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Your guide to the CMS Report on the Future for Local and Regional Media

The UK parliament’s cross-party Culture, Media and Sport Committee published the results of its year-long inquiry into the state and future of local and regional UK media today, calling for greater investigation of and stronger rules for council-run newspapers.

“We endorse the sentiment that it is local journalism, rather than local newspapers, that needs saving,” says the report.

“The two are far from mutually exclusive, but newspapers need to be innovative in the way they train their journalists to work in a multiplatform world.”

The full report is embedded below, courtesy of Scribd, and you can read previous Journalism.co.uk reports on the committee’s evidence sessions at this link. But for your perusing pleasure, here’s our breakdown of some of the key sections and quotes:

  • p4 – “the broadcast pool”: “We take note of the Press Association’s concerns about the exclusivity of the ‘broadcast pool’ (video content of news events that are only allowed to be covered by a single camera, and is then shared between the BBC, ITN and Sky) and conclude that it is no longer appropriate to distinguish between broadcast and non-broadcast media when newspapers are increasingly using video on their websites.”
  • p9 – breakdown of local media operators and owners;
  • p11 – the role of local and regional newspapers in “the news pyramid”;
  • p16 – “We welcome the BBC’s proposals to increase the number of external links on its websites. We recommend that every local BBC website should link to the local newspaper websites for that area.”
  • p17 – Committee’s views on state subsidies for local and regional media.
  • p17-21 – recommendations for changes to cross-media ownership rules and regulations;
  • p24-5 – recommendations regarding local authority newspapers and council publications;
  • p28 – “For a long time local newspapers have made relatively little change to their business models. Now, along with the other traditional media platforms of television and radio, they face a vast array of digital and internet services, providing relatively easy market entry, all vying for advertising revenue and readerships. While some economic factors are cyclical, other changes of a structural nature are likely to be permanent. As is clear from the evidence we have heard from local newspapers themselves, local newspapers must innovate and re-evaluate the traditional model of local print media in order to survive in the new digital era.”
  • p33 – “the PSB obligations and other regulatory burdens on ITV need to be reduced, if not removed”;
  • p38 – recommendations regarding the Independently Funded News Consortia (IFNC) plans – though these are a little out of date given that the winning bids for the pilots have now been announced;
  • p51Local radio and localness and the importance of community radio.
  • p60-4 – On Google’s impact on local newspapers.

The police’s “narrow” approach to phone hacking: not a crime if message had been listened to first

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger raised what he said was a little known fact about phone hacking evidence, in yesterday’s press regulation debate in the House of Lords.

He had been told by Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Yates, he said, that the police only considered the interception of phone messages an offence if they hadn’t been listened to.

Once messages were stored after they were listened to by the recipient, subsequent access by a third party was not considered a criminal offence. The public should be aware of the “narrow definition” of phone hacking, the Guardian editor warned.

As reported in last week’s Culture, Media and Sport select committee report:

“The police also told us that under Section 1 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) it is only a criminal offence to access someone’s voicemail message if they have not already listened to it themselves. This means that to prove a criminal offence has taken place it has to be proved that the intended recipient had not already listened to the message. This means that the hacking of messages that have already been opened is not a criminal offence and the only action the victim can take is to pursue a breach of privacy, which we find a strange position in law.”

The committee recommended that “Section 1 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act is amended to cover all hacking of phone messages”.

“Narrow definition” line is a “convenient PR shelter for Scotland Yard”, argues Davies

The Guardian’s evidence of widespread phone hacking attempts contradicted police reports that only a ‘handful’ of victims had been targeted, so Scotland Yard is trying to “justify its position” by raising the narrow legal definition of the criminal offence, Guardian journalist Nick Davies told Journalism.co.uk.

Davies also challenges the legality of any kind of phone hacking:

“The narrow legal definition is highly contentious. The idea is that it is illegal to listen to somebody’s voicemail only if they have not themselves already heard it. This not written in the law at all; it was clearly not parliament’s intention. It’s an interpretation – not one that has been tested and accepted by a court, simply something that was said during a legal conference at the Crown Prosecution Service while the police were investigating the original case.

