News: AJE and other conferences

We hope you have enjoyed this latest issue if Journalism Education. We publish towards the end of the academic year as teaching blends into assessment followed by the conference season.

And it is certainly a lively conference season for AJE members this year. First we have the AJE conference in Newcastle on June 20 and 21 looking at Journalism and Journalism Education post-Leveson. Full details of what it has to offer follow. Alongside it runs the International Communication Association conference in London from June 17 to 21 with the theme Challenging Communication Research. For those with plenty of stamina (and decent budgets) these are followed by the International Association for Media, Communication and Research conference in Dublin from June 25-29 with the theme of “Crises, ‘creative destruction’ and the Global Power and Communication Orders”. The conference website sells the conference as engaging with the concepts of crisis and “creative destruction”, associated with historically-rare periods of intensified flux, change and all-round, multi-dimensional processes of innovation. The theme invites reflections on whether or how the current deep economic/financial crisis and its attendant gales of “creative destruction” may promote deep, fundamental or multiple shifts in the geo-political and communication orders globally.

Finally there is the World Journalism Education Congress in Mechelen, Belgium. This will take place on July 3-5 with the theme of Renewing Journalism through Education. The AJE is a founder member of the World Journalism Education Council and will be sending representatives to its meeting as usual. Several AJE members will also be presenting papers at the congress. If you are not already registered, go to and sign up.

With our own conference looking at journalism education post-Leveson, we expect our next edition of the journal to be Leveson-heavy and so we have limited his appearances in this edition apart from the editorial update on the political follow up since publication of the report and our last edition. The editors also thought it important to include an article posing questions about the future for journalism education.

This year’s annual AJE conference will be held in Newcastle on June 20 and 21 and is set to provide the first extensive review of what this means for journalism education.

The Leveson report has given rise to serious reflection by everyone involved in journalism, not least journalism educators. Although attention over the past couple of months has focused on the Royal Charter and regulatory system, the inquiry has raised many other issues which are of great concern to those preparing students for careers in journalism and the wider media fields.

The AJE is uniquely situated to host these debates and its annual conference in June presents a timely opportunity to address these issues. This conference also provides the forum to reflect on some of the falsehoods that have been promulgated in the wider media debates. Two of the key speakers at the conference, Professor Natalie Fenton of Goldsmith’s College, London, and Mike Jempson, Director of Mediawise, have been accused by Andrew Gilligan in a Sunday Telegraph article (April 14) of being part of an EU conspiracy to impose state control of the press. (This report and two others are subject to a complaint to the PCC). Professor Fenton will be speaking on the current issues facing journalism professionals and educators, post-Leveson. As a director and spokesperson of Hacked Off, Natalie can also share her insights from the Leveson inquiry and the current significance of the royal charter. Mike Jempson will be delivering a paper on post-Leveson newsrooms and how journalism educators can prepare students for the changing culture of the media industries.

The opening talks on Thursday will set an energetic, critical and engaging tone for the conference. First up, John Mair, Head of Journalism at Northampton University, will be delivering a paper on the British tabloid press and media ethics. Mark Blacklock Freelance journalist and Newcastle University visiting lecturer) will argue that it is time to give students the tools they need to resist bullying, the courage to defy their peers and support frameworks to deal with ethically hostile environments. Lisa Hardisty (Northumbria University) will present a paper proposing that, despite the vast attention given to the ethics training student journalists receive, journalism educators can only play a limited role in changing the culture of journalism practice due to deeply engrained attitudes within industry and more senior, managerial roles.

The first day of the conference will also feature a panel discussion by Professor Chris Frost,(Liverpool John Moores University) Tony Harcup (Sheffield University), Michelle Stanistreet (NUJ General Secretary) and Mike Jempson (University of the West of England and Director of MediaWise). Frost and Harcup have both published renowned books on media ethics and regulation, Stanistreet and Frost have both given evidence to Leveson and have both, in consequence, suffered the wrath of some elements of the national press. Jempson has spent more than 20 years at the helm of MediaWise (formerly PressWise) representing a host of ordinary people who have suffered from misrepresentation in the press.

