A self-regulating press is exactly what we need to maintain the public’s trust.

To add salt to wounds and strengthen the negativity spreading through newsrooms across the country, the Media Standards Trust released a report this week which concludes, in no uncertain terms, that quality reporting is going down the pan and as a breed, journalists are an unlikeable bunch.

According to the report, the economic downturn poses a real threat to  standards of journalism. More job cuts mean that overworked hacks are having to churn out twice as much copy than they had been previously. By working on a variety of multimedia platforms journalists are stretching themselves too far, andwhat’s more (pass the salt please), reporters are more often forgoing traditional values and writing sensationalist stories simply to increase sales.

All in all this has led the public to entirely distrust the media. The MST and supporters are keen to use the treatment of the Madeleine McCann case as an example.

The report concluded: “Public trust in the press has fallen below the level necessary for it to perform its proper role in a democratic society.

“At a time of serious decline in newspaper sales, a renewal of public confidence would be as much in the industry’s interests as in the public interest.”

In my mind, the general public have never welcomed the press with open arms. The fact that people recoil as soon as I tell them I am studying journalism is evidence of this enough.

The crux of their report is, however, that it is the self-regulation model of the press that doesn’t work. The MST argues that the Press Complaints Commission is not doing enough to maintain a sufficient level of quality control in the media and that a reform is needed.

Helena Kennedy, board member of the MST, argues that the PCC “lacks the accountability, transparency and resources… to effectively protect the interests of the public and promote good journalism.”

Let me praphrase loosely:  The PCC are a push over and let the press get away with anything. How can we expect anyone to trust the media to hold those in power to account when it cannot regulate itself.

Peter Wilby argues that “members of the public know perfectly well what they are getting when they buy newspapers”.

Although it does not sit well with me that journalists knowingly publish inaccurate stories for entertainment purposes (I am then, a naive idealist) and you clearly cannot absolve journalists of the responsibility of truth-telling by saying that readers should know when they’re lying, Wilby rightly points out that it is by virtue of living in a free and democratic society that we have the luxury of being able to question the contrasting agendas or interests of our newspapers.

If there was a general consensus of absolute trust between all members of the public in regard to the press I would fear for the diversity of our press.

There is clearly a need for the PCC to reform in face of a changing industry, however I doubt this will alter the public’s levels of trust. What is sure to increase cynicism however, is the the prospect of a government approved body acting as regulator on our currently diverse press.

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