ICE blogs

August 17, 2013

Ethical Spaces: What Leveson Missed

The 10th anniversary conference of the Institute of Communication Ethics, to be held at the Frontline Club, 13 Norfolk Place, London W2 1OJ, on 25 October 2013, will explore some of the many crucial ethical issues which went missing during the Leveson Inquiry.

One of the keynotes is to be given by Jake Lynch, Director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney and a Senior Research Fellow of the School of Communication at the University of Johannesburg. His paper is titled ‘Reporting conflict: The critical, realist approach’.

A selection of papers given at the conference will be published in a special conference issue of Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics.

• Cost of attendance: £65; students £10. For more information contact Dr Fiona Thompson, Director, The Institute of Communication Ethics, 69 Glenview Road, Shipley, West Yorkshire BD18 4AR; email

May 6, 2013

After Leveson: What role for citizen journalism?

‘After Leveson: Is citizen journalism the answer?’ is the title of a major conference on Saturday, 8 June, at the London College of Communication, Elephant and Castle, London SE1 6SB.

Hosted by the Citizen Journalism Educational Trust and The-Latest.Com, the event aims to build on the success of their ‘Media and the riots’ conference that brought young people and journalists face to face. The Leveson Inquiry accepted the conference report as evidence.

Top bloggers, campaigners for greater press regulation, including Hacked Off, those opposed to it, citizen journalists, scholars, students and members of the public will be at the one-day conference.

Marc Wadsworth, editor of the citizen journalism website,, commented: ‘In the wake of the outcry from Fleet Street’s finest about them not wanting to be regulated by law, the debate has turned to online news and comment. Will bloggers, and sites like ours, face draconian fines if lawyers are set loose on them? Or, should they be excluded from new regulation?

‘After the 2011 summer riots, some police and politicians, aware that young people share a lot of news using social media, urged the closing down of internet services including Twitter and Blackberry Messenger, during times of civil unrest. Yet the post-Leveson Inquiry debate seems to have by-passed discussion that the way forward may not be with “big media”, whose circulations are tumbling, but with alternative reporting by the people for the people in the shape of citizen journalism.’

- For more details about the conference see

March 24, 2013

Citizen media focus for colloquium

A two-day colloquium on citizen media is to be held 13-14 June 2013 in the Manchester Conference Centre. It is being organised by the Division of Languages and Intercultural Studies, at the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, University of Manchester.

The rapid shift from a mass media to a digital media culture in the past couple of decades has been the subject of considerable research. One important facet of this shift has been the process of media convergence and the concomitant blurring of boundaries between production and consumption practices in a wide range of contexts, including citizen journalism (news reporting, community radio and television, documentary filmmaking), individual or participatory co-creational work (self-broadcasting, crowdsourcing, fansubbing, scanlation, gaming), networked platforms of public deliberation (blogging, wikis) and other performative expressions of publicness (graffiti and citizen photography). Focusing on the involvement of citizens in this emergent digital culture, this two-day colloquium aims to bring together researchers and citizen media practitioners from different disciplinary and professional backgrounds with a view to sharing experiences and debating a number of recurrent themes in the field. These include:

• interrogating the ‘citizen’ in ‘citizen media’: what senses of ‘citizenship’ are activated in citizen media practices, and with what implications;
• the dialectic between citizen media and new technologies: empowering synergy or regulative tension;
• strategic vs therapeutic forms of self-mediation: activism, hacktivism, alter-globalism, altruistic humanitarianism and narcisstic exhibitionism;
• citizen media and protest movements;
• the ethics of witnessing and solidarity;
• playful forms of self-mediation (parody, satire);
• the threat of co-optation: containing the subversive within existing structures of political and corporate power;
• citizen media and the discursive constitution of public selves;
• citizen media and the construction of communities;
• citizen media and ‘the democratic deficit’;
• citizen media practices and piracy.

The programme is designed to ensure maximum participation by all attendees, and to allow sufficient time for discussion and exchange of views. There will be no parallel panels, and presentation slots are, therefore, limited. Plenary speakers are:

• Stuart Allan, Professor of Journalism and Director of the Centre for Journalism and Communication Research at Bournemouth University, UK. He has published widely on the emergence and development of news on the Internet, the online reporting of war, conflict and crisis, science journalism, and citizen journalism. His most recent book, Citizen Witnessing: Revisioning Journalism in Times of Crisis, was published by Polity in January 2013.

