Maria Miller has overshadowed the Leveson debate and has become the 'news' story. This conveniently takes the focus off Oliver Letwin and the group of editors. The news that Miller' s special adviser had been threatening a journalist from the Daily Telegraph prompted Dr. Evan Harris, Associate Director,of Hacked off, to comment "I think this morning Hacked Off are calling for her to be rescued. This Maria Miller story is astonishing." Unfortunately this puts the whole debate in a political ding dong which i don think we want.
This side show is interesting but it is taking us away from the vital parts of the debate. How do we deal with the speed required from the internet. One thing that is very clear is that Leveson is grappling with the internet and the power and the jurisdiction issues that this involves. It is agreed that legislation for the media applies to states and regions - but the elephant in the room remains what to do with the internet. His lecture in Melbourne was his second in Australia. While his report is very detailed, effective application is the problem. The feeling one gets is that the horse has bolted and little progress is being made. We will be in the same situation again.
What does the internet do to the quality of 'journalism' are they different or should we view them as one and the same. The big question for media companies is how with this perceived threat do they make money to invest in their stock trade. How do you make this type of journalism stand out as a product the public will buy and support. Maybe Leveson holds the key to this success.
The media have reaction to Leveson is well documented they don't like it. I wonder if some of their analysis is wrong. If you take a lateral looks, like the cookies debate, changes could offer the industry a reputation boost and a mark of quality which would bring them to a new audience and allow them to sell more papers. We use quality marks as a consumer driver in most of our services and products so why not the media?
Last tuesday I was sitting on a panel with Chris Blackhurst, editor of The Independent. he raised the internet issue and framed it within the context of accuracy versus speed difference between print and online journalism. The speed issue when it comes to online means that quality and accuracy are at risk. Once content is published online it is gone and it can never be brought back.
This is the challenge and it feeds into a wider point which is quality journalism over online opinion and comment. We pay a good price for good media because they invest in talented staff who challenge and investigate stories. They spend hours, days and months working on stories which sometimes never get published. But all the time they are building up knowledge that is used to keep powers within our society to account and this is journalism that I believe is worth having and supporting. We need it. What does further regulation achieve?
Is what's being offered enough to rehabilitate the reputation of the media? When they have to make a profit and balance that against dong the "right thing" - is this not too much to ask? Is it a feasible proposal?
We want a free press in the UK , one that is challenging, awkward ,campaigning and takes on the established power and the elites. (We want the Maria Miller stories to be investigated) However, if the press is free with so much power that it becomes oppressive over the individual or abuses its power, then this is bad for society and for people and making progress. Post Leveson,it would be good to see more compassion and humility in reporting.
In essence, the issue is about ethics, morals and culture. In practice, the editors who publish and the media owners who employ them. They have to set the standard as to what is right and what is wrong. This would be both the most practical and the most powerful way of reforming the media.
However the reputational problems for the media at this moment are huge. There are a lot of mythologies around the role of the media which are both confused and confusing. One is that they only publish what we the public wants .This is only partially true. Media in whatever form is only a product and ultimately consumers can choose what they want to 'buy' and what they don't. In the end I suspect that the quality of the product will dictate which sections survive and thrive and which wither and die within the next decade.
And what would regulation do? In September the World Economic Forum reported that the UK has moved higher in its global competitiveness league table - but warns of a weak macroeconomic environment. There have been articles in City Am and The Guardian saying that regulation is costing us so much for certain sectors but is being slashed for others. The question is would regulation in the media sector be similar to regulation in the banking sector. Would it add to the country's stability which could improve the reputation of "brand UK" as a destination for business and investment. Would it create a quality mark of a quality product and improve sales in the media industry sector.
The cookies law is an example of regulation that received very bad press from everyone and now, after the law has been introduced in Europe, studies show that users look for compliance with the cookies law (i.e. the pop up requesting consent) on companies websites and see it as an implied "quality" mark. Similarly this regulation could be viewed as a measure of the quality of service/information being provided by the media. So maybe it is a benefit - but i don't think that fleet street will agree.