Our second keynote speaker on Friday will be Dr Janet Harris, (Cardiff University). Harris will be providing an account of journalism in hostile environments through her experience as an embedded reporter in Iraq. Janet’s account will address some of the challenges journalism educators face in preparing students for such environments, and demonstrating how her own research and engagement with critical theory has improved her journalistic practice.

Since the conference seeks to address such constructive and progressive synergies between theory and practice in journalism studies and education, David Baines and Dr Darren Kelsey will be sharing their research that proposes long term changes in newsroom and news business culture. Due to a number of high quality contributions the conference programme will be intense, with many papers packed into the agenda. Herman Wasserman, Professor of Journalism at Rhodes University, South Africa, will deliver a paper (by video link) on current controversies surrounding media regulation in South Africa.

The conference promises to deliver and provoke some fascinating thoughts and insights. As well as the above, there are high quality papers addressing journalism cultures, ethics, pand pedagogy post-Leveson.

Other speakers include:

Barnie Choudhury (Lincoln University); Deirdre O’Neill (Leeds Trinity University); Jonathan Hewett (City University, London); William Horsley (Centre for Freedom of the Media, Sheffield University); Prof Steve Knowlton and Neil O’Boyle (Dublin City University); Tingting Li (Newcastle University); Ekmel Gecer (Loughborough University).

Other topics include:

Teaching Ethics; Journalism in a Hostile Environment; Codes and Regulations; A Global View of Media Ethics; National and International Perspectives on Issues Raised by Leveson.; Reporting Politics; Journalism’s Relationships with the Police; Political Economy and Media Ownership; Can We Learn Lessons from History?; and Educating Journalists for a Rapidly Changing World of Work. We look forward to seeing you there!

Date: Thursday, June 20 and Friday, June 21

Registration: Thursday, from 1pm: Friday, from 9.30am

Conference fee is £20 for members (£25 for non-members) payable at registration or on Eventbrite. Please confirm attendance on Eventbrite 

For further details please go to the AJE website.


Review: Specialist Journalism, edited by Barry Turner and Richard Orange

by Tor Clark, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK

I used to get a cheap laugh from students when introducing the craft of specialist journalism by telling them amongst the scores of fishing magazines there was even one called Total Carp.

They loved the concept so much one group even brought me a copy at the end of their module. Imagine my amazement (and horror) on a recent visit to my local newsagent to find no less than seven magazines for our carping piscatorial brethren enticing me from the shelves. If I can buy seven separate (and there are probably more…) magazines about one fish, the era of specialist journalism is truly well established.

Now thanks to Barry Turner and Richard Orange we have a useful and interesting edited collection from which our students can begin to study this now essential part of any Journalism course’s curriculum.

The editors’ introduction provides ample evidence of the need for specialism and indeed its value in a journalistic market which forever moves from the general and towards the specialist platform, with the rise of specialist newspaper sections, specialist magazines and of course every type of digital specialist facility.

An impressive range of authors describe specialisms ranging from the areas we might expect – sport, crime, politics, war – to others which have more recently elbowed their way into the mainstream, environmental, media and wine, for example. Other areas covered include business, automotive, fashion, food, science, medical, legal affairs and travel.

Contributions are knowledgeable and interesting, if a little uneven between their approaches, some favouring a more sociological analysis and others offering more in the how-to vein. The hugely informed Paul Bradshaw, for example, offers excellent pointers on how to cover the media beat using the very latest and most effective technologies, as those familiar with his work would expect. Other contributors tend more towards talking about the legitimacy and impact of the specialist, rather than how they actually do their job on a day-to day basis. This is hard one for the editors to handle because on the one hand this text will be a real bonus to students looking at specialism for an essay, dissertation or research project, but students trying to find their feet and possible future career specialism might have liked more on what the day-to-day work of a specialist actually involved – contacts, research, diary, sources etc.

