UK Media – Let’s Talk About Ethics
SGUK Episode 93
This week’s podcast looks at whether or not such a thing as Ethics exist in UK journalism and the media industry in general in the UK. The kind of things and style of reporting I have seen in my lifetime, but particularly in the last 30 years would suggest that if there were any kind of standard that media personnel and their regulatory bodies have written down somewhere, it clearly is not at the forefront of their mind when actually carrying duties in their employment.
If you do an actual search using the word Ethics, in any aspect of the UK Media, you may be surprised to discover, that it is like looking for the holy grail. It is more alluded to than be a prominent feature in the official documentation of this profession. Speaks volumes.
I give a few details about the Regulatory organisations, alongside rules and regulations for printed media as well as televised. I give an outline of responsibilities and their ‘raison d’etre’ of both bodies set up to regulate printed and televised media. The current system in my mind is as useful as a chocolate fire guard. Looks the part until the heat is on them to do their duties.
I have previously listed all the bullet points relating to the Editors Code as well as the official areas of responsibility of IPSO and Ofcom, in previous podcasts. This time, I have listed the direct links to those organisations and their respective pdf files outlining the theory of their existence.
The Hacking Off enquiry proved to be a highly informative document. The research in terms of content and scope proved that not much had changed over the years, and the findings in terms of actual numbers of cases pursued by IPSO by the enquiry and my rudimentary analysis, differed by 0.3%. Think it is fair to say, not much movement there then, and I am certain, if there was another enquiry carried out, with the same regulators the answers would not change very much if at all.
Regulatory Framework in Place for UK Media
Editors’ Code of Practice
Code of Practice, which was framed by the Editors’ Code of Practice Committee and is enshrined in the contractual agreement between IPSO and newspaper, magazine and electronic news publishers.
Preamble The Code
– including this preamble and the public interest exceptions below – sets the framework for the highest professional standards that members of the press subscribing to the Independent Press Standards Organisation have undertaken to maintain. It is the cornerstone of the system of voluntary self-regulation to which they have made a binding contractual commitment. It balances both the rights of the individual and the public’s right to know. To achieve that balance, it is essential that an agreed Code be honoured not only to the letter, but in the full spirit. It should be interpreted neither so narrowly as to compromise its commitment to respect the rights of the individual, nor so broadly that it infringes the fundamental right to freedom of expression – such as to inform, to be partisan, to challenge, shock, be satirical and to entertain – or prevents publication in the public interest. It is the responsibility of editors and publishers to apply the Code to editorial material in both printed and online versions of their publications. They should take care to ensure it is observed rigorously by all editorial staff and external contributors, including non-journalists.
Independent Press Standards Organisation – IPSO
IPSO can undertake a standards investigation to investigate where it has serious concerns about the behaviour or actions of one or more of its members. IPSO’s Board makes the decision about whether or not to launch a standards investigation after looking at information gathered by staff on complaints, the whistleblowing hotline and members of the public.
IPSO may require that a standards investigation takes place where:
- there may have been serious and systemic breaches of the Editors’ Code
- there has been one or more failure or failures to comply with the requirements of the Board
- an annual statement identifies significant issues of concern either in relation to a single incident or a pattern of significant, serial or widespread breaches of the Editors’ Code
- statutory authority reports identify substantial Editors’ Code compliance issues
- in exceptional circumstances, IPSO reasonably considers that an investigation is desirable because substantial legal issues or Editors’ Code compliance issues are raised.
IPSO can impose one or more of the following sanctions if it decides that the concerns are sufficiently serious:
- publish an adjudication, which may include a requirement to address the concerns raised
- impose a fine on the member(s) of up to £1 million
- require the member(s) to pay the reasonable costs of the investigation
- require a publisher to submit a quarterly statement for an agreed period
- terminate the members(s) membership of IPSO.
Like too many groups within the UK, their official documents look the part, but in reality, they are more performative groups in their approach, and spend time exploring how not to be to punitive with its members where most people would beg to differ in that conclusion.
No member organisation has to join IPSO but most do, if not for anything else, that it looks better if you are seen to be willing to co-operate with the regulatory body and be taken to task if errors in judgement are made. In reality, the publications who join IPSO also pay the funds that keep IPSO going..There is a symbiotic relationship going on there it seems, which is not healthy or helpful to those who have fallen on the wrong side of tabloid tracks.
