Press reform campaign group Hacked Off is considering targeting advertisers over the ethical implications of placing ads in ‘non-Leveson compliant’ titles in a bid to pressure the newspaper industry on press regulation.
The move comes as the stand-off between the press industry and the government shows no sign of abating, and Hacked Off said it would appeal to the “corporate social responsibility” of advertisers to up the pressure on the press.
Speaking to The Drum, new Hacked Off executive director Joan Smith – a journalist and victim of phone-hacking – said: “We’re very interested in this, the idea of corporate social responsibility and advertisers placing ads in non-Leveson compliant newspapers.
“Most advertisers and big companies have commitments to social responsibility, and we’re very keen to explore why they are placing adverts in newspapers that offer no redress to victims of press intrusion.”
When the full extent of the phone-hacking scandal at the News of the World became apparent in 2011, advertisers deserted the paper in droves following public pressure before Rupert Murdoch finally closed the paper down.
Most of the national newspaper titles are refusing to comply with the government’s Royal Charter legislation on press regulation and have instead set up self-regulator Ipso, which will replace the criticised Press Complaints Commission (PCC).
The industry has strongly opposed the government’s involvement in the process and has claimed any state involvement is a threat to a free press.
But Hacked Off has insisted that allowing the press to keep its own system of regulation will result in a continuation of the press culture that led to the Leveson inquiry into press ethics.
According to Smith, Hacked Off will be “watching closely” to see how Ipso – which is expected to launch in September – operates and rather than wind down activities following the phone-hacking trial and creation of the Royal Charter on press regulation, the group will continue political pressure in the run up to next year’s general election.
“None of those things [phone-hacking trial, Leveson inquiry] were the end of it,” Smith said. “The issue is newsroom culture. It’s never just been about hacking.
“We do have an election strategy. We are talking to all three major parties and questioning what will be in their manifestos on press culture. It’s not over until there is a recognised regulator and a change of culture. It was always going to be a long haul battle.”
Smith cited the recent case of the Daily Mail’s inaccurate reporting about George Clooney’s fiancé's mother and the coverage of L’Wren Scott’s death as examples of the newspaper industry “putting two fingers up to Leveson”, and argued that recent newspaper claims that the ‘Leveson effect’ had prevented them from naming Rolf Harris earlier in the sex abuse investigation were misleading.
“The same papers run editorials complaining that men are named at all in rape trials,” she said. “There’s a double standard from those complaining that they couldn’t name Rolf Harris. There’s a real self-serving element with these complaints.”
Smith, who works as a journalist for the Independent on Sunday and the Guardian – the two national titles still to declare whether or not they will sign up to Ipso – added that Hacked Off would like to see a “Leveson part two” to further examine press culture following the ongoing criminal prosecutions.
Last month, former News of the World editor and government director of communications Andy Coulson was found guilty on charges of conspiracy to hack phones while fellow former editor Rebekah Brooks was cleared of all charges.
Coulson was sentenced alongside four other former staff members of the News of the World who pleaded guilty to hacking charges – Neville Thurlbeck, James Weatherup, Greg Miskiw and Glenn Mulcaire – and given an 18 month jail term.
Following the trial, Hacked Off released a video from Gemma Dowler, the sister of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler whose phone was hacked while she was missing to “remind politicians of the promises they made”, according to Smith. The group also staged a social media ‘thunderclap’ to demand the implementation of press regulation recommended in the Leveson report.