Chapters were also of varying length, which left me longing for more on political journalism, where, for instance, Kevin Rafter dealt very well with Westminster lobby journalism, but didn’t have the space to develop his analysis into the rest of the vast area of political journalism outside that narrow village, but Paula Hearsum had space to include lots of insider comment on music journalism, in a chapter likely to be well-thumbed by students.

Given editor Orange is well known for his own agency work, I might also have hoped he would have offered a chapter on news agency journalism, a much under-exposed area, especially in post-Leveson times, but he took legal affairs journalism as his brief instead. No problem in itself, but perhaps a missed opportunity – or better still maybe a starter for volume two…

So overall, this will make a great impact on journalism courses across the UK and fits in well with the way the industry and its study is going. It is an interesting and useful addition to the journalism bookshelf and the university library, and though I do have a couple of little gripes, in the great scheme of the value of this book, they are certainly nothing to carp about. Recommended.

Specialist Journalism, edited by Barry Turner and Richard Orange, published by Routledge, 2013. 216 pages. ISBN 978-0-415-58285-8; RRP: £21.99. 

Educating for a better newsroom culture in a Leveson compliant future

You can download a PDF of this section by right clicking here or please go the bottom of the page to send to your reader, share on social media or bookmark for later.
Complete footnotes, tables and bibliographies are published in the journal.

By Chris Frost, Liverpool John Moores University

Amidst all the argy bargy about royal charters and last minute bids for political unity it’s often difficult to remember that Leveson was originally charged with finding a way to drain the morally fetid swamp that newspapers had come to represent for the public.

His brief was not just to build a new regulator or highlight the corruption apparently endemic amongst the national press, the police and politicians but to inquire into the culture, practices and ethics of the press.

Leveson talks in his report very little about the future for journalism and for journalists. He did take some evidence about the way newspapers had developed their business models over the past ten years or so and in doing so outlined some of the challenges to our present and future students:

The Inquiry has heard different interpretations of the impact of these economic pressures on newspaper business models. It is common ground that falling revenues and the increased need to produce copy 24 hours a day has resulted in fewer journalists having to do more work. Editors have argued that the financial levels affect staffing levels but that this simply means that journalists work harder and that there is no reduction in the quality of journalism. The Inquiry has been told that the economic difficulties have not affected training of journalists. Others have suggested that the effect of journalists having to produce more stories in less time and with less resource is that material is not as thoroughly checked as it once was, press releases are reproduced uncritically and stories are recycled around the media with little development or additional checking. The impact on regional newspapers has been more severe, with a number of titles merging or closing… Across the press the same challenge faces all titles in respect of how to make money from content online in a world where advertising revenues and revenues from physical circulation continue to decline, whilst readership online is growing… That is not to say that… there are not parts of the UK press that are profitable and, in some cases, highly profitable. (Leveson 2012: 98)

As can be seen he clearly identifies the stark reality of many modern journalists having to work harder and longer at the same tasks as their colleagues of ten years before. He comes to no conclusion about whether this ramping up of workloads reduces the quality of journalism but it is difficult to imagine in the era of 24-hour news that the technological advances of twitter, digital cameras, i-pad editing and Facebook can make up the deficit in newsrooms with half the staff of 20 years ago.

He also identified that the industry for which we are preparing students is one that generally wants to behave well:

The press… does claim to operate by and adhere to an ethical code of conduct. Newspapers, through whichever medium they are delivered, purport to offer a quality product in all senses of that term. Although in the light of the events leading to the setting up of this Inquiry and the evidence I have heard, the public is entitled to be sceptical about the true quality of parts of that product in certain sections of the press, the premise on which newspapers operate remains constant: that the Code will be adhered to, that within the bounds of natural human error printed facts whether in newsprint or online will be accurate, and that individual rights will be respected. (Ibid. 736-737)

Leveson mentions hardly anything about the way journalists are trained throughout his report. Indeed there is far more about the training of police and their dealings with the media than there is about training and educating journalists. Nevertheless it is clear from the above that he sees high standards of the press as something to be desired and something that the industry, and therefore employers wants.