“It was said by David Perry, Crown counsel in the case, but he didn’t even produce a written opinion and never mentioned it in court when [Clive] Goodman and [Glenn] Mulcaire came up.” A future court may or may not agree with this definition, Davies added. “At the moment, however, it is a convenient PR shelter for Scotland Yard who are embarrassed by their handling of the case.”

Satchwell claims phone hacking case has ‘grey areas’; challenges Guardian’s proof

The liveliest part of yesterday’s House of Lords debate came when executive director of the Society of Editors, Bob Satchwell, challenged some of the Guardian’s claims and insisted there were “grey areas” in the case.

Journalist Nick Davies vehemently disagrees: the black and white is there, he later told Journalism.co.uk, but newspapers and the Press Complaints Commission don’t want to see it.

“Satchwell says editors don’t know the truth about all the material confiscated by the Information Commissioner’s Office from [private investigator] Steve Whittamore in March 2003 because the ICO didn’t investigate it. That isn’t correct.

“The ICO analysed all the material and produced spreadsheets – one for each newspaper organisation – and the spreadsheets lists all of the journalists who asked Whittamore to find confidential information, all of the targets, all of the information requested, how it was obtained, how much was paid.

“The ICO and police worked together to prepare three court cases: one led to four convictions, the other two collapsed for technical reasons. You really can’t say that there wasn’t an investigation. Furthermore, when the new information commissioner, Christopher Graham, gave evidence to the media select committee, he said he would not publish the spreadsheets, but he clearly indicated his willingness to talk to any editor who got in touch in search of detail.”

No editor has asked for extra information from ICO
“I checked last week with the ICO as to how many editors had now got in touch to ask which of their journalists are named in the spreadsheets and also to ask whether the PCC had approached them and asked for information,” said Davies.

“The answer was that no editor and nobody from the PCC had asked.” Furthermore, Davies said, he had written detailed stories about the contents of the spreadsheets.

“So, if editors are still in a grey area on all this, it’s because they refuse to look at the facts in black and white, even though the facts are there for them.”

Alan Rusbridger: ‘Weak press self-regulation threatens decent journalism’

“Once again weakness by the regulator has led to people calling for tougher sanctions against journalism,” Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger argued at today’s press self-regulation debate in the House of Lords.

The failings of the Press Complaints Commission explained the Culture, Media and Sport select committee’s call for a renamed self-regulatory body with the power to make financial sanctions, he said.

The panel gathered at Westminster for the Media Standards Trust event (at which no member of the Press Complaints Commission was present, despite being invited) were united on one point: that increasing the PCC’s powers of penalisation was not necessarily the right way forward.

Geoffrey Robertson QC was adamant on this point: redress of grievances should be done through the courts with juries, not via the PCC; Bob Satchwell, chairman of the Society of Editors, was firmly against any governmental direction of press regulation: it should come from the public and the industry, he said.

Robertson, who has previously called for all newspaper editors to step down from the body, said the PCC was a “confidence trick that now fails to inspire confidence”.

Private Eye’s Ian Hislop was the “most trusted editor in Britain “by not having anything to do with the PCC” Robertson said, adding that most its inquiries were “utter jokes”.

Bob Satchwell, loyal defender of the mainstream press and the PCC, said that suspension of publication (one of the recommendations made by the CMS committee last week) had “absolutely no place in democracy”. “In the end the real arbiters should be the readers,” he said.

The PCC had changed a “cavalier” and “arrogant” press of yore, Satchwell said. The level of control should be up to the public and the readers, he added – not organisations like the Media Standards Trust, or the government.

Rusbridger, who laid out the phone hacking saga as a case study of PCC failure (over which he resigned from the editors’ code committee) said the body needed to either admit it couldn’t conduct proper inquiries, or undergo serious reform.

“It may be that it’s flying the wrong flag [and might be ] better to rebrand itself as a media complaints and conciliation service and forget about regulation.”

Over phone hacking and the new evidence presented by the Guardian in July 2009, the PCC had “showed a complete lack of appetite to get to the bottom of what had happened,” he said.

It inquiries into phone hacking, had been inadequate, Rusbridger said. The PCC had explained privately “that they didn’t have the resources to do proper investigations and it wasn’t within their remit. [It said] they were not set up or financed to do proper investigations”.

“To which the answer is is fine, but then don’t pretend to do investigations which are then used to exonerate people or organisations. By doing so you bring self-regulation into disrepute.”

Rusbridger argued several points in particular:

  • He claimed that either former NOTW editor Andy Coulson or News International executives were lying, in light of the Guardian’s allegations that four “criminal” private investigators had been hired by the News of the World in the past. It was either the case that Andy Coulson, currently director of communications for the Conservative party, was lying and knew about the activities of these private investigators, “criminally obtaining information which led directly to News of the World stories”; or, Rusbridger said, individuals within News International “knew about them and paid them [private investigators] … but protected the editor from knowing what was going on, in which case News International executives have been lying”. Those seemed to him, he claimed, the only two explanations for recent revelations.

MediaGuardian: Heat back on Andy Coulson

More from the Guardian on News of the World phone hacking and blagging. The story certainly hasn’t ended with the publication of the Culture, Media and Sport committee report, released yesterday.  Nick Davies reports:

David Cameron’s communications director, Andy Coulson, will come under fresh pressure to defend his editorship of the News of the World and his knowledge about the illegal activities of his journalists amid new allegations about the paper’s involvement with private detectives who broke the law.

Full story at this link…

Simon Singh update: senior judge baffled by ‘artificiality’ of case

Science writer Simon Singh, who is currently being sued by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) went to the court of appeal on Tuesday, to challenge an earlier ruling by Justice Eady.

Index on Censorship reported that Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, England’s most senior judge, said he was “baffled” by the defamation suit – although his comments would not affect the judgement in the Court of Appeal.

Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge said he was “troubled” by the “artificiality” of the case. “The opportunities to put this right have not been taken,” Lord Judge said.

It’s argument of fact vs comment. If Singh’s claims are deemed “comment” in the Court of Appeal, he will secure the right to use a “fair comment” defence. A date has not been set for delivery of the appeal ruling, according to Index on Censorship.

“Fair comment” was an issue raised in yesterday’s Culture, Media and Sport select committee report: the Committee acknowledged “fears of the medical and science community are well-founded” and advised the government to “take account of these concerns in a review of the country’s libel laws, in particular the issue of fair comment in academic peer-reviewed publications”. But the Libel Reform campaign, a coalition between the organisations Sense About Science, Index on Censorship and English PEN, called for a fair comment defence available to everyone, not just in academic journals:

The campaign welcomes the Committee’s acceptance of the seriousness of the problem, especially in light of the recent Simon Singh and Ben Goldacre libel cases; but has raised “concerns that ghettoising fair comment in peer reviewed journals would not have helped Simon Singh in his libel case whatsoever, it’s important that a fair comment defence is available to everyone, not just for academic discussion out of the reach of ordinary people.”


CMS Report: News International claims party-politics make report on phone hacking worthless

The Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee’s report into press standards, privacy and libel has some pretty damning things to say about journalism and management at News International, following allegations of phone hacking at the News of the World.

[Read the full report at this link]

The committee opened an investigation into phone hacking following a series of stories by the Guardian last summer, said that News International senior staff called to the committee had suffered “collective amnesia” and were unwilling to provide detailed information about activities at the paper up to 2007.

So how has News International responded?

On the Sun’s website today coverage of the report goes by the headline: “Report on press ‘hijacked’ by Labour MPs” and says:

Labour MPs wanted to smear Tory communications boss Andy Coulson, an ex-News of the World editor. But the report found “no evidence” he knew phone hacking was taking place.

The report uncovered no new evidence of phone hacking at NOTW, says the Sun. But the committee did draw new conclusions by looking into existing evidence:

It is likely that the number of victims of illegal phone-hacking by Glenn Mulcaire
will never be known. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that there were a significant
number of people whose voice messages were intercepted, most of whom would appear
to have been of little interest to the Royal correspondent of the News of the World. This
adds weight to suspicions that it was not just Clive Goodman who knew about these
activities.

Tom Newton Dunn’s story made it onto page 2 of the print edition and op-ed on page 8 (next to a feature on ‘How to tell if you’re being lied to’) weighed in with the headline “No honour”:

Today is another dark day for parliament (…) members wasted seven months – nearly half their time – on unfounded claims made by the Guardian newspaper against News International (…) Parliamentary select committees are important but only work if MPs  on them behave with fairness and honour. Some on this committee have not. Its report is accordingly worthless.

The Sun’s leader piece makes particular reference to Tom Watson MP’s position on the panel. As Watson himself notes in a Comment is Free piece on the CMS report today, he recently won a libel action against the Sun. No mention of this in the Sun’s piece – perhaps the political tensions are more personal…

The Sun’s story toes the same line as the official statement from News International in response to the report [in full below], which suggested that certain members of the cross-party committee had pursued a party-political agenda.

They have worked in collusion with The Guardian, consistently leaking details of the Committee’s intentions and deliberations to that newspaper.

Elsewhere, sister title The Times reports on the committee’s recommendations offering up two stories on page 15 of the print edition.

Your guide to the CMS report on press standards, privacy and libel

It’s been going on for a year, but the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee has finally published its report into press standards, privacy and libel in the UK.

You can read the 169-page report in full below, but we’ve highlighted some of the most interesting points in the report in this post.

Background:

The committee’s hearings and subsequent report cover a lot of ground: self-regulation of the press; libel law in the UK; privacy and the press – in particular the News of the World and Max Mosley; standards of journalism – in particular in relation to the reporting of suicides in Bridgend and the Madeleine McCann case; and allegations of phone hacking at News of the World.

In the committee’s own words:

This report is the product of the longest, most complex and wide-ranging inquiry this committee has undertaken. Our aim has been to arrive at recommendations that, if implemented, would help to restore the delicate balances associated with the freedom of the press. Individual proposals we make will have their critics – that is inevitable – but we are convinced that, taken together, our recommendations represent a constructive way forward for a free and healthy UK press in the years to come.

Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee report into press standards, privacy and libel

Page guide and key quotes:

  • p10: the questions/issues that provoked the inquiry by the committee are set out.
  • p18: recommendation for “a fast-track appeal system where interim injunctions are concerned, in order to minimise the impact of delay on the media and the costs of a case, while at the same time taking account of the entitlement of the individual claimant seeking the protection of the courts”.
  • p18: report says Lord Chancellor, Lord Chief Justice and the courts should collect data on number of injunctions refused or granted and the impact of Section 12 of the Human Rights Act on interim injunctions.
  • p23: On Max Mosley and the News of the World: “We found the News of the World editor’s attempts to justify the Max Mosley story on ‘public interest’ grounds wholly unpersuasive, although we have no doubt the public was interested in it.”
  • p27: Focus on Justice Eady “shaping” UK privacy law is “misplaced”.
  • p31: Recommendations for the PCC to include guidance to newspapers on pre-notification.
  • p33: On Trafigura/Carter-Ruck and reporting parliamentary proceedings.
  • p40: Defendants in libel cases should still be required to prove the truth of their allegations, says the report.
  • p45: On the cost and difficulties of mounting a Reynolds Defence and whether this should be put on a statutory footing.
  • p54-55: The committee asks for better data collection on cases of ‘libel tourism’.
  • p59: On the single-publication rule and newspaper archives: “In order to balance these competing concerns, we recommend that the government should introduce a one year limitation period on actions brought in respect of publications on the internet.”
  • p72-76: On Conditional Fee Arrangements (CFAs) and After The Event Insurance (ATE) in defamation cases.
  • p82: Recommendations for better headline writing to improve press standards.
  • p91: Criticism of the press and the PCC for the handling of the Madeleine McCann case: “The newspaper industry’s assertion that the McCann case is a one-off event shows that it is in denial about the scale and gravity of what went wrong, and about the need to learn from those mistakes. In any other industry suffering such a collective breakdown – as for example in the
    banking sector now – any regulator worth its salt would have instigated an enquiry. The
    press, indeed, would have been clamouring for it to do so. It is an indictment on the
    PCC’s record, that it signally failed to do so.”
  • p95-6: On moderating comments on websites and user-generated material: “The Codebook [upheld by the Press Complaints Commission] should be amended to include a specific responsibility to moderate websites and take down offensive comments, without the need for a prior complaint. We also believe the PCC should be proactive in monitoring adherence, which could easily be done by periodic sampling of newspaper websites, to maintain standards.”
  • p101-3: On NOTW and phone hacking: “It is likely that the number of victims of illegal phone-hacking by Glenn Mulcaire will never be known.”
  • p114: Guardian articles on phone hacking did contain new evidence, but committee has heard now evidence that such practices are still ongoing.
  • p121: On the PCC: “The powers of the PCC must be enhanced, as it is toothless compared to other regulators.”
  • p123-5: Recommendations for a more independent PCC.
  • p126: Peter Hill’s resignation from the PCC.
  • p128: Criticism for how the PCC reports statistics of complaints it receives: “In particular, contacts from members of the public which are not followed up with the appropriate documentation should not be considered as true complaints.”
  • p129: A new system for “due prominence” of corrections and apologies by newspapers?
  • p130: Proposals for the PCC to have the power of financial sanctions.

