Monday, 3 December 2012

Local Press must be Responsible

As someone who engages with the press I know that the local media do a great job - under difficult and pressured circumstances from people like me sometimes to be fair - to report the news and I know many are respected for their impartiality and ability to reflect both sides of any debate sensibly and rationally.

Reading the editorial today in the Medway Messenger am deeply concerned that local paper is not reflecting, fairly, the public divergence of opinion including residents across Medway. Some of whom believe rightly that Leveson, as an independent judge, came up with some very reasoned and considered proposals.  Proposals which sought redress for the public, and more importantly those who have suffered because of media intrusion.

Whilst many of the public may not have read the 2,000 and odd pages of the report; many trust that Leveson came up with his proposals after sitting through all the evidence presented to him and do believe that it is time for action. 

You may be thinking that a partisan blogger like me would say that wouldn't I because that is the Labour party position; but then a political party incurring the wrath of most of the press is not exactly good politics but there are cases though when a responsible party of government has to put aside and eschew populism and step up.

It is also worth reminding that Leveson was independent of party politics and his conclusions were independent.

The responsibility of a good paper - local or not - is to fairly and rationally consider the proposals and state its position with reason. The local paper has in recent weeks presented news with a clear anti-Leveson slant and not sought to press the public or its readership on its views. 

It has congratulated the powerful who agree with its position whilst seeking little comment, at least locally from civil society and opposition parties, from those that do not. 

It was honest today for the editor to print a clear KM position. It was right because it had been suspected for weeks in the way news had been reported; but its level of vitriol to any who seek any form of underpinning was in my mind over-exaggerated to put it mildly.

With all polling pointing to a clear caucus in favour of independent statutory underpinning – the Messenger are presenting, dangerously for its circulation, good people as extremist parodies and characters. I also suspect the editor has been leaned on by not only industry allies but also his leadership who also pay the bills; but that of course isn't mentioned. Do we really have a free press when press barons have zealous control over editorial positions? Discuss.

Statutory underpinning will not result in state control, and will not end the free press, but will codify the codes of conduct and structures for redress. It has worked without leading to imposition in other countries - many long-standing democracies - that utilize the system. Without underpinning the public know that the system will not change and history will repeat itself as it has done time and time again.

Since 1947, there have been three Royal Commissions, two reports by Sir David Calcutt in the early 1990s and countless select committee reports. On each occasion, the press was exhorted to reform itself. It failed to do so until the last moment, and even then, the reforms were not good enough. The lock in at the Last Chance Saloon has lasted for 65 years.

When Calcutt reported in 1990, it gave the press 18 months to show the new Press Complaints Commission could work. Home Secretary David Waddington promised statutory press complaints commission would be set up if Calcutt’s conditions were not met. But in 1993, when the second Calcutt report said the PCC had failed and a statutory body was needed, the Government did nothing.

I appreciate me penning this piece means I perhaps lose favour with the vested interests but then if elected, I believe people will respect the fact I can step up and independently represent views of the public.

The KM Group has a responsibility to the public to be pluralistic and fair minded. Local coverage of Leveson should not just have been a lobby; and for that it has forfeited trust on the part of its readers and that damages those journalists who do work day-in, day-out in seeking both sides of every story.


  1. Fine, so 'local press must be responsible', but do you actually want Tristan?

    Do you think Leveson's recommendations should be followed through with?

    Plus, do you views really represent the views of the public, or just your left of centre chums?

    Your article fails to give any definitive answers of a way forward. Would you prefer a strong independent press regulatory supported by the press, but no legislation. Or a independent press regulatory backed up statutory regulation?

    Rather than penning a article that seeks favour with the trendy 'Hacked Off' and using generic hyperbole; tells what you think should practically happen.



  2. This is a very fair point Anon; and a debate that should be in the local press.

    I do feel; as I have stated on my website; that the independent Leveson proposals are reasoned and sensible and should be implemented in full. I am open to hearing about ideas about whether OFCOM or another body should be the final stop point but I am clear statutory underpinning is needed.

    Many Conservative MPs also accept this as well so I'm not sure this is a lefty agenda as you so suggest and nor was Leveson a Partisan patsy. I also point to YouGov polls which highlight the public expect change and indeed broadly support Leveson.

    The notion that you can have an independent regulator without underpinning is not a solution. Underpinning is not 'regulation'; it is providing a framework for independence which is accountable to others outside of the media circle which is not subject to changes in the whims of the editors (who change semi-often). It stops those in the industry undue influence to change and skew priorities and set the tone for complaints about themselves.