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Online Open Season on UK Media Regulation

A government-appointed inquiry team under the Lord Justice Leveson is to spend at least one year looking into UK press ethics and regulation following scandalous revelations about illicit phone hacking by journalists at the News of the World. The affair has been kept in the spotlight by investigative journalist Nick Davies and his colleagues at The Guardian. To date 11 people, including News International executives, journalists and their associates have been arrested as part of a criminal investigation into the scandal.

Lord Leveson will look into the specifics of the case once judicial proceedings have been completed. For details of his team's terms of reference see below.

The whole affair has already had extraordinary repercussions, with the closure of one of Britain’s oldest and most popular, if salacious, newspapers and the loss of hundreds of jobs, the recall of parliament, global media magnate Rupert Murdoch being humiliated before a special parliamentary hearing, the resignation of London’s most senior police officers, and the most powerful examples yet of how ‘social media’ can hold the mainstream to account. It has also led to the Chair of the Press Complaints Commission announcing she will stand down once her three-year term is over. It has had an impact overseas too.

For background on the News of the World scandal see the Wikipedia article.

For a time line see here.

For a wall chart see here.

The closure of the News of the World followed, but is not directly attributable to, an online campaign directed at its advertisers. For an account of how it was developed see here.

Public opprobrium also affected subscriptions to its more venerable sister paper The Times, available online but only behind a paywall.

And the impact of Twitter has been evident in many different ways. Within minutes of one MP tweeting about a briefing paper about reform of self-regulation supplied by MediaWise, the BBC was requesting an interview with the journalism ethics charity about its content. For further information see here.

Bloggers have had a field day. See for example "gawker".

Journalists have been engaged in a lot of self-reflection too – for examples see

- Fleet Street Blues,

- Emma Hartley's Glamour Cave,

- Pressgazette.

Meanwhile numerous online fora have opened up to encourage public debate about the future of British journalism and regulation. See for example openDemocracy.

And media watchdog groups and academics have formed a consortia to prepare evidence and recommendations to the Leveson inquiry which will begin its hearings in September.

Watch this space - as they say…


Text: Mike Jempson is Director of the journalism ethics charity MediaWise, which has been warning about unethical behaviour by tabloid journalists and calling for reform of the regulatory system for almost 20 years.

Photo: HowardLake/flickr.com

MediaAct News – August 30, 2011

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