Future of journalism

The main jobs of the Inquiry were to recommend a new regulatory system and suggest how problems with media should be dealt with in future. In other words, though it gathered evidence about the past, it did so mainly to inform its proposals for the future.

In 2011-2012, printed newspapers still had a central role in public debate and much of the evidence gathered related to print, but witnesses frequently stressed the growing importance of online and the Recommendations were meant to apply to online news publishers as much as to print.

The Inquiry gave some consideration to the economic future of journalism, hearing evidence on national and global competition pressures, the problems of regional and local news production and the prospects for investigative journalism. Evidence was also gathered on the training of journalists.

Economics of journalism

Was the press under unprecedented financial pressure and did this make unethical and illegal conduct more likely to occur? Did newspapers have the time and the resources to check their stories properly? And were the competitive pressures so great that standards of behaviour were suffering in consequence? These questions, in various forms, arose on a number of occasions at the Inquiry. Declining print sales and the challenges involved in making money from news published online were considered, as were shrinking newsrooms and the effects of competition.

See the submissions and evidence of representatives of the National Union of Journalists, Martin Clarke, Peter Hill, Media Standards Trust, Google, Facebook and Richard Peppiatt. The Report addressed these issues in Volume 1, from Page 93.

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Journalism education

The Inquiry gathered a great deal of written evidence about the teaching of journalism ethics at universities and under the auspices of the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ). The material relating to universities, including in several cases detailed teaching programmes, can be found in evidence submitted in the names of the universities or of particular academics.

The oral evidence on the subject was less full, and came notably from Professor James Curran, Professor Angela Phillips, Professor George Brock, Professor Brian Cathcart, Professor Steven Barnett and Professor Chris Frost. It was also discussed at a hearing involving Professor Ian Hargreaves, Dr Daithi Mac Sithigh and Professor Julian Petley. The Inquiry made no Recommendations in relation to journalism training and education.

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Investigative journalism

This term was used frequently at the Inquiry, generally to refer to public-interest journalistic inquiry requiring significantly more time and resources than run-of-the-mill reporting. There were suggestions that it was under threat because of financial pressures on news publishers, and also that it could be constrained by some forms of regulation.

At the time of the Inquiry, the state and future of investigative journalism had been the subject of a recent report by the House of Lords Communications Committee (see here).

The Centre for Investigative Journalism made a submission on possible threats from regulation, and the Inquiry heard evidence from practitioners and experts such as David Leigh, Sir Harold Evans, Andrew Penman, Katharine Quarmby and Stephen Wright.

Evidence to the Inquiry revealed differences of view as to what constituted legitimate investigative journalism. See, for example, the evidence of Mazher Mahmood (the 'Fake Sheikh'), Paddy French and Baroness Onora O'Neill, and also of the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham. The Report commented on the nature of investigative reporting at Part F, Chapter 2, Section 2.20.

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Regulation online

The Inquiry often heard about, and the judge sometimes mentioned, the particular challenges of regulation online, though it was normal for witnesses and others was to refer to all non-broadcast journalism as ‘the press’.

Some evidence argued or assumed that online journalism could not be effectively regulated because it so readily crossed national borders, and others pointed to the ease with which small outfits or sole operators could publish and disseminate material. To some this freedom was a vital advance for humanity; to others it created a Wild West of unaccountable publication, open to wholesale exploitation.

The Inquiry had no remit to address these conflicts directly, and its primary concerns related to companies that were at that time still dominated by their print cultures, yet there were frequent enough reminders of the need to take account of a different, online future.

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Data theft and data journalism

This was a leading theme of the Inquiry, the subject of Part H of the Report and of 18 Recommendations.

The Operation Motorman affair, though not investigated in detail in Part 1 of the Inquiry (because criminality was a matter for Part 2), left no doubt that the protections in place for the private data of citizens were inadequate. Private investigators employed by almost all the national press had plundered personal data on an industrial scale, and the investigation of this by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) prompted two reports, What Price Privacy? and What Price Privacy Now?. The Inquiry looked closely at the consequences of those reports.

Much of the relevant evidence was supplied by the ICO and by its officers, past and present, most notably the Commissioner of the time, Christopher Graham, and his predecessor, Richard Thomas. Representatives of the PCC, notably Stephen Abell, were questioned about their responses to the two reports. Newspaper executives such as Peter Wright and Rebekah Brooks also supplied evidence.

Focusing on necessary reforms, the Inquiry proceedings highlighted questions of how far journalists should enjoy special privileges under data protection legislation, what powers of prosecution the ICO should have, what guidance the press industry needed, and the quality of relevant governance in the industry.

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The Internet

Though its Terms of Reference did not refer directly to the internet, the Inquiry took the view from the outset that 'the press' meant 'newspapers whether printed or online' (see Report, Part A, Chapter 2, Section 1.7) and that in consequence its Recommendations were intended to apply to news publishing online (where it was not already regulated by another body).

Chapter 3 of the Report includes reviews of online publishing not only by newspaper publishers but also by aggregators, bloggers, web-based publishers and social media. Part F, Chapter 7, Section 3 challenges arguments put forward in some evidence that any UK regulatory regime would be made irrelevant by the internet. In Part K, Chapter 1, Section 1, the draft criteria for future regulation specified that 'it must be durable and sufficiently flexible for future markets and technology'.

Evidence from Enders Analysis and Paul Dacre considered the competitive pressures on newspapers arising from the internet, while Martin Clarke and Alan Rusbridger discussed newspaper internet activity. Paul Staines, Camilla Wright and David Allen Green offered the perspectives of bloggers.

Google submitted evidence and its legal director Daphne Keller testified, as did Facebook's Richard Allen, both mainly looking at legal matters.

The New Zealand Law Commission submitted a detailed 2012 report entitled 'The News Media meets New Media' (see here).

In Appendix 4 of the Report, Sections 3.187 to 3.194 examine the application of defamation law to the internet.

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Understand all the key topics and the context behind the Inquiry's findings

Journalism & society
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Future of journalism
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Background & history
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Subsequent developments
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Ethics & abuses
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