Office of Communication – Ofcom
Ofcom is the regulator for the communications services that we use and rely on each day. Help us to make sure people across the UK are satisfied with what they see and hear on TV and radio, and programmes reflect the audiences they serve. Consider every complaint received from viewers and listeners. Investigate further and sometimes find broadcasters in breach of the rules. Independelty funded by the companies they regulate.
- people are able to use communications services including broadband.
- A range of companies provide quality television and radio programmes that appeal to diverse audiences
- Viewers and listeners are protected from harmful or offensive material on TV, radio and on-demand;
- People are protected from unfair treatment in programmes and don’t have their privacy invaded
- The universal postal service covers all uk addresses six days a week with standard pricing, and
- The radio spectrum is used in the most effective way.
Analysis of IPSO Rulings 2020 – Hacked Off Group
A new Hacked Off report examines IPSO rulings over a one-year period in 2020 and exposes how, after seven years, IPSO has failed to establish itself as an effective regulator.
Among the key findings:
· It took almost 6 months – on average – for IPSO to reach a ruling on complaints
· Only 0.3% of complaints were ultimately upheld
· More than a thousand complaints were abandoned
· Corrections requested by IPSO were – on average – seven times shorter than the article in breach of standards
· Zero fines, zero investigations, and zero arbitration outcomes were reported (ever – not just for 2020)
An analysis of IPSO rulings from 2020 has exposed the impotence of the press complaints-handler.
Dr Tom Chivers, who carried out the research, commented that,
IPSO claims that its complaints process is quick, fair and effective. This analysis shows that nothing could be further from the truth.
Instead of holding powerful publishers to account for inaccurate or unethical reporting, IPSO drags its heels when investigating public complaints and lets newspapers off the hook for serious breaches of the Standards Code.
On the very rare occasions when IPSO does rule against a newspaper, the corrections it orders are miniscule, vague and printed weeks or even months after the original article.
While IPSO does nothing to improve standards in British journalism, the British public deserves a truly independent and effective regulator, one that supports accurate, ethical reporting and meets the recommendations of the Leveson Report.
Professor Paul Wragg, who authored the report, added,
IPSO isn’t working. The public was promised an independent, robust system of press regulation that would ensure the shocking ethical breaches that Leveson revealed would not be repeated. IPSO tells a good story, claiming that it is holding the press to account, but the data confirms that this just isn’t so.
IPSO does not hold the press to account for the simple reason that it can’t. Its various corporate structures and contractual arrangements prevent it from doing so.
IPSO must be replaced.
The findings of this report, which are based on IPSO’s published complaints statistics from its Annual Report and Dr Chivers’ own research, are damning.
Vast majority of complaints were rejected.
In total, over 90% of complaints were rejected, with only 0.3% upheld. Vague reasons were given for thousands of complaints’ rejection.
In fact, the proportion of upheld complaints was so low in 2020 that complainants had a greater chance of winning a prize on the EuroMillions lottery than having a complaint upheld by IPSO.
Slow and attritional.
IPSO takes on average 6 months to rule on a complaint.
The process is gruelling for complainants, who must not only explain how they are affected by the story but also how, specifically, the story breaches the Editors’ Code of Conduct.
If the complainant is unable to prove, to the satisfaction of the complaints committee, that a breach has occurred the complaint is rejected. This quasi-legal process is a daunting task for the non-specialist, especially when the heavy emotional burden caused by the hurt of the offending story is factored in.
Given how attritional the complaints process is, it is no surprise that our research found that over 1500 complaints were given up on. Complainants simply gave up and threw in the towel.
IPSO claims to be a ‘tough’ regulator that holds newspapers ‘to account for their actions’. Its chief weapon to do so is the power to impose up to £1m in fines. Yet IPSO has never fined a newspaper so much as 50p. It has not even instigated a single standards investigation in its history – despite the fact it claims to have handled 100,000 complaints and enquiries since 2014.
IPSO has failed.
Without effective, independent regulation, the only duty that the press has is to its shareholders or owner.
It is free to invade the lives of anyone – the known and the unknown, the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless.
The rights of those who suffer press abuse should be upheld through independent and effective regulation – not a sham body controlled by the industry.
I came across another study that was specialist in nature, but nevertheless I consider that fact to be a reason to include it. Looking at journalists who work in the sport field, and the organisations that they liaise with as part of gather information for their articles, I thought it could be interesting. The journalists belong to the same union as the other groups and I wanted to see how it played out in a slightly different but specialised arena.
