Law, Justice and Journalism

Archive for February, 2012|Monthly archive page

Freedom of expression and mass media technologies

In Journalism, Law on February 21, 2012 at 7:05 pm

By Professor Lorna Woods

Two months into 2012 and it seems that last year’s Arab Spring has given the impetus to some international bodies to look at mechanisms to facilitate the free flow of information through mass communications media.

The Internet is the example that leaps readily to mind and indeed, the EU Commission revealed that the ICT sector was one of three selected for the development of sector specific human rights guidance aimed at companies in the sector, so as to support corporate social responsibility.

Of course, given the nature of the ICT sector, the development of these guidelines should also support the Commission’s ‘No Disconnect’ strategy, announced by Neelie Kroes just before Christmas.

Presumably the ‘No Disconnect’ Strategy should apply without it discrimination. It was, however, specifically based on a reaction to the events of the ‘Arab Spring’, and the Commission Communication “A Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity with the Southern Mediterranean” (COM (2011) 200).

A slightly less obvious example is that of satellite broadcasting.  Satellite broadcasting is regulated in the international sphere via the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), limiting and coordinating the freedom of signatory states in the field of use of radio frequency and orbiting satellites.  A decision was taken at this year’s ITU World Radio Communications Conference (WRC-12) to allow signatory states to take action when they discover that other states have deliberately interfered with satellite transmissions, ie jamming them.  One hundred and sixty five of the ITU’s 193 members, agreed to the amendment of Article 15.2 of the ITU regulations so as to allow signatory states make take ‘necessary actions’.

House of Lords report: analysis

In Journalism on February 19, 2012 at 9:59 am

By Jamie Thunder

Thursday’s House of Lords Communications Committee report does not solve the question of how to fund investigative journalism. But then, no-one really expected it to.

It would be harsh to criticise the good Lords for not finding a solution for the news media’s financial difficulties (and remember, despite some notable exceptions the future of investigative journalism is still largely coupled to the fate of the wider industry). They do, however, suggest some ways to encourage investigations.

Their main concrete suggestion is to set up an investigative fund, which would take money from Ofcom fines (and the PCC’s successor if it has the power to fine) and redistribute that to journalists and organisations to do investigations.

This is on the face of it rather attractive. By punishing bad journalism, we can support the good, and insulate it slightly from the economic crisis that threatens news organisation.

Over at the Guardian, however, Roy Greenslade isn’t impressed:

[I]f tax breaks or other forms of financial support are to be granted through the state, the money should be used for proper journalistic enterprise.

If so, there would need to be oversight on how publishers were spending their resources.

How bizarre this all sounds. The state would need to monitor a “free press” (!) to ensure that the free press was holding the organs of the state to account because the free press cannot be trusted to invest in investigative journalism that does just that.

I’ve asked Ofcom how much they collected in fines for breaching the Broadcasting Code in 2010/11, and will update this post once they reply. This is my main problem with the proposal: I’m not sure it would make much difference. In some cases Ofcom imposes huge fines, but these are rare, and the figure would presumably fluctuate greatly from year to year.

But I don’t agree with Roy that the idea is bizarre. The fund could be run independently from the state, and rather than require any onerous monitoring it could be used to fund an investigative reporter for a period of time or to look into a particular story/area.

It’s not perfect: it would favour organisations with dedicated investigative reporters rather than daily reporters who hit on a story worth pursuing, and few journalists would be happy to disclose the area they want to investigate. But it’s worth serious consideration.

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Media fines should support investigative journalism, say Lords

In Journalism on February 17, 2012 at 9:13 pm

By Jamie Thunder

Fines on the media for breaching industry codes should be put into an ‘investigative journalism fund’ to support public interest journalism, the House of Lords Communications Committee has recommended.

The Committee today released its report into the future of investigative journalism, arguing that the practice is a “vital constituent of the UK’s system of democratic governance and accountability”.

It said that the “profound” crisis caused by falls in advertising and sales revenue due to the recession and competition from the internet threatened investigative journalism, and that the government should “think creatively” about ways to help journalism through a “difficult” time.

These could include reforming charity law to allow investigative journalism organisations to gain charitable status, or redistributing money collected by Ofcom and any successor to the Press Complaints Commission with the power to fine.

The peers also said lawmakers should “consider” including a public interest defence in any future legislation, but stopped short of suggesting a general statutory public interest defence.

Instead, they called for clearer guidelines on which cases involving journalists should be prosecuted – something the Director of Public Prosecutions has said will be made available.

Other recommendations made by the Committee, which also supported moves to reform libel laws, include:

  • Add ‘investigative journalism’ to the current affairs definition for Public Service Broadcasters
  • Keep the zero-rated VAT on newspapers and consider making it dependent on members of the PCC or its successor
  • Do not provide state funding for investigative journalism other than zero-rated VAT and the licence fee

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New book: Phone hacking – journalism on trial

In City University London, Journalism on February 17, 2012 at 2:18 pm

A new book about the phone hacking scandal features chapters by Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism PhD researchers Glenda Cooper and Judith Townend.

The Phone Hacking Scandal: Journalism on Trial, edited by Richard Lance Keeble and John Mair (Arima 2012) was published this month.

Chapter details:

  • ‘Facing up to the Ethical Issues surrounding Facebook Use’ by Glenda Cooper.
  • ‘Press “Omerta”: How Newspapers’ Failure to Report the Phone Hacking Scandal Exposed the Limitations of Media Accountability’ by Daniel Bennett and Judith Townend [Download here].

Other authors include Brian Cathcart, Jackie Newton and Sallyann Duncan, Richard Peppiatt, Alan Rusbridger, John Tulloch, Steven Barnett, Stewart Purvis, Kevin Marsh, Nicholas Jones, John Lloyd and Chris Atkins.

This is the sixth in a series of books coming out of the Coventry Conversations Conferences held jointly with the BBC College of Journalism and the School of Journalism at the University of Lincoln.