Going on from that he identifies that training is one of the key tools in the regulatory toolbag:

“Most of these tools could form part of any regulatory tool kit whether it was self-regulatory, co-regulatory or statutory regulation. The purpose of regulation is to deliver an outcome that society wants. However, regulation is not the only way to influence or change behaviour. I thus turn to the categorisation identified by Mr McCrae of the different ways in which changes to behaviour can be encouraged and influenced, namely: enabling, engaging, exemplifying and encouraging… This includes removing barriers (of whatever sort) to the desired behaviour, giving information and providing viable alternatives, including through capacity building, skills, training and facilities.” (Ibid. 1742-3)

Of course neither Lord Justice Leveson nor McCrae are alone in identifying training as crucial in encouraging ethical behaviour. Betrand identifies it as one of his M*A*S (Media accountability systems) and other writers on ethics such as Keeble, Frost and Harcup all see its central importance both in preparing the student and developing the journalist.

Despite mentioning training infrequently Leveson is also clear that it has a role in improving standards:

“For example, the PCC has worked hard to improve the coverage of mental health issues. To this end, the PCC has produced a guidance note on the subject and has delivered training to journalists.19 It is difficult to form a clear judgment about this, but the sense I have is that press reporting on some aspects of mental health issues has improved, and the insensitive and in many cases offensive language deployed in some sections of the press ten years ago is now rarely used.” (Ibid. 1519)

He is also confident that training and education as happens in the newsrooms of AJE members is also important:

Finally, I would also like to add a word on journalism training. I have not sought to look at the adequacy of the training available to, or provided to, journalists. However, a number of professors of journalism have given evidence to the Inquiry and it is apparent from their evidence that the schools of journalism are committed to offering high quality training in which ethical journalism plays a full part. Largely as a result of the financial pressures on parts of the press, journalism training is increasingly moving away from newsrooms and into the universities. There is also an important role for ongoing in house training, including in relation to new laws and ethical or compliance issues that are highlighted by particular cases. A number of titles have told the Inquiry that they work with the PCC to deliver training on specific issues as appropriate. It is clearly important that the industry generally, and employers in particular, should place a high priority on training to ensure, inter alia, that all journalists understand the legal and ethical context within which they work. (Ibid, 736)

So what should we be doing in our institutions to pick up on Levesons’ exhortations? As he correctly identifies, training is moving away from newsrooms and into the universities. Indeed I would say that trend is now virtually complete with hardly any entry level training now being carried out at newsroom level. Of course there continues to be an important role for ongoing in-house training, as Leveson identifies but even here more of this is moving towards the universities. Part time masters programmes, CPD sessions and summer schools as well as partnership of all sorts including Knowledge Transfer Partnerships are all becoming more common and as universities plan for the inevitable fall off of applications to master programmes – already happening in some places – these will take on even more significance.

Most journalism schools have already been looking at their training and of course have been including the developing saga in court 59 as part of their curriculum.

The NCTJ has also been keeping an eye on developments and an early comment at Leveson: in one of his seminars: “One seminar attendee suggested that the National Council for the Training of Journalists does not teach ethics. The Inquiry would be interested in experience of how ethics are taught and promulgated amongst journalists.” (Leveson, 2012 p21) stung it into action and it has now introduced a new ethics module into its diploma that will be a required element of all NCTJ-accredited programmes. The BJTC has long insisted on teaching about regulation and ethics teaching. The AJE, in common with many other industry groups, has based its summer conference around the theme.

So what about our own changes? The first thing to consider surely is admissions. What type of programmes should we be offering our students and how do we select the next intake of future journalists? I think the outcome of Leveson will combine with the pattern already identified of the lessening attractiveness of post-graduate programmes. Students already up to their ears in debt, looking at a potential career in an industry which admits to pressurising its journalists to work ever harder for fewer rewards, both financial and in a newsroom culture that is prone to bullying and dissatisfaction are going to be less inclined to consider journalism as a career and there is already evidence in some centres of falling numbers applying. This is most likely to affect applicants in 2015.

