A Free and Accountable Media – Report by the Media Standards Trust

 

The Media Standards Trust has today published a proposal for a new system of two-tier media regulation – ‘A Free and Accountable Media’ – submitted formally to the Leveson Inquiry. The recommendations outline, for the first time, a genuine solution to the problem of how to maintain self-regulation, within a statutory framework that ensures independence, both of government and industry.

The past 60 years have demonstrated that voluntary self-regulation of the press has failed. Each previous attempt at reform has been unable to achieve adequate change or to prevent the need for further intervention after just a few years. This report proposes a new system entirely, to break this cycle of failure.

The proposed system:
• Obliges large news organisations to join an independent self-regulatory organisation (there could be more than one)
• Ensures the system works by establishing a backstop independent auditor recognised in statute
• Introduces basic internal complaints mechanisms, and transparent compliance mechanisms, within large news organisations
• Protects free speech by imposing no regulatory obligations on anyone but large news organisations

The report concludes that statutory backing is necessary for an effective and resilient self-regulatory system, to provide
• a system that applies to all major news publishers, and is not purely voluntary
• a backstop independent auditor with a duty to bring transparency to editorial decision making and effective powers to sanction
• an effective complaints system, with access to an appeal structure and effective remedies

We also recommend that, to better protect investigative journalism and support the system of self-regulation, there should be a public interest defence in law.

The report has been written in consultation with an advisory group, brought together by the MST specifically for the purpose. This review group consists of:
- Anthony Salz, Chair (Executive Vice-Chairman of Rothschild, formerly Vice Chairman of the BBC Governors)
- Professor Steven Barnett (University of Westminster, formerly specialist adviser to the House of Lords select committee on Communications)
- Martin Dickson (Deputy Editor, Financial Times)
- Carolyn Fairbairn (formerly director of strategy at the BBC and ITV)
- Richard Hooper (founding deputy chairman of Ofcom and the first chairman of Ofcom’s Content Board)
- Professor Stewart Purvis (City University, formerly Chief Executive and Editor-in-Chief of ITN, President of EuroNews, and Ofcom Partner for Content and Standards)
- David Yelland (partner at Brunswick Group LLP, formerly editor of The Sun)

Anthony Salz, Chair of the Press Review Group and trustee of the Media Standards Trust, said: “After years of getting press regulation wrong, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. We think effective self regulation requires some statutory backing and that this can be achieved without constraining a vigorous press or a risk of government interference”.

Martin Moore, director of the Media Standards Trust and one of the authors of the report, said: “This proposal is, in essence, very simple. With power, it says, should come responsibility. Big news organisations should take responsibility for their actions. The report lays out how this can be done”.

This report is one of several submitted to the Leveson Inquiry available here.