28 November 2003 – The dissection of journalistic practice following the BBC/Blair/Campbell debacle over “sexing up” the case for war and the suicide of Dr David Kelly has led to a new slump in public confidence in the media.
It comes after a year of consultations among media and consumer organisations about the role of journalism in a democracy. And from these discussions plans for a new type of forum for a continuous dialogue between citizens and media professionals have emerged.
The media ethics charity PressWise has played a leading role in this process. After ten years spent advertising those with complaints about the media, commenting on the worst excesses of the UK media, and delivering ethics training to journalists around the world, it is now preparing itself to “go mainstream” and transform itself into MediaWise.
As part of a two-year self appraisal, PressWise has consulted extensively with media practitioners, consumer groups, academics and media NGOs. This led to the formation of the Journalism, Media Ethics and Democracy (JMED) Steering Group with representatives of the Media Society, the International Communications Forum, the Institute of Global Ethics and the Institute of Communication Ethics as well as academics and media practitioners.
Two significant events, held at St George’s House, Windsor in December 2002 and the Guardian Media Centre in March 2003, helped to map out the shape of MediaWise. The consensus at both meetings emerged that it would require concerted efforts to re-establish trust between journalists and the public to improve “media literacy” and to offset the impact of competitive commercial pressures, cross-media ownership and political “spin”.
This will be especially important in the post-Communications Act media environment under OfCom’s “light touch” regulation. And, following the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee Report on Privacy and Media Intrusion it will be vital to ensure that chairman Sir Christopher Meyer is held to his promise to make the Press Complaints Commission more effective and accountable.
The eventual aim of MediaWise is to create an independent, authoritative “media observatory” open and welcoming to the public and the media alike. Operating under the PressWise credo “Press freedom is a responsibility exercised by journalists on behalf of the public” it will be an entirely new endeavour to engage civil society more fully in obtaining “the media it deserves”.
It will seek partnerships with industry bodies and other agencies concerned with press freedom and human rights.
Work has already begun to find funding, premises, and the means to deliver:
* a web based Right of Reply service, enabling individuals and institutions misrepresented by the media to set the record straight by providing the public and other journalists with instant access to original sources;
* advice, assistance and information on ethical issues to media professionals and the public;
* a new edge to academic research through collaborative programmes, and on-line and public fora;
* systematic training around problematic media issues;
* high profile public debates, screenings, exhibitions, and market research around ethical issues as they arise;
* a global network of dialogue by collaborating with media centres in developing democracies.
For the time being, individuals and organisations wishing to contribute to this exciting initiative should contact us.
By Mike Jempson
Published in Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics, Vol. 1, No. 1 2003
(Bulletin No 93)