Leveson does suggest though the importance of in-house training and CPD. This opens up opportunities in the post graduate field for part-time programmes either of a traditional type or more innovatively looking at patchwork MAs, distance learning and specialist programmes on day release, summer school or good old-fashioned evening classes.

It is also worth looking at the criteria used for admissions to mainstream journalism degree programmes. Evidence on newsroom culture could be said to imply too little rebellion in the newsroom, too little determination to challenge decisions from the top. Are we selecting people for study who are too willing to do as they are told; too easily prepared to go along with the prevailing wind? Journalism has traditionally attracted odd-balls, rebels and eccentrics. Has the move to degree programmes made journalism more mainstream and less rebellious and if so, is that a good thing? I merely ask the questions here but it could be that our decisions at application time are making a huge difference in the way they industry runs in terms of newsroom culture.

Newsroom culture is important as Lord Leveson identified. He picked up comments made by Professor Christopher Megone, who has worked extensively with industry bodies (mainly in finance and engineering) on issues of workplace ethics. He told Leveson that the culture in a newsroom was paramount and needed to be considered alongside and code of standards:

“If there is an unhealthy culture then an organisation can have an ethical code but it will have little influence. Members of the organisation can undergo ‘ethics training’ but it will have little effect. As soon as they return from the training to their desk or office, the pervasive culture will dominate their decision-making. The culture brings to bear all sorts of ‘accepted norms’ which an afternoon’s training will be relatively powerless to affect. (I do not, of course, think that good ‘ethics training’ is pointless, but simply that its effectiveness depends on whether, or to what extent, other factors are in place in the organisation…)” (Ibid. p86)

Leveson felt that against that background an operative code of ethics would have therefore a number of potential functions and in doing so he identifies many of the areas in which we should be concentrating our education. Indeed it clearly helps identify the difference between journalism training and education, a complex and much-agonised component of any degree programme. Leveson felt such an operative code would:

“serve as a reminder of the special importance and roles, the freedoms and privileges, the power and responsibilities of the press. It would, in other words, provide a full context for the choices which fall to be made in practice so that they can be made in accordance with the principles to be derived from this context. It would, in short, explain what ethical (or, as it is sometimes described, ‘public interest’) journalism is.” (Ibid. 87)

He goes on to identify very clearly the sort of outcomes a good journalism degree should have and identify the sort of education we should be working hard to fit alongside the training that is a central core to virtually all good programmes. Such a code would, he says:

“help journalists to understand the circumstances in which they are called upon to make ethical decisions. It would help them to make the right choices in practice. It would do this not as a matter of rigid and disconnected prescriptions and prohibitions, but by promoting ‘a stable disposition to act in certain ways for the right reasons’. It would recognise and explain the circumstances in which the temptations and motivations to act unethically (including commercial motivations) may be especially strong, and why they need to be resisted… It would not expect to stand alone. It would take its place in a context of ethical culture, sources of advice and guidance… It would have consequences in terms of how individuals and organisations are perceived, in terms of rewards and sanctions. (Ibid.)

So our education should ensure that students get this support to the code, the assurance that they understand the contexts to help them make the right ethical choices, an understanding of the pressures they will face and why they need to be resisted and that the code, any code, is not expected to stand alone but is part of an armoury of guidance, knowledge and understanding.

