Frontline Club, a London hub for British journalists, asked its members last week to share their thoughts on the ongoing phone hacking scandal. The results, detailed below, make for interesting reading. They show that, of those who have responded to the survey so far, there is broad agreement on a range of issues – from opposition to statutory regulation, to the role of investigative journalism and the need for a new code of ethics.
Now the survey has been opened to the public, here. Frontline Club intend to publish more results later in the month, and will be using the contributions as part of a report to be submitted to the government select committee that has been assembled to gather evidence on the future of investigative journalism.
Of those who have so far responded to the survey, a majority believe:
* The phone hacking scandal will not fundamentally change the relationship between politics and journalism (Yes 18%; No 45%; Too early to tell 36%)
* Phone hacking was a widespread practice used by more media groups than just News International (Yes 82%; No 0%; Don't know 18%)
* Illegal practices such as blagging, bribery etc. were accepted as common practice in journalism (Yes 91%; No 9%; Don't know 0%)
*That the Press Complaints Commission should not be scrapped, but instead restructured (Yes 9%; No 9%; It shouldn't be scrapped, but it should be restructured 73%; Don't know 9%)
A majority of members also said they:
* Had confidence in the Media Ethics inquiry committee not to harm press freedoms (Yes 64%; No 18%; Don't know 18%)
* Did not believe the introduction of new statutory powers over the press was the best solution (Yes 0%; No 82%; 18%)
* Felt David Cameron's reputation and leadership has been harmed by the scandal (Yes 73%; No 18%; Don't know 9%)
* Unanimously agreed that the industry of journalism should implement a new code of ethics, similar to a Hippocratic oath (Yes 100%; No 0%; Don't know 0%)
Asked to propose a change to media regulation in the UK, contributions included:
* I would change the libel laws, which currently prevent journalists from reporting important issues which are in the public interest (eg: Trafigura case). There needs to be a way of separating out the exposure of corruption/wrong-doing by a company such as Trafigura and the exposure of some footballer's sexual habits. The latter is not necessarily in the public interest, unless he has a campaign to tell young people to be faithful to their spouses or somesuch. The former is.
* The fit and proper test applied to owners, editors and board members.
* Improve the right to privacy. France's privacy laws are tougher than those in the UK but France remains a thriving democracy, even if we Brits don't like to admit it.
* Hold the press accountable for incorrect or malicious reporting.
* Create an independent regulator that is neither for or against the press, but is genuinely independent.
* To have a [regulatory] body with more ability to act – more teeth.
Asked what function investigative journalism serves for society, respondents wrote:
* To watch the watchers and expose wrongdoing and hypocrisy.
* Its function is to reveal the truth, to root out facts many people often want to keep hidden, to re-establish fairness, to shine light in dark places. Good investigative journalism is journalism's strongest suit.
* Investigative journalism should call the powerful to account, and expose corruption. It is important in any democracy. It has nothing to do with prying into the private lives of celebrities – that's a separate matter. Journalists may need some subterfuge to carry it out, but this is not the same as hacking into the telephones of celebrities to get gossip.
* Journalism can hold individuals and institutions accountable in the way that elections every five years or AGMs do not. Its purpose should be to uncover that which others might wish to remain hidden. Preferably issues that affect society, not the issue of which slapper Giggsy is shagging.
Asked how the phone hacking scandal would end, answers included:
* With the weakening of News International, and diminution of Rupert Murdoch's power in British politics. I also think the tabloids may be 'tamed' to some extent but the danger is that important investigative reporting in the public interest will be caught in the same net.
* There will be a lot of early retirement (on full pensions of course) of many older hacks, of many more papers than have been implicated right now. There will be some calls for an independent press. Give it two months and it will all be forgotten.
* News Corp ousting the Murdochs, a few policeman and Coulson in jail.
* It will be old news at some point. Old scores will have been settled and new ones started. It will be referred by the sanctimonious to grab moral high ground when it is useful. Although it is extremely serious, it is being treated as a drama which devalues the important ethical implications.
* Cameron is brilliant; he can charm his way out of a crisis and turn on the head of a pin, so I don't think it will bring him down – though it could. I think it will inevitably lead to greater press regulation which is why we need to ensure our voice is heard soon and with strength and conviction.
* In 24 months we will have forgotten all about it.
If you would like to participate in the survey, you can do so here. It will be open until 12pm on 10 August, after which time the final results will be published alongside full statistics.