A More Accountable Press

Summary

‘A More Accountable Press’, a major review of press self-regulation produced by the Media Standards Trust in consultation with a group made up of 12 leading figures from journalism and civil society, was published on Monday 9th February 2009.

The report found that the existing system of press self-regulation, as then constituted, was unable to deal with the serious and growing threats to press standards and press freedom. The system was insufficiently effective, largely unaccountable, opaque, and failed to reflect the radically changed media environment.

At a time when news organisations were under enormous competitive, technological and financial pressure, the risks of inaccuracy were increasing and concerns about privacy intrusion growing. Public trust in journalism, already low, was declining further.

Research commissioned for the report, conducted by YouGov, found that only 7 per cent of the public said they trust national newspapers to behave responsibly – a lower trust score even than banks. 75 per cent of people thought that ‘newspapers frequently publish stories they know are inaccurate’. 70 per cent believed there are ‘far too many instances of people’s privacy being invaded by newspaper journalists’. Six in ten people thought the government should do more to prevent national newspaper journalists from intruding on people’s private lives, while almost three quarters of the public (73 per cent) wanted the government to do more to ensure that newspapers correct inaccurate stories.

The Review Group had planned to produce a second report following consultation, outlining recommendations for reform. This was superseded by the PCC’s announcement of its own independent governance review, to which the MST contributed, and which reported in July 2010.

Reaction

The publication of ‘A More Accountable Press’ attracted a good deal of press coverage. Sir David Bell (chair of the MST) and Sir Christopher Meyer (then chair of the Press Complaints Commission) engaged in a heated debate on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on the morning of publication (transcript here). The exchange included Sir Christopher claiming that there was an outstanding PCC complaint against the Financial Times (Sir David also being chair of the FT group), an allegation that was completely untrue. He subsequently apologised privately, and expressed some contrition in a Guardian interview with Roy Greenslade.

The Guardian and mediaguardian.co.uk covered the report extensively, with a news report and comment and analysis pieces by Peter Wilby and Roy Greenslade, followed by a discussion on their Media Talk podcast and an article by the paper’s readers’ editor. Report authors Martin Moore and Steve Barnett had a piece published after the Today interview, and Emily Bell wrote about the row a week later.

The BBC and Financial Times ran news reports on the report’s publication (the FT also following up on its reception). Stephen Glover, media commentator for The Independent, criticised the report and later strangely wondered if the MST would prefer Zimbabwean levels of press freedom, while Matthew Norman took a different view in the same paper.

In the trade press, journalism.co.uk carried a report and continued discussion around the subject, with Press Gazette also covering the story. The National Union of Journalists welcomed the report, while the Society of Editors and Chartered Institute of Journalists were more critical. Director of the MST, Martin Moore, linked to further reaction on his blog.

The PCC responded more fully on 19th February, when Sir Christopher Meyer wrote to Anthony Salz, a member of the MST board and chair of the review group. Meyer was able to point out only one inaccuracy, which the MST was very happy to correct. The Guardian again covered the story (accompanied by a comment piece from Roy Greenslade), as did journalism.co.uk and Press Gazette.

On the 12th March, Anthony Salz responded to Sir Christopher in a letter, covered by Media Guardian, journalism.co.uk and Press Gazette.

In August 2009, the new chair of the PCC, Baroness Buscombe, announced an independent governance review of the PCC, which the MST was very happy to contribute to.

Review group

The members of the Review Group were, in alphabetical order:

Chair: Anthony Salz | Executive Vice Chairman, Rothschild, previously Senior Partner of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer

Martin Dickson | Deputy Editor, Financial Times

Lord Hastings | International Director, Corporate Citizenship, KPMG; House of Lords Select Committee on Communication

Richard Hooper | Chairman of the Independent Review of the Postal Services Sector, previously Deputy Chair of Ofcom

Simon Kelner | Managing Director and Editor in Chief, The Independent and Independent on Sunday

Dame Helena Kennedy QC

Dame Suzi Leather

Lord Lipsey | Journalist and writer, previously at ASA and ITV

Kate Nash | Chair of the Disability Alliance, previously Chief Executive of Royal Association of Disability and Rehabilitation

David Seymour | Journalist, previously Readers’ Editor, Daily Mirror

Ruth Wishart | Journalist, The Herald

Lord Woolf | Former Lord Chief Justice

Special advisers to the group were:

Professor Steve BarnettUniversity of Westminster

Dr Martin Moore | Director, Media Standards Trust