Part of this is understanding the culture in newsrooms and learning to deal with it. We need to ensure that we do not have the double standard in our training newsrooms that was identified in the AJE’s evidence to Leveson:

AJE members who have been practitioners (they continue to think of themselves as journalists) are well aware of a difficult double standard. That they should teach what is right, but also teach what is actually done. Honesty to the student requires that they be made aware that while there is a right way to do things, they might well be asked to do something different in the newsroom. This double standard can be reinforced by anecdotes from visiting speakers from the workplace. (AJE 2012: 10)

We need to provide more certainty to students that while they may well be expected to do things differently in the newsroom, that doesn’t mean they are obliged to do them just because everyone else does. We should be explaining that doing things the right way is important for all the reasons identified in Leveson and the thousands of other books and journal articles discussing the importance of journalism. As we told Leveson in our evidence:

“Ethics is not something to be left at the university door with the academic gown but needs to be nurtured and developed alongside other professional skills in the newsroom. (AJE 2012: 9)”

We should also be hoping that if anything has come out of Leveson it will be a profound sea change in the newsroom culture that on the one hand often saw editors bullying staff into unethical behaviour and on the other led senior staff to seemingly take a macho pleasure in behaving badly and encouraging their juniors with bar-side boasts to join them in their unseemly antics. Yes, journalists do have to behave unethically with regard to a private individual’s rights on occasion if we are to prove the wrongdoing or abuse of the public’s rights by those in power. We need to teach our students to understand the difference and to be able resist the blandishments of colleagues and the threats of editors.

One way of doing this, of course, is a method most of us already use, which is to present good practice as example whether through inviting journalists to speak to students who we identify as exemplifying good practice or by providing examples of good practice in seminars for discussion. Leveson strongly recommends this:

Exemplification includes leading by example and achieving consistency in policies. The Inquiry has heard many references to examples of excellent journalism and adherence to excellent ethical standards within the British press. The Inquiry has, however, heard fewer instances of use of such examples of excellence within the industry to promote ethical behaviour. The PCC receives complaints and, unless mediated, produces adjudications on them which lead to reminders to papers and journalists of the nature of the code and the production of additional guidance on good behaviour. The Inquiry has been told of many examples of excellent investigative journalism, ethically conducted, being lauded within the industry: examples include Thalidomide, phone hacking and MPs expenses. (Ibid. 1744)

The honourable Lord’s words do remind me that one criticism that the PCC has faced in the past (see evidence to the 2010 PCC review of governance from Frost or Jempson) is that the over-reliance on mediation, so prized by the PCC led to a reduction in the number of adjudications and so a reduction in the guidance the PCC could offer to the industry. Ofcom, for instance, produces lengthy reports of both the complaints adjudicated and its decisions and the reasons for them. This provides sound guidance to journalists and academics on how Ofcom interprets its code. Whilst the PCC adjudications are reported, often the details of the complaint are too limited (although sometimes this is for good reasons of maintaining privacy) the reasoning behind the PCC’s decision is also often too limited. One thing the AJE should be pressing whatever regulator we finally get, is more resolve to adjudicate all but the most simple of cases and more detailed reporting on the reasons for adjudication decisions. This would provide far more detailed tools for us to use in ethics seminars and as examples alongside the work students are doing in their practice modules. We should be doing all we can to avoid a divide between theory and practice that would allow students to assume one can be more easily ignored or even discarded.

Finally in our armoury for training and educating the next generation there is assessment. Most of us test and assess learning from our law and ethics modules in some form, but there is always a risk of ghettoising the assessment of ethics and good practice to the ethics module. We should ensure that our practice modules also test good professional practice alongside the practice skills those modules are designed to foster. We need to make it clear to students that the ability to spot a good story and present it in a form that commands attention are important skills, but they also require an ethical approach and consideration of the rights of individuals.

The Leveson inquiry may have covered 16 months and 2000 pages, and Leveson may not have concentrated the full force of his analysis on academe telling the inquiry: “I have not sought to look at the adequacy of the training available to, or provided to, journalists.” But his words do have resonance for us and we do have our own part to play in improving the standards of press journalism.

The politics of Leveson – where are we now?

What a script! Political in-fighting, revolts within parties, criminal behaviour, late night deals over pepperoni pizza and Haribo, washed down with political threats and a final dash of sexual intrigue. You could make it up, but you don’t need to; once again the great British press has kept you shocked, scandalised and entertained all at once but this time about its own inside dealings.

