The Media in the Press 24.2.10

Second-year Journalism student, Alex McConnell, of Strathclyde University, takes a look at the media stories making it in to today’s papers…

While everyone else is sharpening their pitchforks for Ashley Cole, a report released by MPs today has huge ramifications for media organisations and for the future of the British Press as a whole…

MPs have delivered a damning verdict to media giant, News International, after a parliamentary report released today accuses the publisher of ‘collective amnesia’ and accuses senior executives of concealing the truth about the full extent of illegal phone hacking by News of the World journalists.

‘Amnesia, Obfuscation and Hush Money – MPs Verdict on Tabloid’ was The Guardian’s front page headline today as the Culture, Media and Select Committee 167-page report, Press Standards, Privacy and Libel,  damned the conduct of the tabloid saying its crimes “went to the heart of the British establishment” and that the tabloid hacked phones on an “on a near industrial scale” – The Guardian, pages 1,2,4-7. 

The MPs' inquiry condemned the paper's own enquiry into the scandal, saying it was “far from ‘full’ or ‘rigorous’”, and that it was inconceivable that the paper's former royal editor, Clive Goodman, was a 'rogue reporter' acting alone. Goodman was jailed three years ago, alongside private investigator, Glenn Mulclaire, for illegally obtaining messages from mobile phones belong to members of the royal household, but there was no further investigation by the paper into others who may have also been involved in phone hacking.

Other conclusions drawn from the report, found that there was a ‘failure of self-regulation’ by the Press Complaints Commission, which published its inquiry in November last ear, and “effectively exonerated the News of the World” despite fresh revelations from The Guardian, four months previously, that more than one journalist was involved in illegal phone tapping. 

There was also strong criticism about the “feeble” response of the Metropolitan police investigating “what was clearly widespread illegal activity”. John Whittingdale MP, the chair of the committee, said that the episode had done “substantial damage” to the newspaper industry as a whole.

News International responded to the report by accusing the House of Commons committee of bias and that certain members of the committee, including MP, Paul Farrelly, a former Guardian journalist, were pursuing a party-political agenda and resorting to “innuendo, unwarranted interference and exaggeration” – The Independent, pages 6 -7, The Times, page 15.

Calling the PCC “toothless” in their handling of libel cases and press regulation, the committee suggests that the watchdog should be given greater powers, including the right to place financial penalties on publications breaching the PCC code of conduct, and its name be changed to the Press Complaints and Standards Commission “reflecting its role as a regulator, not just a complaints handling service” – The Independent, page 7.

Regarding issues of privacy, the committee says that newspapers and broadcasters run the risk of increased damages in privacy actions if they fail to give people prior notification before a story is released, but rejects any changes to the law, concluding that matters relating to privacy “should continue to be determined according to common law” – The Guardian, page 6.

The report has also identified a number of failings with English libel law and that the threat and cost of libel actions was deterring investigative journalism, something Mr Whittingdale described as a “matter of serious concern”. 

The report recommends a reduction in the cost of libel actions and the balance has been “tipped too far” in favour of those bringing action forward – The Times, page 15. The committee was also highly critical of the use of “super injunctions” and although it offered no clear recommendation for reform, it strongly urged them to be limited as far as possible. Although a number of radical reforms have been drawn up, Mr Whittingdale did say that it was “essential “ that newspapers be able to report on events, public figures, and institutions but that they must be seen to “uphold certain standards, to be mindful of those who are written about and, as far as possible, be accurate in what they report”.