• Bolette Blaagaard, Assistant Professor at Aalborg University, Denmark and former Research Fellow at City University, London, where she was involved in setting up an international network to debate issues of citizenship and journalism, as well as carrying out research on citizen journalism and its implications for journalistic practices and education. She is co-editor of After Cosmopolitanism (Routlege 2012) and Deconstructing Europe (Routledge 2011).

• Simon Lindgren, Professor of Sociology at Umeå University, Sweden. He researches digital culture with a focus on social connections, social organization and social movements. He is actively taking part in developing theoretical as well as methodological tools for analysing discursive and social network aspects of the evolving new media landscape. His publications cover themes like hacktivism, digital piracy, citizen journalism, subcultural creativity and learning, popular culture and visual politics. Simon is the author of New Noise: A Cultural Sociology of Digital Disruption (2013).

• Ivan Sigal, Executive Director and co-founder of Global Voices, a community of more than 700 authors and 600 translators around the world who collect and make available reports from blogs and citizen media everywhere, with emphasis on voices that are not ordinarily heard in international mainstream media. He is author of White Road (Steidl Verlag 2012) and has extensive experience in supporting and training journalists and working on media co-productions in the Soviet Union and Asia.

If you are interested in presenting a paper, please send an abstract of 300 words by 15 April 2013 to Mona Baker ( or Luis Pérez-González ( Notifications of acceptance will be sent out by 25 April 2013.

Registration fees (to include lunch and refreshments on 13 and 14 June): Full registration: £50. Student registration: £30.

• See

August 11, 2012

Failures in reporting August 2011 riots highlighted

Serious failings by the mainstream media in their coverage of the August 2011 riots are highlighted in a major new report. It argues that the ‘unbalanced’ and ‘unhelpful’ coverage began with the shooting of Mark Duggan, the 29-year-old black man, by police in Tottenham.

‘In first reports of Duggan’s death, police stated that he was involved in a shoot-out with them, a statement that was later proved not to be true yet was reported as fact by news media.’

According to the report, the single most important reason for the spread of the disorder was the perception, relayed by television as well as social media, that in some areas the police had lost control of the streets. Social and broadcast media then helped the riots to spread.

The report stems from the ‘Media and the Riots’ conference organised by the Citizen Journalism Educational Trust and The-Latest.Com (the UK’s first dedicated citizen journalism website) on 26 November 2011.

It comments: ‘Conference participants felt that the apparent motivation of young people to target and loot shops and brands such as JD Sports, Foot Locker, Currys, Comet and PC World during the riots was strongly influenced by print and broadcast media. However, they also felt that this issue could not be adequately looked at without examination of the way in which the creative media industry, through films, music and video games, often glorified a criminal, gang or gangster-related lifestyle that some disadvantaged young people, including black males, then aspired to achieve.’

Marc Wadsworth, journalist, editor of and lecturer at City University, told the conference that most journalists covering the riots had no connection with Tottenham and as such did not know where to find authoritative voices: ‘They just fell back on lazy journalism, which was to rely on what the police was feeding them, what politicians were telling them and therefore not being the unbiased reporters they should be.’

The report also suggests that the Reading the Riots study, led by the Guardian and the London School of Economics, in analysing 2.57m tweets on Twitter sent around the riots, was ‘a model of good practice in looking for evidence about the use of social media and involvement in the riots, rather than relying on assertions’.

It identifies five action areas through which different actors - young people, citizens in affected areas, activists, journalists, professional journalism bodies, citizen journalists, educators - might use ‘the media’ to challenge the stigmatising of young people and affected communities and promote previously marginalised voices.

- hold the media to account;
- engage with journalists;
- communicate with decision-makers;
- promote citizen journalism;
- ensure wider access to journalism.

In a forward to the report, Professor Roy Greenslade, media commentator on the Guardian, welcomes its encouragement of citizen journalism. He continues: ‘But “big media”, at least at the moment, continues to hold sway over the national conversation. If it wishes to enhance democracy then it must ask itself whether it has become too remote from the public by creating a media class, a class apart from its audience.’

- Media and the riots: A call for action, £15 (organisations and companies); £5 (individuals); £3.50 (unwaged). Details from

August 2, 2012

‘Drone journalism’ focus for workshop

‘Drone journalism’ is coming to the UK, in perhaps the first event of its kind in Europe (the US is already ahead on this one, with the creation of the Drone Journalism Lab at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications, led by Matt Waite.)

