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By Ishbel Macleod, PR and social media consultant

February 16, 2012 | 3 min read

The House of Lords Communications Committee has today released a report entitled The future of investigative journalism, looking at the economic, legal and regulatory challenges that may be faced in the future.

The committee concludes in the report that news organisations, regulators and relevant legal bodies need to make important changes if the future of investigative journalism is to be assured, with an audit trail and legal clarity and consistency being the two main recommendations made.

It suggests that the audit trail would be a two stage internal process to track and record decisions, to commence an investigation and to publish a story, thus checking that a story falls under public interest and keeping a record. For legal clarity, it suggests the publication of guidelines by the prosecuting authorities to help media outlets decide whether conducting an investigation or publishing a story could lead to prosecution.

Lord Inglewood, Committee chairman, said: “Investigative journalism plays a vital role in the UK’s system of democratic governance and accountability. However, its role and practices have received unprecedented scrutiny over recent months and it faces a number of profound economic, legal and regulatory challenges. News organisations, regulators and relevant legal bodies therefore need to make sure, as changes and new measures are introduced, that these are not rooted in the past but seek to enable responsible investigative journalism to flourish in the future.

“We are encouraged, nonetheless, by the number of new funding and organisational initiatives that have started to materialise as a means of promoting investigative journalism, and believe it is vital that measures are taken to support and foster further initiatives which are independent of public subsidies or state support.

“The purpose of our work has been, against the background of perhaps the greatest political media scandal of a generation, to look at the future of investigative journalism in the light of the problems currently facing the media and the technological revolution unfolding in this area. We hope that what we have done will enable those going into the issues in greater detail than us to come forward with proposals which will be relevant to and protect the responsible investigative journalism of tomorrow.”

Other proposals made include that fines for breaches of regulatory codes should be allocated to a special fund reserved for the financing of investigative journalism; all PR practitioners should abide by a clear code of behaviour, potentially overseen by a third party; and that zero-rated VAT for newspapers should be maintained, but that Government should consider further legality of any proposals to limit this to PCC members only.

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