for the ‘press’ tag
- Take a popular press whose circulations are falling, who are panicked about not being able to publish salacious stories about the sex lives of celebrities, and who glimpse a way to rid themselves of pesky legal constraints
- Add judges, roughly grated by the press and politicians, who can see little public interest in knowing whether footballer X slept with reality star Y and, as a result, create precedents by passing judgments on a series of such cases
- Mix in some wild technology whose roots aren’t in the UK but can grow prolifically anywhere
- Throw in some fresh picked MPs with concerns about free speech and keen to get in the good books of the popular press
Bring to a simmering boil and wait to overflow
Ready to serve with a garnish of phone hacking
Goes well with libel reform soup, contempt of court casserole, and self-regulatory souffle.
Do not add government or may become an Eton Mess.
It’s good to be pleasantly surprised. I confess I was pretty sceptical about the ‘independent governance review’ of the PCC (whose report is published today). I wasn’t sure how ‘independent’ it actually was, and was concerned by the very limited publicity for written submissions and that oral evidence was taken in secret.
But it turns out to be a carefully thought out and reasonable response to the many calls for reform over the last 18 months. This includes, of course, the calls by the Media Standards Trust since February 2009 (‘A More Accountable Press’).
It’s clear from the report that they’ve been listening. By my count the review appears to have accepted, in whole or in part, 19 of the 28 recommendations we made in our submission earlier this year (‘Can independent self-regulation keep standards high and preserve press freedom’) in addition to those of others like Peter Preston and MediaWise. The real challenge now is to see if the PCC and the newspapers embrace the recommendations and use this as an opportunity to revitalise self-regulation, or ignore them and leave the current system frozen in aspic.
The recommendations are detailed (I think I counted about 75 in all) though mostly in plain English. They include:
- Greater openness about the system – for example, being open about funding (it still seems remarkable that an industry that recognises the importance of knowing where the money comes from doesn’t make clear how its own self-regulation is funded), making sure the PCC statistics are ‘consistent and clear’, and providing more information about complaints
- Codifying the sanctions and telling people about them – this could mean providing a clear ladder of remedies so people understand what the penalties for breaching the code are and have a better idea about the seriousness of a breach
- Making the PCC more proactive – emphasising the importance of taking action where there is a clear sign of public concern
- Introducing more ways to judge the effectiveness of the PCC – including targets for the year, and polls that measure not only confidence in the PCC but also in the press (this way hopefully we won’t get the Commission claiming success each year whether complaints go up or down)
- Clarifying the purpose of the PCC – including making plain ‘how it considers standards issues’ and ‘what it means by – and what it wants to achieve through – proactivity’.
On some of the big issues – particularly the all-important one of sanctions – the review pushes most of the responsibility back to the PCC and the industry. This makes sense from the perspective that the industry would balk at any ‘outside’ pressure on them to introduce new penalties for breaching the code. However, if this becomes an excuse neither to strengthen existing sanctions nor to explore new ones then people will still not take the PCC seriously as an independent self-regulator – as it aspires to be.
It should also be said that this review leaves a lot of room for manoeuvre. The Commission could, if it wanted, do not much more than publish minutes of its meetings, and alter the appointments and compliance process. Equally, the industry could ignore recommendations to divulge their contributions, and fail to become more involved in the promotion and discussion of standards. Hence why this review is a good start, but certainly not an end point.
One subject on which the review didn’t go into much detail is funding. The PCC has a much smaller budget than organisations like the Advertising Standards Authority or Ofcom. Taking on the additional responsibilities recommended in the review will cost more. Though the review takes note of this it thinks costs can be kept down. This could be tricky and other funding mechanisms ought to be explored. In our submission we suggested the PCC start charging for investigations – like the Financial Services Ombudsman. Alternatively the industry could throw more money in the pot, though given the parlous state of news organisations this seems unlikely at present.
The ball is now squarely in the PCC and the industry’s court. The PCC has made positive noises about the review and has already made some commitments – for example around transparency (it said in its annual report it would adhere to the principles of the Freedom of Information Act). PressBoF, which has been fantastically opaque to date, seems to be raising its head slightly above the parapet. We await the response of the Editorial Code Committee. But it remains to be seen what the Commission, the Board of Finance, the Code Committee – and most importantly the industry – will actually do.
495: national news articles that talked about a ‘hung parliament’ last week
62: percent rise in articles referring to Nick Clegg last week vs the previous 7 days (and 171% higher than the week before that)
These are all numbers taken from journalisted weekly – a statistical analysis of each week’s national print journalism we started a few weeks back (now published every Tuesday).