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ) will host a workshop on 22 October to examine the use of drone aircraft in newsgathering and to make recommendations for policy and best practices. The event is co-sponsored by the Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy at the University of Oxford.
Advances in aviation and electronic control systems are now allowing drone aircraft/UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) to move from military to civilian applications and they have potential uses and benefits for newsgathering by providing aerial platforms for photography and videography. Because of their relatively small size, they are portable and can easily be moved to locations were reporting needs to take place.
Drones will alter aerial newsgathering, which is now done primarily via helicopter and light aircraft, by reducing the cost of operations, making them available to a larger number of news organizations, and increasing the uses of aerial platforms in different types of reporting. Potential uses include traffic observation, crowd observation (events, demonstrations, and civil disorders), observing events and activities in areas where land-based access is restricted, and in both sports and entertainment production.

The development of drone technology and the increasing desire for its use in civilian contexts creates a variety of policy, regulatory, and ethical challenges. This workshop is designed to document the issues and formulate recommendations regarding their deployment in the UK, Europe, and globally and thus influence future policy debates. Policy issues include aviation law, flight regulation, and privacy concerns.

The event is being organised by Prof. Robert G. Picard, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford, David Goldberg, Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, University of Oxford, and Daniel Bennett, War Studies Department, Kings College London.

- See

-Contact: tel: +44 (0)1865 611 080; email:

April 1, 2012

Role of the web in promoting hate

Dusan Babic, a Sarajevo-based media researcher and analyst, reports on a major conference tackling hate-speech in South Eastern Europe

The role of the internet in promoting hate speech in South Eastern Europe was the subject of a conference in Sarajevo in November 2011. The event was jointly organised by the Council of Europe, the Press Council in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a self-regulatory body for print and online media, and the Association of B-H Journalists (BH Novinari).

The conference, titled Living Together, was an outcome of a Council of Europe project launched in 2009, and produced a handbook on standards on the media’s contribution to social cohesion, intercultural dialogue, understanding, tolerance and democratic participation.

Although the conference covered a wide range of issues - such as the European legal framework, national regulation and practice and the role of self-regulation in combating hate speech - the prevailing opinion among the conference participants was that the internet was to blame for spreading hate speech.

In 2010, I conducted a survey and analysis of the most-popular web portals in three central states of the former Yugoslavia - Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina - commissioned by Sarajevo-based Media Plan Institute. I concluded that there were glaring examples of hate speech (largely a legacy of the wars of the 1990s) but they had not yet become a ‘mass phenomenon’ (see The internet: Freedom without boundaries?, Media Plan Institute, Sarajevo, 2010).

February 11, 2012

Children’s rights: Media responsibilities

Mike Jempson reports on a conference which will call on journalists to do more to acknowledge the rights and needs of young people

As the Leveson Inquiry evidence sessions continue, a conference at Bath Spa University will delve into another of the thorny issues that divides practitioners and pundits - the impact of media representations of young people.

One of the submissions to Leveson compiled by the Youth Media Agency and MediaWise, brought together 56 youth and media organisations to urge greater recognition among journalists and the regulators of the rights and needs of young people. Childhood and the media: Images, rights and responsibilities at Bath Spa University on Friday, 20 April, will examine some of these issues in more detail.

Representatives from Facebook and Google will explain their approaches to online safety, and the Press Complaints Commission, the Teenage Magazine Arbitration Panel and the Anti-Bullying Alliance will debate their contrasting roles in tackling the way young people are addressed and portrayed.

Other speakers include Elisabeth Ribbans, Managing Editor of the Guardian and Jim Gamble, former head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre.

In the afternoon an attempt will be made to devise a multi-disciplinary module for social care and journalism courses, and there will also be sessions for young people, teachers and broadcasters.

Conference organiser is David Niven, a former chair of the British Association of Social Workers, who has worked as child protection officer and has a longstanding interest in the complexities of media impact on behaviour and social attitudes. He commented:

‘If we want to effect change we need to engage with the media, but I dislike the way young people are demonised, patronised or marginalised by the media. They need to be included more if we want them to be more responsible as adults.

‘Print, broadcast and online media provide our most important educational influence. They are a window onto the world for perhaps 95 per cent of us. I have witnessed the influence of the media on children and families, for good and ill.’

He warned: ‘Now we have the new challenges of social media on which young people spend huge amounts of time, consume an enormous amount of information, and put themselves at risks which are not fully appreciated. For example, the internet makes it easier for contact to be re-established between abusive parents and children who have been removed from their care.’

Niven still supported the recommendations of Elizabeth Lawson QC, then Chair of the Family Law Bar Association, following the Child Exploitation and the Media Forum he organised with PressWise (now MediaWise) in March 1997. She called for the training of social workers and journalists to include better understanding of each other’s roles and limitations.

