Jenkins and Greenslade spar on accreditation proposal to improve Press standards

A PROPOSAL to improve journalism standards from a former head of news and current affairs at BBC Scotland, Blair Jenkins, has resulted in some gentle sparring with the media pundit, Roy Greenslade.

Says Jenkins – in a report published earlier this week by ‘policy influencers’, Carnegie UK Trust – a new regulatory framework for the press is needed, but one that is independent of both government and the newspaper industry.

As he echoes in an op ed on allmediascotland, one of his suggestions concerns incentivising ‘good behaviour’ with accreditation to cover events.

He writes: “One strong incentive – both a carrot and a stick – could be based on the already existing conventions around press accreditation and recognition, the arrangements which give journalists privileged access and special facilities at important places and events.

“The many benefits of accreditation could be the key incentive that is required to persuade newspapers to sign up for a new voluntary system of independent regulation. If organisations decide not to participate, they are self-identifying as not being serious news sources and therefore not eligible for those benefits. They are still free to publish what they like, subject to the laws of the land, but they are not given the privileges and access of responsible news media. This strikes a new balance between benefits and obligations and turns a voluntary act of registration into a commercial imperative.”

But Greenslade, in his regular blog for The Guardian, disagrees. The blog is headed, ‘Another day, another idea to regulate the press – but this one won’t work’.

He writes: “First off, in the internet age, there are thousands of news sources available online. Who needs an official pass?

“Second, in the instances he gives, there are always ways around official accreditation. Losing the right to a Westminster press gallery pass is no big deal nowadays (and, anyway, it goes against the grain to restrict parliamentary coverage to accredited hacks).

“As for sporting events, access is granted by individual bodies or venues. I can’t see every organisation agreeing to institute bans on certain ‘unaccredited journalists’.

“As for the royal rota, so what? It is already narrowly restricted and no-one seems to care over much.

“Third, accreditation smacks of licensing. Jenkins’s report talks about ‘bona fide news media’ needing ‘to qualify for acceptance’ with host organisations. That’s a form of licensing too.

“Fourth, there are many journalists, very good ones with high ethical standards, who scorn the notion of having privileged access, seeing it as antithetical to proper non-diary, non-PR-organised journalism.”

But Jenkins replies, saying: “… recognised news media get access to events that are closed to the public, they get advance copies of significant reports, they get often-subsidised facilities at parliamentary and other public venues, they get thousands of press officers all over the country paid to answer their questions promptly and accurately. The public investment in all of this is huge, because it is rightly felt that journalism is important to a well-informed and healthy democracy.

“This privileged club already exists with what is effectively informal licensing through the issuing of press passes and the accreditation requirements of various public and private bodies. But unlike most clubs, there are very few duties or obligations in return for the benefits and a new balance has to be struck.

“Once established, a new independent regulator can ask for registration by all those news suppliers who wish to be acknowledged as serious and principled organisations. Participating media can display a recognised standards mark on their various outlets.

“What do we gain from this idea? It provides a clear link between benefits and obligations for serious news organisations. It provides a commercial imperative – a market incentive, if you like – for participation. It means that press regulation remains voluntary rather than statutory. It does nothing that interferes with editorial freedom.

“Very importantly, it lets the public know the nature and status of what they are looking at – no standards label, then no guarantee of standards. It includes those websites and digital services that provide news content and can also include future forms of media as they evolve. It is your purpose that determines membership, not your platform.

“And it is society that sets the standards for news media, not governments or politicians. Roy asks why sporting bodies should pay any attention. Turn the question around. Why would Manchester United open up their news conferences and make their players available to supposed news suppliers who won’t accept a code of ethical and editorial standards? Why would anyone?”