Analysis of Sky Sports Journalism v Ethics
There is an 11 page pdf summary analysis of this research undertaken at University of Brighton. For that reason I am not going to read it out on here. It is well worth looking at when you have time. It is only 11 pages but it says so much about Uk journalism, and not just in Sport which is the category that the researcher focussed on. The person who led on this study is Simon McEnnis who is a principal lecturer in journalism at the University of Brighton.
A summary of the research on UK sports journalists and their link to tabloids (in this case it is The Sun) and whether or not the Ethics and the Code of Practice that exists for all journalists, along with their training to become journalists, is impacted in any way by actually doing the job, and if so, how?
This extract is from the beginning of the resource listed below:-
This paper aims to provide a comparative analysis of how regulatory codes influence the work routines of print and broadcast sports journalists in the UK. Sky Sports News 24- hour news channel and the Sun newspaper are used as case studies. The government-regulated broadcast industry interprets autonomy as independence from advertisers and sponsors. Regulation, therefore, creates challenges for broadcast journalists within a hyper-commercialised professional sports environment. Conversely, the press regulator, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) focuses on autonomy from government rather than business.
This extract is from the first section of the Conclusion in the analysis. I will say here, the whole of the conclusion in this study is extremely useful when considering UK journalism as a whole, not just Sports. When it comes to Royal Reporting, consider the conclusion in places and multiply it several times when it relates its divergence from codes of practice and ethics:-
This analysis has found that print sports desks trade editorial independence for access to high-profile sports people because the commercial imperative is prioritised over ethical considerations and there is no deterrent provided by their regulatory code. Newspapers believe they have no choice in their story negotiations and that it is the only way they can attract readers to sports sections. Further, they consider their main battle for autonomy to be one of resisting state intervention rather than corporate influence. In this respect, freedom of the press means freedom to make unethical deals with corporate organisations.
Side Note:- My Assessment Background
My approach to reading reports and accounting Balance Sheets is to go straight to the end of the analysis. In the case of reports I look at the main headings or bullet point topics that have answers/conclusions against them and which in turn lead to the overall view of the findings. In the case of Balance Sheets, I look at what has been included in the report and measured; look at what is not doing so well, and where the losses have occurred; and then look to the Key Points of future Activity based on the items on the Balance Sheet or Conclusion. I then go the Aims and Objectives of the organisation or category that is being analysed and measured in terms of performance. Let me just point out here that in my working life I have undertaken roles as Assessor and a Senior Assessor leading teams which are invited into organisations such as small to medium enterprises, schools and universities and international banks to name but a few, to help them prepare for when a real inspection takes place. We would generally spend around 3 days on site, having had time beforehand to receive documentation from the organisation in question and to request additional documentation beforehand, and whilst on site as well. Independently score beforehand, and then when on site, meet for the first time and reach consensus on each section following discussion and interviews with individuals and groups of staff.
You would be amazed at how much of the Aims and Objectives of the organisation, do not end up in their Balance Sheets or conclusions of analysis. Things that were Key Points at the beginning (the theory) are not always the things that are measured and commented on in the Balance Sheet or Conclusions which inevitably lead to an Action Plan of some kind.
It is very similar to having a Code of Ethics, or Codes of Practice that can be thrown around in reports which try to give the impression that everything is fine in the organisation, but you have to dig deep for the answers, and not be swayed just by scope alone. Often people are employed in those Key Aims and Objectives of an organisation, and some are paid high salaries. If in the real world, the staff who work at the coalface of the business are not actually employed on the Key Objectives listed in the glossy brochures and Company Reports etc., then immediately there is cause for concern. If the activity at the coalface is necessary to achieve the outcomes desired by their immediate senior Manager, then why don’t these measurables appear in the Aims and Objectives? Ie If a company is measured on Key Performance Indicators, why then are they not appearing in the Conclusions or Balance Sheets?
Will UK Media Ever be Respected Again? Will a Code of Ethics Remain Toothless & Minus Dentures?
