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Journalistic standards and media regulation after Wikileaks and the News of the World

Journalistic standards and media regulation after Wikileaks and the News of the World

What do phone-hacking at the News of the World and Wikileaks have in common from an ethical point of view?

UNESCO's conference "The media world after Wikileaks and News of the World", held in Paris on 16 February addressed this question in its second panel debate about "Professionalism and Ethics in the New Media Environment".

Borja Bergareche, author of the book "Wikileaks confidencial" and London correspondent for the Spanish paper ABC, argued that the connection between the two is that they both involve distrust of the press.
Both cases raised issues about media and ethics and law and put journalistic standards in the spotlight: the News of the World scandal has led to intense scrutiny of journalistic practices, while Wikileaks raised questions about how journalists deal with a huge amount of information.

If there is one industry in which acting professionally has ethical implications, it's journalism, said Bergareche. When it comes to journalistic standards and to dealing with huge amounts of raw data and information, for example the US embassy cables, questions need to be asked about the nature of WikiLeaks.

Was it a source, an editor, a publisher or an intermediary? Wikileaks is not a journalistic organisation, and Julian Assange is not an editor in chief, believes Bergareche.

"WikiLeaks is a social activist organisation and Assange is a leader of the free Internet movement, but WikiLeaks is not journalistic in its nature. And they are not bound to the same standards and limits journalists are bound to", he said.

Despite this "they deserve the same legal protection journalists deserve for publishing the cables", he added.

"To understand WikiLeaks is to understand the vacuum that it occupied. The reason that WikiLeaks happened was because other media was preoccupied by the kind of things that the News of the World covered", said Charles Onyango-Obbo, executive editor for digital media at the Kenyan Nation Media Group.

Wikileaks and the phone hacking scandal have also showed how thin the line is that regulates media law when it comes to regulation and self-regulation.

Guy Black, Baron of Brentwood, executive director of the Telegraph Media Group and former director of the UK Press Complaints Commission, illustrated the challenges that the phone-hacking scandal posed to media self-regulation in the UK.

"I believe press freedom in our country is now seriously in peril and has been so even before phone-hacking", he claimed.

A culture that includes super-injunctions, journalists being jailed for up to two years for infringing data protection, anti-terrorism legislation used against journalists, and attempts to regulate and introduce stricter restrictions on the press, have a seriously chilling effect on freedom of expression, Black said.

The question of media convergence and the possible end of legacy media poses enormous challenges, argued Aidan White, former General Secretary of the International Federation of Journalists.

"In order to address the challenges, we have to get back to the basics of journalism and understand the value of our ethics. This is absolutely important if journalism is to regain credibility with its audience", he said.

White believes that a wider change in attitudes to ethics is necessary at all levels of a newspaper. "There's too much concentration on the bottom of the media pyramid," he said. "Unless you have a culture of morality that stretches from the board room to the newsroom there will be no good behaviour in the newsroom". The top of the pyramid must show "moral leadership," he said.

The present situation in the UK, in which the ethics of the entire press are in question, is in White's opinion the result of 30 years of undue influence from Rupert Murdoch on British politics and of a culture that showed no respect for ethical values.

White highlighted that a positive outcome of the Leveson inquiry is that it has opened up the media and brought transparency to the way the media works. "Transparency is essential if we're going to build a structure that's credible for the future of journalism", he said.

Being more transparent about how journalism works is the basis on which to rebuild the notion of self-regulation, White believes.



Federica Cherubini


2012-02-16 19:09

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