Ethics and regulation in the post-Leveson newsroom

By Melissa Hunt, student journalist at The Sheffield College

The second day of the NCTJ’s skills conference in Sheffield took place on Friday, 28 November, hosted by Sheffield College.

Joanne Butcher, chief executive of the NCTJ, started the morning’s session, thanking Sheffield’s college principal, Heather Smith, for hosting this year’s event.

The principal reminded delegates of the long history Sheffield College has alongside the NCTJ, with courses taught at the institution since it was known as Richmond College.

In recent times the NCTJ diploma has been running at the Norton College campus, but will soon be moving to a new state of the art building at Hillsborough next year.

Heather Smith reflected on the changes in the teaching of reporting, drawing on her own memories of when classes used to be split into two groups, with motoring journalism for boys and fashion writing for girls.

The conference then moved onto the topic of discussion for the morning on “ethics and regulation in the post Leveson newsroom.”

The debate, chaired by Mark Hanna from the University of Sheffield, opened with a speech by Gary Shipton from Sussex Newspapers and deputy chair of Johnston Press.

Championing the regional press, he praised local newsroom for their continued “honesty, strength and accuracy”, making it clear Leveson found regional titles guilty of nothing.

Mr Shipton said that local newsrooms had always had the true support of the PCC and now had to “pick up the tab of one or two red-tops.”

He quoted Sir Allen Moses saying that IPSO’s ability to be a  genuine regulator would not depend on the conclusions made but the procedure through which they are reached.

Mr Shipton made in clear that his regional titles embrace IPSO and train all their journalists in the emerging editors code and how to enforce it.

He highlighted the importance of journalists getting online training, with the NCTJ extending their modules in these ethical areas.

He believed that if newsrooms are going to rely on the public interest defense they should test it out before publication and not after, and that internal monitoring was vital.

The talk then moved on to Doug Wills, managing editor of the Evening Standard and The Independent titles.

Mr Wills was quick to point out that the perception of journalism by the public is at an all time low.

He drew attention to a recent YouGov poll that found BBC broadcast journalism to be the most trusted form of news, with 31% of those polled.

This compared to the red-tops and the Daily Mail, with only 2-3% of the public trusting what they print.

Mr Wills said newspapers needed to get their PR right:

“We spend all our time telling stories but we haven’t told our own.”

He argued that all journalists shouldn’t be tarnished with the same brush, and perhaps print news could learn something from broadcast journalism.

This line of debate was then picked up Peter Lowe, acting head and managing director of Sky News.

Mr Lowe paralleled the similarities between print and broadcast news regulations, with the Editors Code and Ofcom containing common stances on privacy and protecting under 18s.

However he said the lack of impartiality in print could be a source of problems in the industry.

For Mr Lowe, the biggest issue for ethics and regulation was the “explosion of social media.”

He gave the example of Twitter to demonstrate the problem with authentication of news along with copyright issues surrounding photographs.

On the future of reporting Mr Lowe said:

“What I expect to see in young journalists is commitment to the standards we uphold and understanding of fairness and morality.”