Partly out of frustration. Everyone talks about ‘what’s in the news’ but this normally equates to ‘what I read a lot about’ or ‘what caught my eye’. Very rarely do you see a factual breakdown of what was actually reported, and what wasn’t.
Partly for the record. It’s important to be able to look back over certain events and see what role journalism played. How well did the papers cover the 2010 election? Who predicted either the importance of the TV debates or the rise of the Lib Dems? (As it happens, Andrew Porter wrote – last December – that they were ‘a gamble’ for Brown and Cameron).
So what does it include?
Well, it’s only natural to start with what’s been covered lots in the press. For this we look at the top 100 subjects written about during the week and cross reference the number of times someone or something has been mentioned with the number of articles in which it has been mentioned. From this we can get a pretty good idea what’s been written about most.
We then look at what hasn’t been covered much. This – as you can probably guess – is rather trickier. Lots and lots doesn’t get covered every week, mostly because it isn’t ‘news’ (or what we understand as news). So we look for discrepancies – like the fact that Alex Salmond of the SNP was written about in 89 articles and Ieuan Wyn Jones of Plaid Cymru in only 4 – and for gaps in public interest reporting (like seeing if there hasn’t been anything on prisons, or social care, or knife crime, for example).
Political ups and downs counts the coverage of party leaders, parties and political policies.
X vs Y offsets coverage of different subjects in order to highlight some of the oddities, contradictions and obsessions of our national press. Such as the 307 articles talking about Wayne Rooney in Easter week, compared to 164 that mentioned Jesus.
Long form journalism started out as an experiment but is proving surprisingly illuminating. We wondered if, based on length of article alone, one could dig out in-depth original journalism. Turns out you can, sort of (provided you filter out the minute-by-minute live coverage of sporting events).
Finally, we pick out one of the week’s most newsworthy topics and point people to journalists – across the national press – that have been covering it extensively.
This was never intended only to be a spectator sport. We hope to kick start more analysis of UK journalism – either through journalisted.com or elsewhere. Journalisted has an API and a full text search, so anyone can do analysis of the press coverage if they want to.
Equally, if you have any suggestions as to how we could improve journalisted weekly, or what other analyses we should add – please do get in touch and let me know. Oh, and you can subscribe to journalisted weekly here.
“London ownership has invaded the provinces… and there is a steady growth of the syndicated leading article, the foulest abortion in journalism” 
Not the words of a contemporary New Labour ideologue but of the English journalist, politician and radical Michael Foot, who died yesterday aged 96, speaking in the 1940s. Foot spoke with benefit of experience, having already had well over a decade’s experience as a writer, an editor and a pamphleteer before taking his seat in the House in 1945.
Soon after joining parliament Foot lamented the consolidation of the local press under corporate ownership, having seen the number of newspapers shrink by almost a quarter since 1921 (from 169 in 1921 to 128 in 1948). “The process of monopoly is not receding. It is getting worse” he told the House.
One wonders what language he would have used today, when four newspaper groups control three quarters of the local press (Trinity Mirror, Johnston Press, Newsquest and DMGT).
And given that the Conservatives have made clear their desire to allow more consolidation, it is odd that Michael Foot has no parliamentary successor to rage against the centralisation and corporatisation of local news.
Nor did Foot simply rail from the back benches. So concerned was he at the state of the press that, in 1946, he seconded a motion for a Royal Commission on the Press, to look into the growth of monopolistic tendencies in the control of the newspapers and constrain the influence of proprietors in defence of journalistic freedom (echoes of the 2008 House of Lords report on ownership of news?).
A Royal Commission was then set up in 1947 and its recommendations – made in 1949 – eventually led to the establishment of the General Council of the Press, the precursor to today’s Press Complaints Commission.
Foot’s subsequent relationship with the press was, it has to be said, mixed. He was attacked and lampooned continuously as leader of the Labour party, particularly for his appearance (earning him the nickname ‘Worzel Gummidge’ after the fictional scarecrow of that name). He won a libel case against the Sunday Times, of which he gave part of the proceeds to the Tribune newspaper (which he had previously edited). Yet his heart was, his wife Jill Craigie said, ‘really in newspapers and writing’.
Perhaps he would have had a wry smile as certain newspapers, that previously excoriated him, today hail him as ‘the last link to a more heroic political age’ (The Daily Telegraph) and ‘one of the last great political figures of the wartime generation’ (The Daily Mail).
He was certainly one of those rare things, a journalist who could do politics and a politician who could do journalism.
 From Mervyn Jones’ biography of Michael Foot, p.150-151