Media ethics self-reg crunch time

The Leveson inquiry into media practice in the UK rolls on in parallel with our own Independent Media Inquiry.

The turn has now come to some of the journalists to give evidence at the inquiry. Yesterday former News of the World reporter Paul McMullen defended phone hacking and other illegal and un-ethical practices in the name of the public interest. He also claimed that former editors Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson knew about the methods and encouraged them.

One of the key players in exposing the disgraced practices at News of the World, Nick Davis senior investigative reporter with The Guardian, also gave evidence. He appears to have lost faith in media ethics self-regulation as he told the inquiry that ”I don’t think this is an industry that is interested in, or capable of, self-regulation”. I hope he is wrong.

In my submission to the Independent Media Inquiry I argued that the media industry should get one more go to pro-avtively clean up its act and prove that it can regulate itself. The stakeholders and the public needs to be convinced that the reformed system is user friendly, well funded and fair. If the industry proves incapable of doing this – then, and only then, do we need to consider other avenues such as legislation.

The Australian submissions page now contains a large number of documents that are well worth a read as they span a wide variety of views of what is wrong with the current media ethics regime and suggestions of reform. After I had finished my reading of the submissions my long standing puzzlement with the unwillingness of the media industry to take the issue of public trust seriously was strengthened.

It’s time for the media industry to change gear from reactive to pro-active. Eric Beecher sums it up at the end of his submission to the inquiry.

“Unless the media puts its own house in order, transparently and aggressively, there is every chance over the next few years that governments and courts, under pressure from the disillusioned consumers of journalism, will do it for us.”