Leveson 2: The Empire Strikes Back is now in full swing. The initial and swift rejection of Ofcom as a recognition panel led to weeks of relative silence as the publishers and their editors tried to swing deals behind the scenes that would launch a regulator partway between the present PCC and the Leveson recommendations and probably (judging on past performance) picking up the worst of both.

With proposals for statutory underpinning finding little favour with the Conservative part of the coalition government and Labour and Lib-Dems unwilling to risk the press wrath by going it alone, a Royal Charter has become regulatory weapon of choice. This is surprising bearing in mind that Charters are controlled by the Privy Council (essentially the Government as the Queen is advised by her ministers) rather than an elected parliament but then these are strange times. Initially the Tory element of the government wanted a Royal Charter that was not really worth the upset it was bound to cause. It would not have satisfied those who want strong regulation, for the very good reason that it would not have offered any, and would not have satisfied those who didn’t want regulation for fear it might, not that this has prevented its supporters, some of the key national publishers from springing it as a last minute counter-attack against parliament’s all-party version.

It’s worth remembering there are three main groups in this debate. There are those (ac- tually a very small number and not really organised) who don’t believe in any form of regulation preferring instead a rumbumptious and irreverent press determined to prick the pomposities of politicians. That’s fine in its way, and several magazines and websites do it well but it is not the style of mainstream of news-led journalism that concerns most people as Leveson identified when he argued that internet bloggers and websites should be allowed a free hand:

The internet does not claim to operate by any particular ethical standards, still less high ones. Some have called it a ‘wild west’ but I would prefer to use the term ‘ethical vacuum’. This is not to say for one moment that everything on the internet is therefore unethical. That would be a gross mischaracterisation of the work of very many bloggers and websites which should rightly and fairly be characterised as valuable and professional. The point I am making is a more modest one, namely that the internet does not claim to operate by express ethical standards, so that bloggers and others may, if they choose, act with impunity. The press, on the other hand, does claim to operate by and adhere to an ethical code of conduct.” (Leveson 2012: 737-8).

This leads us to the second group, which tends to include all the publishers. These believe there should be some form of regulation but get very nervous when the system suggested is not completely or largely under their control – hence their last minute charter snub to democratic government.

Then there is the third group who believe there should be regulation, that it should be as light touch as possible whilst still having sufficient teeth to curb the worst excesses of the industry.

It is this third group that is by far the largest and is certainly the most numerous in parliament. For this reason we saw the fascinating developments in the final days before the Easter recess with the Lords amending any Bill they could in the run up to the end of the parliament to include reference to a regulator. This put the Government on the spot, un-willing to present Bills now amended in a way they couldn’t support for the entirely justified fear they would be passed. In the end the Government in a literal 11th hour meeting with the opposition to draw up a Royal Charter that no-one really welcomed but all could finally agree to, taking them into parliament united against a press, which, despite pressurising Letwin and Cameron to opt for a Charter, was furiously outraged that parliament had agreed to one of their own. Not to be outdone, the Press then also produced a charter and so, like buses, you wait months for a one to arrive and then two come along at once.

So what do we get from a Charter? There has been minimal coverage about parliament’s charter in much of the press with some being downright duplicitous about it. A Royal Charter is a way of making group of people a legal entity. The other way of incorporating groups is by statute. Companies are incorporated under the appropriate Act of Parliament, for instance, while most Universities are covered by a Royal Charter.

This Charter (which has a safety clause preventing government from changing its terms without a two-thirds majority in parliament) sets up a recognition panel whose job it is to approve any regulator seeking to protect press freedom and to uphold press standards whilst allowing its members to benefit from protection against the costs and exemplary damages outlined in section 29 of the Crime and Courts Bill now just waiting a date for royal Assent.

