Index debates life after Leveson at the Frontline Club

It was a packed house last night for our event at the Frontline Club debating life after the Leveson Inquiry, which is set to make recommendations for regulation of the British press this autumn.

Panellists Brian Cathcart (Kingston University and Hacked Off), David Aaronovitch (Times), Helen Lewis (New Statesman) and Angela Phillips (Goldsmiths and the Coordinating Committee for Media Reform) — chaired by Jonathan Dimbleby — discussed what they both believed and hoped Leveson would hold for the future.

Phillips argued that the level of collusion between the press, politicians and police was the “shocking” factor, adding that Leveson must examine media ownership to prevent future abuses. The issue — which has been raised of late as hearings come to a close — is outside the judge’s broad terms of reference, with Aaronovitch questioning how diversity would be ensured were caps to be brought in.

On public interest, Cathcart repeated his call for a strong public interest defence to protect responsible journalism, with Phillips matching it with a statutory right of reply. As for ethics, Aaronovitch toyed with the idea of a “bulked-up” self-regulatory system with ethical underpinning, suggesting a modified version of the BBC’s guidelines and penalties model.

Lewis, meanwhile, implored Leveson address the reality that the British press is now competing in a global market of news websites and papers alike. “What the internet has done is terrifying because you can see how well each piece of content has done,” Lewis said, adding that we needed to “get over the idea that blogs and Twitter are the Wild West”.

This has not been the first time Leveson has been nudged to examine the pressures brought on by the web, with MailOnline editor Martin Clarke telling him in May that the Inquiry was obsessing with the “last war” of print in trying to solve the press puzzle. It was left to Aaronovitch last night to muse: “we are locking the stable door after horse has died.”

Indeed, as several audience members noted, there was perhaps more confusion after than before the debate. Such is the array of issues Leveson himself has to tackle this summer as he sits down to pen his report.

Can’t say I envy him the task.

The debate was streamed live, and you can watch it in full below:

PAST EVENT: 19 July: What will Lord Justice Leveson conclude about the future of the British press?

Date: Thursday 19 July
Time: 7-8.30pm
Venue: Frontline club, 13 Norfolk Place, London W2 1QJ
Tickets: Book here

It has been a year since the Prime Minister announced an inquiry examining the culture, practices and ethics of the media in light of the phone-hacking scandal. Since then we have heard from journalists, editors, proprietors, politicians and victims of phone-hacking. As hearings come to a close and Lord Justice Leveson begins to compile his report, join Frontline and Index on Censorship for a panel discussion, followed by Q&A on what the Inquiry has learned and what it should achieve.

Will new regulation damage the free press? How should public interest be defined? Can we ensure protection for sources and whistleblowers? How should relationships between journalists, proprietors, politicians and police be conducted in the future?

Panel includes:

David Aaronovitch, writer, broadcaster, commentator and regular columnist for The Times. He is author of Voodoo Histories: The role of Conspiracy Theory in Modern History and Paddling to Jerusalem: An Aquatic Tour of Our Small Country. Twitter: @DAaronovitch

Brian Cathcart, professor of journalism at Kingston University London and founder of the Hacked Off campaign. He served as specialist adviser to the commons media select committee in 2008-10. He was a journalist at Reuters, the Independent and the New Statesman, and has written books about the murders of Stephen Lawrence and Jill Dando, as well as on the history of nuclear science. Twitter: @BrianCathcart

Helen Lewis, deputy editor at the New Statesman. As well as commissioning and editing, she writes for the NS magazine and blogs for its website, with favoured topics including comedy, feminism, politics and computer games. She has also written forEdge magazine, the StylistSquare Meal and the Guardian; she reviews the papers on Sky News and has appeared on the Today programme, Woman’s Hour and The Daily Politics. Twitter:@helenlewis

Angela Phillips, senior lecturer in journalism at Goldsmiths College, author of Good Writing for Journalists and co-author of Changing Journalism. She has been a journalist for over 30 years, starting in the alternative press of the 1970s and moving on to work for national newspapers, magazines, television and radio (the BBC and independents). She is also the chair of the Ethics Committee of the Coordinating Committee for Media Reform and gave evidence to the Leveson inquiry on Friday 13 July, 2012. Twitter: @AngelaELL

You can read our policy note on the key challenges for the Leveson Inquiry below:
Freedom of the Press, Governance and Press Standards: Key Challenges for the Leveson Inquiry

Ethics training not the issue, academics tell Leveson Inquiry

A group of academics told the Leveson Inquiry today that there is no lack of ethics training for students on journalism programmes, and that the issue to address is newsroom culture.

Professor Steven Barnett, of the University of Westminster, said ethics were like a “stick of rock” running through modules taught. Brian Cathcart of Kingston University (and Index on Censorship blogger) added that, in offering ethics training, he and his colleagues sought to produce “not just journalists but reflective journalists who think about what they’re doing.”

Cathcart, also founder of the Hacked Off campaign, added that we’ve “come a long way”, noting he received no ethical training at the start of his career.

Head of journalism at City University, Professor George Brock, added that the key issue was the newsroom culture, which he said determined behaviour. Barnett added that it is impossible to teach someone how to deal with ethical problems on national tabloids. “It is a matter of individual moral courage,” he said.

Angela Phillips, of Goldsmith’s College, noted that many young graduates want to work for more ethical papers but get “trapped” due to higher salaries offered by redtops.

Lord Justice Leveson was keen to reiterate he was “not on a witch-hunt”, adding that he was “anxious to find out what has gone wrong in an industry in which there is an enormous amount that goes absolutely right.” Brunel University’s Julian Petley (also an Index on Censorship contributor), while noting that the term tabloid should not be a “dirty word”, was eager to differentiate between the redtops and broadsheets. He suggested it was time that “editors of ethical papers stop making common cause with editors of papers that have brought this Inquiry into being”, adding later that the Daily Mail “bullies” the government. Cardiff University’s Ian Hargreaves replied, “nice liberal broadsheets can be bullies as well.”

Both Petley and Phillips argued journalistic standards could be improved by a statutory right of reply and for offending newspapers to print adjudications.

Brock spoke in favour of rewriting privacy legislation, arguing that balancing Article 8 and Article 10 of the Human Rights Act had “not worked well”. He advocated legislation that protects private life while not chilling solid journalism, and called for a greater focus on public interest defences.

There was a consensus that the Press Complaints Commission needed reform, with Hargreaves arguing that robust regulation does “not come in the thickness of the armour, but in the cunningness of design.” Petley advocated a new regulatory process with a “limited” statutory backdrop and more investigatory powers, while Barnett suggested those who choose not to sign up to a new, independent self-regulatory system should pay VAT.

Petley added later that “journalism rarely recognises its own power”, while Cathcart and Barnett argued that the press had not been “caught up in the move towards greater accountability.”

“Public trust in journalism has been damaged,” Cathcart said, adding that any remedy “must be seen to be radical.”

The Inquiry continues tomorrow with evidence from former Information Commissioner Richard Thomas.

Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson.