The make-up of the panel of the Leveson inquiry, the public inquiry which will examine press standards, media regulations and the phone-hacking scandal, has come under criticism for lacking in tabloid and regional press representation.
In July prime minister David Cameron announced the line-up for the panel of experts who would assist with the public inquiry:
civil liberties campaigner and director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti;
former chief constable of the West Midlands, Sir Paul Scott-Lee;
former chairman of Ofcom, Lord David Currie;
former political editor of Channel 4 news, Elinor Goodman;
former political editor of the Daily Telegraph, and former special correspondent of the press association, George Jones;
former chairman of the Financial Times, Sir David Bell.
The Guardian reports that Associated Newspapers, publisher of the Daily Mail, as well as Trinity Mirror, the Newspaper Publishers’ Association and Guardian News & Media, raised some concerns about the panel during a hearing today (Wednesday, 28 September).
Leveson indicated that he would consider whether to appoint extra advisers in response to Associated’s complaint. The judge said that he would reserve his decision, noting that the “pressures on the Liverpool Echo will be different to the pressures affecting the Mirror and the Sun; different to the pressures affecting the Observer”.
Today the inquiry also announced the dates for two seminars in connection with the inquiry, to be held on 6 and 12 October, which will explore some of the key public policy issues raised by its terms of reference and to hear expert and public opinion on those. More details on content and participants will be announced on the inquiry website shortly.
The new managing director of Northcliffe Media, former Metro director Steve Auckland, is planning to launch a review of the division’s 115 regional newspapers, according to the MediaGuardian.
Last month Journalism.co.uk reported that parent company the Daily Mail and General Trust has ruled out buying or launching any more local newspapers, but said it was interested in any approaches for its regional newspaper division.
Today the Guardian reported that Auckland will carry out a “swift and radical review”, which could include reducing the number of days on which some of the loss-making titles publish and some newspaper closures.
“If you have got stacks of titles and lots of loss-makers and lots publishing six days a week and not making money you have got to look at the portfolio,” he said.
“I want a step change. It might be harsh but it gives a platform for the future. The key thing is a product portfolio review. We have to look at the number of titles and frequency of publishing.”
Following on from the first UK Hacks/Hackers event last week, she reflects on the use of data by reporters across what she calls “three-tier journalism”: national, regional and hyperlocal. For the first and last, there are clear-cut differences in the data they need, she says. But for regional press, it can be a bit more tricky.
National news needs big picture data from which it can draw big trends. Government data that groups England into its nine official regions works fine for broad sweeps; data that breaks down by city or county works well too. Hyperlocal news needs small details – court lists, crime reports, enormous amounts of council information – and it’s possible to not only extract but report and contextualise the details.
Regional news needs both, but in different ways. It needs those stories that the nationals wouldn’t cover and the hyperlocals would cover only part of. Data about the East of England is too vague for a paper that focuses primarily on 1/6 of the counties in the region; information from Breckland District Council is not universal enough when there are at least 13 other county and district councils in the paper’s patch. Government statistics by region need paragraphs attached looking at the vagaries of the statistics and how Cambridge skews everything a certain way. District council data has to be broadened out. Everything needs context.
But the opportunities for great stories within all of this is “unending” she says, and something well worth regional press investing in.
The question is how we exploit them. I believe that we start by freeing up interested journalists to do data work beyond simply plotting their stories on a map, taking on stories that impact people on a regional level.
Ofcom is considering a government proposal for further relaxation of regional media ownership rules, which could see the one remaining restriction removed.
According to a report by the Press Association, the regulator is considering a request by the Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport Secretary Jeremy Hunt to look at the effect of removing the last restriction, which prohibits any one body from owning all of the following: local newspapers with more than a 50 per cent market share, a local radio station and the ITV licence for the area.
In its response, Ofcom said local media was facing “significant economic pressure” and removing the remaining restriction “could allow local media greater options to consolidate to respond to these pressures”.
But it added that a “serious consideration” remained that combined ownership could give too much control over the local news agenda to one person or company.
The regulator admitted “it is also worth noting that there is probably a reasonably low risk of the kind of consolidation that the remaining rule protects against actually occurring even if the rule was removed.”