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29 November 2009

Nick Davies - Bad News: What's Wrong with the Press

New ideas for a responsible press

by Paul Breeden & Christina Zaba
Nick Davies: Keynote speaker at the 2009 NUJ Benn Lecture (Photo by Simon Chapman)

Nick Davies: Keynote speaker at Bristol's 2009 NUJ Benn Lecture (Photo by Simon Chapman)

NEW ways to regulate the British press have been suggested following a talk by Nick Davies, the renowned journalist and media commentator, at a packed event organised by Bristol NUJ.

Delivering the fourth annual Benn Lecture, now one of the most important events on the Bristol media calendar, Nick Davies called for a genuinely independent body which will take real action when newspapers publish untrue or damaging stories.

You can listen to a 1hr 45min podcast of the lecture which includes question and answer session here.

Drawing heavily on his much-praised 2008 book Flat Earth News, which documents the decline of journalistic standards, he said the current regulator, the Press Complaints Commission, is failing the public – partly because it is run by the newspaper industry.

“The PCC have proved in spades that you cannot trust the press to regulate itself,” he told an enthusiastic audience of journalists, students and people interested in the media gathered at the Arnolfini in Bristol.

“For the first time in history, we now have a press which harvests people’s private lives in order to sell stories. If we run a story that’s false and damaging, a victim has three courses of action: to write to the editor, sue for libel, or complain to the PCC.

“Letters to the editor are hardly ever published, and libel is a rich man’s law.

“That leaves the Press Complaints Commission, where in ten years 28,000 complaints have been made.

“More than 90 per cent of those complaints were rejected outright on technicalities. Of the 10 per cent which got over the hurdles, only 0.69 per cent were upheld.

“The PCC is structurally corrupt.”

Nick went on to give examples of ‘extraordinary levels of cruelty’ in certain high-profile stories such as those of Max Mosley and Madeleine McCann.

“Journalists will crash over the line in pursuit of a story, and unchecked second-hand material, whether it’s true or not, gets recycled globally within a few days,” he said. “The logic of commercialism has taken over from the logic of journalism.

“If you talk to journalists, they say they believe in a free press. In current circumstances, that’s a bit like a rapist saying he believes in free love.”

Ideas emerging from the discussion which followed Nick’s lecture included the introduction of a new regulator along the lines of Ofcom, which supervises broadcasters with a strict regime demanding balance and accuracy........