Thursday, 3 May 2012

Press standards: Why not empower the reporters?

Roy Greenslade, Peter Oborne and Ben Fenton at the Frontline Club

It is expected that Lord Justice Leveson will recommend beefed up regulation of the press, underpinned by some form of statutory legislation, when his inquiry into standards is completed.

But could he sweeten the pill by empowering reporters and offering them protection from unscrupulous and bullying newsdesks by recommending that they are offered protection as whistleblowers if they speak out against unethical journalism?

The NUJ has long argued that a "conscience clause" should be inserted in journalists' contracts which would stop them from being unfairly sacked for refusing to do unethical journalism, and raised the matter in its evidence to Leveson.

Ben Fenton, of the Financial Times, speaking in a discussion on the Leveson Inquiry at the Frontline Club last night, claimed: "The difference between a good newspaper and a bad newspaper is that on a good newspaper the reporter tells the newsdesk what the story is and on a bad newspaper it is the other way around."

He said: "I believe that if there was a democratic voice within newspapers, if reporters were allowed in some way to anonymously whistleblow on their editors and newsdesks we would solve a lot of problems we've had in newspaper journalism over the past 50 years."

Guardian media commentator Roy Greenslade, also speaking at the Frontline debate, gave his full backing to the NUJ's idea of a conscience clause based on the union's Code of Conduct, saying it would enable journalists to stand up to their newsdesks.

He said the union had come up with its code in the 1960s and it had taken the newspaper industry until 1991 to draw up the Editors' Code of Practice. "We had the ethics but no-one took it up," Greenslade said.

Thais Portilho-Shrimpton, a journalist and co-ordinator of the Hacked Off campaign, said she would like to see a change in culture and cub reporters joining a national newsroom "without being told to leave their ethics at the door."

As well as Leveson, the discussion centred on the select committee report which concluded this week that Rupert Murdoch was "unfit" to run a major international company.

The Telegraph's chief political correspondent Peter Oborne, who has accused David Cameron of being "in the sewer" because of his News International friends, enthused: "This is the most glorious moment in my adult life."

Political blogger Paul Staines, aka Guido Fawkes, was a tad more cynical claiming that 20 years after Lord Justice Leveson completes his inquiry there will be another judge led investigation into the power of the press.

He said all politicians were afraid of the press and noted: "Since the News of the World closed no MPs have had an affair."

Pic: Jon Slattery

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