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NZ: Raise level of media 'accountability' debate, say PJR editors

Restoring public trust in journalism... the latest edition of Pacific Journalism Review

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Item: 8127

AUCKLAND (Pacific Media Watch): News media need to raise the media accountability debate to the level of media regulation to recover from the News of the World phone hacking "debacle", say the editors of the latest edition of Pacific Journalism Review.

"Too often the debate stops with regulation and does not address the aim of regulation/accountability," said Dr Johan Lidberg of Monash University, guest editor of the October edition.

"The industry has now been put on notice it needs to show that it can regulate itself.

"The News of the World debacle is a watershed moment for journalism globally."

Dr Lidberg told Pacific Media Watch what was needed was a "simple to use" media ethics complaint system for the public, media needed to "seriously engage" with complaints such as with readers' editors and news ombudsmen, and the media needed to improve over admitting when it was wrong.

Professor David Robie, director of the Pacific Media Centre and managing editor of the journal, said the edition took a broad look at media inquiries and reviews and attempted to remove the polarised biases that had emerged in public debate.

“In the defensive responses - and sometimes vitriolic attacks on journalism academics - by media industry spokespeople and editors over the various regulatory debates in Australia and Britain, for example, the industry has lost sight of our public interest obligations,” said Dr Robie.

Public trust
“Our contract is with the general public, not the media owners – we need to pull out all stops and regain public trust.

"The old, arrogant self-regulatory “we know what’s best to keep our house in order” approach has failed spectacularly, as shown in Britain’s phone hacking scandal.”

Dr Robie said the discussion of press accountability should not intimidate the media, but rather it was a matter for journalists and organisations to rediscover their role as being accountable to the people.

“Trust and transparency are critical for the future of journalism. With the constant erosion of the professional status of journalists, the encroachment of untrained citizen journalists in the ethical domain of journalists, and blurring of the boundaries between journalism and public relations, it is imperative that journalists fight back and stake out their public accountability guidelines," he says.

Dr Lidberg examines Australia’s Finkelstein Review in his paper "If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – Australian media industry attitudes to regulation and accountability reforms".

He said that out of 33 submissions to the Independent Media Inquiry and the Convergence Review, only five submissions addressed the issue of public trust in the media and professional accountability. 

Dr Lidberg wrote that media companies and organisations didn’t feature these terms and argued that the situation worked and reform was unnecessary.

Public last
His paper concluded that it was important to capture the public’s attitude to the system and “too often the public is the last to be researched and surveyed in these matters”.

Professor Wendy Bacon from the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism analysed the current regulatory system in Australia and argued that Finkelstein’s conclusions included the view that the market could not ensure a free press. 

She pointed out that contrary to what people might think, “our current system already includes both statutory and self-regulation”. 

Bacon wrote her analysis, which was earlier published by New Matilda, to clarify the inquiry after “some media have accused the inquiry report of being ‘leftist’, academic and beyond the comprehension of ordinary people”.

In the opening paper entitled “Who guards the guardians?”, Professor Duncan Bloy from Cardiff University in Wales reflected on what he called missed opportunities of the Leveson Inquiry and the future for press regulation in Britain.

His commentary was based on a public lecture given at AUT University earlier this year.

Professor Robie said this latest edition of PJR was also forward-looking, but public trust was a perennial aspect of good journalism.

“Visionary new media thinking is needed in the digital age, and this edition of PJR has carried the debate forward in a very timely manner,” he said.

“Journalism needs to maintain its independence, but with an independence based on trust.”

Table of contents at PJR

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 New Zealand Licence.

About the authors

PMC profile photograph

Alex Perrottet

PMW contributing editor 2011-2012

Alex Perrottet is a journalist who has completed a Masters degree and Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies student at AUT University.

PMC profile photograph

Pacific Media Watch

PMC's media monitoring service

Pacific Media Watch is compiled for the Pacific Media Centre as a regional media freedom and educational resource by a network of journalists, students, stringers and commentators.
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