This is why independent scrutiny is essential. Business activity tied to the client organisations being liaised with moves in the direction of the businesses involved, as opposed to the customers on the receiving end of the service. Businesses working with the media industry are looking at their bottom line, and keeping advertisers and shareholders happy. Readership and viewers are not top of the list. The way around it in the UK is to convince the readers and the viewers to believe what is being fed to them each day. Convince them that there are people who do not watch their programmes on tv or read tabloids that are the real cause of the hardship. It is the programming of people into a herd mentality of thinking that rules and regulations are made by people and organisations who do not understand the UK and so on. As readership falls for all printed media, and viewing figures fall because there are far better news networks available now, and subscription viewing has by far outweighed what terrestrial tv produces, then it has led to sensationalism and gossip type of newspapers. Real news which may not be quite as pleasing on the eye or ear is downplayed or not mentioned at all on main tv channels or in tabloids. Hate for Hire is a real thing. The number of people who have raised their hate flags and declared themselves as journalists that very few people knew of until recent months, now can churn out 15 or so articles a day, based on zero facts but is done to rile up its audience, and in doing so begs to get a response from their target in the article. So many people are still suffering mental health issues from months and in some cases years of abuse via UK media with articles and discussion on tv morning shows, based on gossip not fact, and always with a target in mind, who incite listeners and viewers to hate too. I mean hate as well, not just dislike. It has gone way beyond that point with high profile people. Percentage wise most are people of colour, and most of the targets are women. In the Uk you can describe people as many things, but to say that they are racist produces a range of volatile behaviour which in every word and action confirms the description.
Just as the conclusion states for the sports journalists, when ‘push comes to shove’ Ethical standards are literally words on paper. I was working on a huge report some years ago, which I intended to submit to IPSO. I did not know anything about IPSO other than their name, but when I did my research on them, I very quickly realised it would be a waste of my time, and that my piece of work would get shoved under the carpet so to speak, and here I was a POC telling them about disgraceful behaviour of UK journalists. I decided not to submit but I ensured that a number of people and organisations outside of the UK did know about my work, and the subsequent pushback I received afterwards from supposed other sections.
From a research point of view, trying to find any official statements relating to Ethics as a standalone statement for the Regulatory Body became arduous. There was no obvious Statement on Ethics of what this Regulatatory body had a requirement to abide by in its methodology of regulation. The word ‘ethics’ appears here and there, but it only really appeared in any kind of meaningful way (officially at least, rather than on a practical level) was in relation to Journalists, via their Union. Ethics were stated but equally there were arguments why ethical considerations took a back seat in comparison to ‘doing business’. At least there was something there, and an admission that ethical considerations are placed on a back burner sometimes, but there are strong reasons why those are not considered as important as income generation, and fostering good relationships with businesses in the future. IPSO as far as my research and findings carried out a few years ago, is really toothless organisation as it stands – not that I have any faith that they want to be any more than a figurehead for a regulatory body that is more interested in protecting its members than actually doing the job that they are meant to be doing. IPSO is not working, and irt will never be effective in its current form. The industry needs an independent Body, and that means no one employed in the current set up should be considered as candidates – the conflict of interest will just be transferred to another body using a new name, but working in the same way as all previous regulatory organisations. A complete cutting of the cord needs to take place, and new blood brought into the mechanism, to ensure that members of the public are covered adequately.
The analysis by the Hacked Off organisation relating to UK media in 2020, confirms the findings in my research years before. In fact my figure was zero in terms of any newspaper receiving a sanction of any kind. No punishment. Nothing that would lead to a change in practice. Everything just carried on in their usual cosy relationship.
The UK is not respected in the way that it used to be globally for decades. The damage is self inflicted. It is not just the media industry, but the media industry has reduced the lifespan of some entities and eroded goodwill from many others. Now that the global audience including businesses who were once happy to create business arrangements with the UK, now have lost confidence that the UK means what it says, when it wants to trade etc. the UK has behaved like the classroom bully, who has been found out, but refuses to admit that there were in the wrong. As a result, they continue on their lonely furrow, in the insane belief that many other nations are really jealous of what the UK has now. The UK who voted to leave the European Union without respecting the benefits it had being part of that union, and now who have gone out of their way to give the impression that being outside of that single market, is allowing freedom for the UK and its residents. I beg to differ. The rest of the world is looking and probably feeling incredulous that a nation could do this to itself, and more to the point, continue with the this self flagellation and pretend to smile at the daily injuries being incurred. It has taken us 7 years to fall to the trash can of global society, and it will take almost 7 decades to have a chance of getting near what we enjoyed before. UK media was once held in high regard, but over recent decades the self destruction based on egos of a few, who managed to convince a nation through its media arms, that the Uk could be so much better off and that eventually the globe audience would cease to deride us, but instead, look at us with envy. The UK is deluded and it is future generations who will pay the ultimate price, and will have to work hard to just get us back to where we were before – still no doubt way behind the rest of the nations who had competent people involved in discussions. We have a media industry owned by people who do not reside in the country where they influence certain policies to be put in place. Whether it is successful or not, it those media Barons who are successful regardless of the choices made and the outcomes arrived at as a result. The UK has become a laughing stock, and the vulnerable in the country are far from laughing. The country needs to get a grip, and metaphorically pull its socks up, and work hard at being a credibly trustworthy economic business partner. Mental Health issues and Financial Ruin should not a KPI for the media industry, likewise suicide rates. Daytime tv has become like a bull fight in a televised arena. The bull being the presenter and the panels being the holier than though people who like to dictate the speed of the annihilation of the invited guests and then leave and go home and think no more about the carnage they caused in the studio for yet another day.