In-depth coverage on Journalism.co.uk:

Solicitor Mark Lewis considering legal action against PCC

Mark Lewis, the solicitor who represented the head of the Professional Footballers Association, Gordon Taylor, in the News International phone hacking case, is considering taking legal action against the Metropolitan Police, the Press Complaints Commission and its chair Peta Buscombe.

In a unexpected addition to her speech at the Society of Editors conference last year, Buscombe cited police claims that Lewis’ evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport select committee was false [also see today’s main news story here]. Lewis, giving evidence to the committee’s inquiry into allegations of widespread phone hacking at News of the World, said detective sergeant Maberly had told him there were 6,000 people  affected by phone hacking – but he was not clear if this was the number of phones, or whether it included the people who left messages on hacked phones.

Following Buscombe’s claims about his evidence, Lewis complained through numerous letters to the PCC. Lewis told Journalism.co.uk at yesterday’s CMS press briefing that his complaint with the PCC and the Met “was not over by a long shot yet” and that he may pursue legal action against both organisations.

When Journalism.co.uk previously contacted the PCC over Lewis’ complaints, the Commission did not wish to comment.

As reported by the Independent on Sunday, Lewis has asked for the police inquiry into phone hacking to be re-opened, headed by someone other than assistant commissioner John Yates – whose phone hacking evidence was today criticised by the CMS committee in its press standards, privacy and libel report.

Full coverage of the CMS report at this link…

The report in full and our page-by-page guide at this link…

CMS report: No case for a general privacy law

As part of its report into press standards, privacy and libel, the Culture Media and Sport Committee had said there is currently no case for a general privacy law.

“Since the passage of the Human Rights Act, there have been a growing number of cases brought on grounds of privacy. While some argue that Parliament should introduce specific legislation in this area, it will still be for the Courts to interpret the law and seek to find the right balance between freedom of expression and the right to privacy. Each case will be different and we do not believe the case has been made for a general privacy law,” says John Whittingdale MP, who chaired the CMS committee.

“However, we are deeply concerned at the confusion that has arisen over the right of the press to report what is said in parliament. The free and fair reporting of proceedings in parliament is a cornerstone of our democracy and the government should quickly introduce a clear and comprehensive modern statute to put this freedom beyond doubt.”

The committee had the following to say about the reporting of parliamentary proceedings, an issue highlighted by Carter-Ruck’s attempt to gag the Guardian reporting a parliamentary question relating to oil trader Trafigura. The report recommended creating “a modern statute” to protect this reporting as an important element of freedom of speech.

Full coverage of the CMS report at this link…

The report in full and our page-by-page guide at this link…