A report by Lord Justice Leveson recommended how to keep the practices of the UK press in check for the future – only he forgot the part about the future
This week, the UK Prime Minister, editors of national newspapers and campaigners alike have been pouring energies into answering a call outlined in a new report for a radical reform of UK media regulation.
The report is the result of a year’s inquiry into press standards by Lord Justice Leveson, following the exposure of alleged criminal activity, ‘phone hacking’ at the News of the World.
But has it been a waste everyone’s of time? And, indeed, money – at almost £4 million the 1,987 page document didn’t come cheap. From a PR perspective, the answer is quite probably. The media, whom we in PR depend upon to provide third party endorsement for our clients, and to which the man in the street looks to provide a check and balance on what our politicians, celebs and captains of industry tell us, are in full flight onto the web, leaving the print press behind them.
But Leveson’s report dedicated only a dozen of its couple of thousand pages to dealing with the internet.
Not understanding the relevance of the internet
So, it was anachronistic from the day it was published – Thursday of last week.
The lack of page space dedicated to ‘the internet’ places serious doubt as to the credibility of Leveson as an arbiter of the culture, practice and ethics of the press in the 21st century. Leveson obviously had little understanding as how we mortals use the internet.
He commented that “people will not assume that what they read on the internet is trustworthy or that it carries any particular assurance or accuracy; it need be no more than one person’s view,” He then disproved his argument by using Wikipedia to gather and cite sadly naively wrong ‘facts’ for his report! He cited a 25 year old Californian student with a prankster for a room-mate as being a founder of UK newspaper – The Independent –which was founded before the student was even born…
At a time when the media’s drive to digital is fierce, what he tried to demonstrate was that the credibility of information published on paper as opposed to the internet is distinguishable on these grounds alone. However, what defines credibility of news is the quality of the journalism – not the medium on which it is presented. The real issues relate to online information and Leveson’s recommendations have not touched these. We saw this last week. Following incorrect ‘news’ being disseminated over Twitter the Director General of the BBC resigned, legal actions took place and Twitterers were pursued for compensation.
Undermined by an “internet-free” view of an ‘internet-full’ future
The press operates more and more in the so called “ethical vacuum” that is the internet. So, can we consider the report entirely undermined due it paying only cursory attention to the internet and so crassly making a distinction between print and online news sources? The inquiry aimed to “draw recommendations, if any, for the future, with particular regards to press regulation, governance and other systems of oversight.”
The critical term here is “for the future” – something that the recommendations presented in the report does not cater for.
Posted by: Natalie Rimmer @ IBA