The Recognition Panel, which the Charter says must be independent of the press and politicians, can offer recognition to any regulator that:

  • Has an independent board with no serving editors or MPs and a majority independent of the press but including sufficient with experience (former editors or journalism academics)
  • Offers advice to the public;
  • Provides guidance on the public interest;
  • Establishes a whistleblowing hotline for journalists;
  • Power to hear complaints about breaches of the standards code free of charge from those directly affected or from third party complainants concerning accuracy or where there is a public interest in the board considering a complaint from a representative group;
  • Power to direct nature, extent and placement of corrections;
  • Power to investigate;
  • Power to impose sanctions including fines of up to 1% of turnover of max £1m and power to instruct correction or apology. No power to award compensation;
  • Provide inexpensive arbitral process for civil legal claims that is free for complainants to use. Each party should bear its own costs.Its members should have appropriate internal governance process including adequate and speedy complaints handling, and membership open to all publishers with the possibility of membership on different terms for different types of publisher.The regulator (nor the Recognition Panel) would NOT have the power to prevent publication at any time.
  • Any recognised regulator should have a standards code that must take into account:
  • Freedom of speech;
  • Interests of the public;
  • confidential sources of information and rights of individuals;
  • Conduct, especially of other people in process of obtaining material;
  • Respect for privacy unless public interest defence;
  • Accuracy and need to avoid misrepresentation.The Recognition panel will be bound to report regularly to Parliament and should particularly report if the regulator does not cover a significant section of the press. The clear implication being that if a regulator lost one of the nationals as a member, parliament might act.The key differences in the Publishers’ Charter is the level of control the publishers keep to veto members of the panel, making the arbitration system optional (although the Crime and Courts Bill requires one), the exclusion of journalists from the Code Committee and the exclusion of a whistleblowing hotline for journalists forced to behave unethically.

    So what would happen if there was no regulator? The Crime and Courts Bill, is presently going through parliament and has been finally agreed, and is waiting only for a date for royal assent. This will introduce a scheme of exemplary damages for “relevant publishers” who are not members of a recognised self-regulatory body.

    If the defendant was not a member of an approved regulator at the time when the claim was commenced the court must also award costs against the defendant unless the issues raised by the claim could not have been resolved by using the arbitration scheme of the approved regulator.

    There is much concern amongst bloggers and others about their risk of costs and exemplary damages under the Crime and Courts Bill. The Crime and Courts Bill does allow for costs and exemplary damages but it is important to get these in perspective as exemplary damages could only be applied if the defendant:

  • showed ‘a deliberate or reckless disregard of an outrageous nature for the claimant’s rights’;
  • the newspaper deserved to be punished;
  • and other remedies would not be adequate.This is a pretty high threshold. However, it is the costs aspect that most concerns small publishers. Bloggers and small scale websites may well be able to claim it would unreasonable to expect them to join a regulator, which gives some protection in the Bill and

they could quote Leveson in their defence:

In contrast, the internet does not function on this basis at all. 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. There is none of the notional imprimatur or kitemark which comes from being the publisher of a respected broadsheet or, in its different style, an equally respected mass circulation tabloid. (Ibid. 736-737)

Costs can only be awarded under the Crime and Courts Bill if the defendant is a ‘relevant publisher’ and was not at the time a member of an approved regulator.

Groups exempt from being a relevant publisher include:

  • The BBC;
  • Sianel Pedwar Cymru;
  • Licensed broadcasters publishing news-related material; special interest titles such as those relating to a particular pastime, hobby, trade, business, industry or profession, that only contains news-related material on an incidental basis that is relevant to the main content of the title;
  • Scientific or academic journals;
  • Public bodies and charities;
  • Company news publications and book publishers.We are all poised now with bated breath to see what comes next. Which Charter will be signed off by the Queen; parliament’s representing the will of the electorate or the publishers’, representing the will of, well, the publishers? Will the publishers set up a regulator and apply for recognised status, and if so, under which Charter or will they drop any attempt at regulation and take their chances with the Crime and Courts Bill? Will the regional press or magazines split off and form their own regulator leaving the nationals to deal with their own demons? Since the Bill without a regulator risks the costs being levied against a publisher for any civil action my guess is that Lord Hunt will soon have a short but unenthusiastic queue outside the PCC HQ seeking to join a new regulator and we will eventually have a code and body to explain to our students.