I will end this podcast with the words of a journalist, and their experiences and observations in the Workplace as a Person of Colour. IPSO and Offcom have failed in this part of their responsibility as well. There are less than 5% of journalists who are people of colour, and there are no Editors of mainstream Newspapers who are POC.
“ I wish I could say that since I am resilient (I am) that since I am comfortable, as a former Barrister, with adversarial conversations (I am), that since I have done the work as an author to equip myself to engage in discourse about racism and identity (I have) that encounters like this therefore do not affect me deeply, but they do.
The reality is that while other panelists walked away, another job done, their place in the world or sense of their own humanity unscathed, and the programme’s production team congratulated me on a “strong” performance, I was not performing. I was living another traumatic encounter with the denial of my experience. I was carrying a burden for all people of colour who have to carry out their professional duties while being dehumanised. I was telling myself how few spaces there are for us in the mainstream media to communicate this experience, feeling all the pressure of doing us justice that entails. I was depressed that, even if my anger might have woken people up temporarily, nothing would actually change.
And the reason I Was visibly raging in this instance was because I realised, on air, that I had had enough – not just of having to deal with the content of an idea that compares people like me to another species, but of then being expected to persuade people why that’s bad.
Because this emotional labour is not distributed equally, broadcasters – by placing one black person in a hostile space and then requiring them to explain the injustice of racism – become complicit in that injustice. They may feel their complicity is rewarded by the viral nature of the response. But if you read the messages from the thousands of people who reacted to my experience, they were not praising the programme, as people often fo when they watch something they relate to, and they were not expressing any enjoyment in watching it. They were overwhelmingly excoriating the show for putting me in a position of having to argue something they found unnecessary to explain, painful to watch and similarly traumatic to relate to.
The good news is that our tolerance threshold has been breached. If I left the tv studio last week feeling drained and alone, I soon felt surrounded by enthusiastic love from people of all races. Among the brilliant responses to the clip of my suffering was one from the former deputy Mayor of London Matthew Ryder who poasted an image from the movie Black Panther of Wakanda warriors ready for battle, as a metaphor for the solidarity I was shown by Black Twitter.”
Afua Hirsh – Published in the Guardian 22 May 2019
The majority of the media people who sat around that table in that tv programme weekday nights have gone on to appear as regular panelists on right wing tv programmes, and who feel emboldened to continue with the type of baiting and the standard lone black person having to fight with the standard rhetoric coming from the same people every week. They are invited on to such programmes precisely because of the views they hold. Hate incitement has a market in the UK now, and it is a sad state of affairs. Slowly but surely those same people are going to experience an element of that in their travels to various places and will shocked that no one is bowing down to them anymore simply because they have a UK passport. You reap what you sow.
UK media has become toxic and its regulators have sat back and watch this side of the profession grown. One can only draw obvious conclusions as to why that is the case, but I am confident, that all those who are making extra income on the back of treating various groups of people like something under their shoes, to think on. Invest your money while you can, because very few of you will be earning that in the future years. Every poison arrow sent out to others, whether it be in terms of legislation or deeds, be sure to remember that will return to sender just like boomerangs, but with many times the strength of what you sent to others. My grandchildren will be old enough to have grandchildren of their own, before this country ever resumes some kind of stability and respect for life and planet. This is the legacy that those responsible for the current approach to basic infrastructure of this nation are leaving for the future generations. I hope you all feel proud of yourselves. One day you will remember what ethics mean, among many other things.
28 May 2023