Following Lord Justice Leveson's report on his assessment of the media and his recommendation for its future regulation, CIPR CEO Jane Wilson offers her reaction to his recommendations and her beliefs as to what any new regulation body should have powers to do.
Any position on the future regulation of the press must draw on the long history and association between free speech and democratic participation. Without a culture in which journalism can hold power to account, democracy is only half made.
For public relations, this freedom is also the bedrock of our professional culture. Like it or not, we need an uncensored media in which to make our case and to gain a right to reply. Technology and connectivity have diluted the potency of the connection forged between an organisation and gatekeepers to the mass media. The media itself is now fragmented and public relations is not as dependent on editorial as a vehicle for achieving influence. However, media relations is still a huge part of our activity and journalism is still a major influence on public discourse.
Following Lord Leveson’s recommendations, the press must to now seize the opportunity to build a strong, innovative and robust independent regime of self-regulation, committing itself as an industry which protects and promotes the highest of standards of journalism. If they do it will negate any argument for the necessity of statutory regulation and protect the fundamental freedoms we all have an interest in maintaining. I believe this should be done through a new, independent non-statutory successor body to the Press Complaints Commission.
This body should be about more than complaints. It needs to build on previous models of regulation, covering media standards and ethics, and be supported by a strong, non-statutory code of practice for journalists, which places an emphasis on professional development. Crucially, any new body tasked with regulating media activity must understand and support the role that ‘blogs’ and other social media play as outlets for individual freedom of speech and expression.
Interestingly, parts of the report offer an external validation of the role of public relations professionals in managing communication between key public bodies and their audiences, via the media. Leveson suggests that, in circumstances where policy or organisation matters may be on the agenda for discussion between senior police officers and journalists, it is good practice for a press officer also to be present as well as a record of all contact with the media being kept and made available. This underlines the need for the public relations professionals themselves to be accountable to an enforceable code of conduct, such as the one provided by the CIPR.
Lord Leveson’s Report shows that active steps must be taken to rebuild public trust and confidence in the professional standards of the press. Independent regulation must also address the integrity of their relationships with groups such as politicians and other public servants and balance of power between the press and private individuals in light of the clear abuses laid out in the report.
I am clear that professionalism in both journalism and public relations, particularly openness and honesty, is key to our democracy, to healthy public discourse and to accurate reportage. Accountability to clear and publicly agreed and available standards is the only way to rebuild public trust in journalism.