16 January 2006 – The media ethics charity MediaWise believes much more can be done to protect the public against unfair and inaccurate press coverage, harassment, intrusion into grief and unscrupulous journalism, and to protect the rights of journalists themselves.
MediaWise welcomed the new procedure of an annual review of the Editors’ Code of Practice which is policed by the Press Complaints Commission, and especially the opportunity it affords to members of the public, civil society groups and journalists to contribute suggestions to improve the system of self-regulation of the press.
For the last 13 years, MediaWise has offered advice and support to members of the public affected by inaccurate, intrusive or sensational media coverage. Our recommendations are the result of dealing with thousands of enquiries. Many of the cases we have dealt with illustrate the devastating impact that poor journalism can have on ordinary people’s lives.
In our submission to the Editor’s Code Committee we have suggested some 20 improvements to the rules by which newspaper and magazine editors agree to abide. In particular MediaWise recommends amendments to improve coverage of suicide, children and other vulnerable groups, and calls for new Clauses about photography and chequebook journalism.
We urge the Code Committee to make a public call for:
* The introduction of a regular Corrections Column in every UK publication, supervised by an independent Readers’ Editor.
* Recognition of a journalist’s right to refuse an assignment on the ground of conscience.
* Better understanding among journalists about the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and its implications for the media.
We have also suggested:
* New rules to ensure that editors signpost PCC adjudications on the front page, and give them equivalent prominence to the offending article.
* Changes to Clause 1: Accuracy to ensure that prominent headlines to news stories are factual rather than conjectural. (In part, a response to the PCC’s recent rejection of complaints about a front-page headline in the Daily Express ‘Bombers are all spongeing [sic] asylum-seekers’, 27 July 2005).
* Strengthening Clause 3: Privacy to define ‘private places’ to include ‘the immediate environs of a person’s home’, and to better protect disaster victims and their families.
* Strengthening interpretation of Clause 4: Harassment so that when the PCC adjudicates on complaints, it can consider how journalists behaved while obtaining the story.
* Extending Clause 5: Intrusion into grief or shock, to reflect the sensitivities of covering suicide, (an area in which MediaWise has specialised internationally) to include the sub-clause: ‘Particular care should be taken when reporting the circumstances of newsworthy suicides, to avoid sensationalism and unnecessary detail about suicide methods, and to consider the consequences for family members, especially children’.
* Clarification of the clauses covering children, to ensure that ‘children should not normally be primary sources for information about anything other than their own opinions or direct experiences, and then only with the consent of an appropriate adult’.
* Strengthening Clause 12: Discrimination to provide greater protection for minority groups, such as Muslims, ‘Gypsies’ and Travellers, refugees and asylum seekers, and to allow more ‘third party’ complaints where ‘specific instances of inaccurate or prejudicial coverage might have a deleterious effect on community relations’.
* New rules about photography, to compel publications to indicate when images have been digitally manipulated, and the introduction of a new clause to protect the rights and interests of so-called citizen journalists: ‘When agreeing to purchase and/or publish images provided by members of the public particular care should be taken to ensure that there have been no invasions of personal privacy or illegal acts in obtaining the pictures, and that the rights of ownership of the photographs are properly protected and acknowledged’.
* New guidance on chequebook journalism and better protection for members of the public who agree to collaborate with journalists on stories.
* New guidance on pooling copy where a ‘media scrum’ has developed, so that it could be a breach of the Code if journalists do not get fair access to information via a pooling system, especially if one outlet obtains unfair commercial advantage from concealing basic information obtained from privileged access at the scene of a major incident.
(Bulletin No 117)