Media workers need a culture of solidarity

Submitted by Matthew on 4 August, 2011 - 10:23

Mike Jempson, the Director of The MediaWise Trust and a senior lecturer in journalism at the University of the West of England, spoke to Solidarity.

The Murdoch scandal confirms what a lot of us have said for a long time — that there's a very unhealthy relationship between people in positions of power, including the police, and the media.

Nothing that's emerged from the scandal has shocked me, with the possible exception of the statistic that of the Metropolitan Police's 45 press officers, 10 previously worked for News International.

We've been advocating on behalf of the people most affected by unethical journalism but the PCC has refused to accept that practices like phone hacking go on, and not just at News International newspapers. Those practices have been going on for years, most often in pursuit of sensational headlines, and very rarely to investigate serious criminal activity or expose abuses of power.

I’m hopeful that the Lord Leveson enquiry and the submissions made to it will lead to change. The scale of the scandal makes it practically impossible for the present system to be sustained. But there are dangers in terms of what might replace it.

For example, Ed Milliband was talking about a system of regulation similar to that in place for doctors or solicitors. That would mean licensing journalists and that is inimical to genuine press freedom.

There are other models worth considering, such as the one proposed by Clive Soley in his Freedom and Responsibility of the Press Bill in 1992. He proposed a body at one remove from both the industry and parliament, and underpinned by statute. It would have to be part publicly-funded and part industry-funded, but would both examine press misbehaviour and also defend press freedom.

Converged technologies and ownership means broadcast and online media should now be regulated on the same basis as print. There needs to be more lay representation and representation for working journalists.

The roots of this scandal lie in the Reagan and Thatcher administrations’ campaigns for deregulation across the board.

The right-wing libertarian approach which equates regulation with a lack of freedom is very dangerous; you get unsafe products on the market, a dismissal of consumer concern and you remove the possibility of workers having any meaningful contribution to the industry in which they work. Their campaign inevitably involved smashing any system of solidarity that existed amongst workers.

Journalists have had a long hard struggle to win back union recognition since the Wapping dispute and the last miners’ strike. When I was a young journalist, I felt able to stand up to my editor if I was being asked to do something I felt was wrong, I knew my colleagues would back me up.

That's because a culture of solidarity existed; that needs to be rebuilt.

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