‘Not enough has been done to bridge that gap of ignorance and distrust over the last 25 year,’ Niven stressed. ‘We are creating a space in Bath for practitioners, trainers and academics from both sides of the fence to get together. One lasting legacy would be a common module that can really make a difference for the future.’

The event is the fourth in a series of conferences organised by Bath Spa School of Education in association with DNA, most of which have focused on social care issues. They are linked to the development of a 120 credit Certificate of Education in Integrated Child Protection Studies being pioneered at the university.

- Childhood and the media: Images, rights and responsibilities, Friday, 20 April, 2011, Michael Tippett Centre, Bath Spa University, Newton St Loe, Bath BA2 9BN. To book places visit and pay via PayPal or send the address for invoices to

November 1, 2011

Hackgate and its implications

Tim Crook reports on the annual conference of the Institute of Communication Ethics

The Institute of Communications Ethics held its annual conference on Friday, 28 October, in London and explored Hackgate and its implications. The papers presented at the Foreign Press Association in the Commonwealth Club reflected the consternation and divided opinions that the scandal has generated within British journalism and the academy.

The discussion coincides with the judicial and public inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press, including its unlawful behaviour headed by the English Appeal Court judge Lord Justice Leveson set up under the 2005 Inquiries Act. According to the Independent, there are now around 200 police detectives engaged in enquiries into alleged press illegality at News International’s News of the World and elsewhere, the work of private detectives, and alleged payments by journalists to police officers.

I was happy to attend an event that I thought more intelligently and effectively explored the key issues in a way that the Leveson enquiry may be unlikely to achieve. I gave a paper entitled ‘Infantilising the Feral Beast: The criminalisation of the bad boys and girls of popular journalism: Hackgate’s boomerang’ and was happily accompanied by three students from Goldsmiths as well as the researcher, Justin Schlosberg, a PhD candidate at Goldsmiths working within the Leverhulme Media Research Centre.

Justin presented a compelling paper indicating that British television news had marginalised the representation of the awkward questions being raised about the death of the weapons inspector Dr. David Kelly and the Hutton Enquiry ‘inquest’ verdict that he had died as a result of suicide. This level of textual, qualitative and quantitative research enables us to question shibboleths and preconceived notions about what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ journalism.

As I mentioned to my Goldsmiths’ colleagues, conferences of this kind take our opinions and knowledge outside our own comfort zones to be tested by other perspectives as well as being the chance to air our own research and opinions.

The scandal has shaken me over the last few months. Although I had heard the allegations and acknowledged the ‘industrial gossip’ over the years, I had naively and, I accept, stupidly assumed that the new generation of showbusiness/celebrity ‘masters and mistresses of the universe’ in the 1990s through to at least 2007 obtained their ‘intrusive’ stories by persuading friends, associates and employees of the great, the good and the ugly to confidentially whistleblow; however lowly the ‘lowest common denominator’ of subject.

I have an essentially shy and embarrassed anticipation and assumption about asking personal questions and although having been a journalist for several decades, I have never had that ability to whisper and plumb intimate secrets with such apparent panache and success.

Well now it seems some or much of that ’success’ and journalistic pizazz was no more than grubby snooping of targets’ mobile messaging, and possible phone and computer tapping. And other ‘great’ stories may have been obtained by metaphorically passing brown envelopes stuffed with cash to serving police officers. How absurdly pathetic.

It is not even ‘hard’ work’. Journalism for me has hardly been glamorous. Any significant stories I have ever unearthed, if they could ever be described as ’significant’ came about by endless grind and slogging, eyes straining through swirls of microfiche, and pages of documents in badly lit surroundings, working well into the early hours of the morning, waiting forlornly for people to meet me in cold, dreary and banal places, waiting for telephone calls and emails that were never replied to. Most of the work was boring and attended to by anxiety. The adrenaline and rush were so rare, I find it hard to recall any.

And as the mythology is stripped from the high octane, on the edge realm of Hackgate sleaze sleuthing, we are getting a sad and ridiculous picture of some stoned journalists with addiction problems and inadequate personalities, promoted and paid way beyond their talent zone, some snorting cocaine and dropping ‘E’s to keep up with the fringes of celebrocrats who probably had much less talent than they had.

And so the Wizard of Oz is a bald, little man struggling to control levers and the puffing of dry ice behind an illusory light and sound show. We have an almost allegorical myth of the Hackgate Wizard keeping a ledger of mobile phone numbers, pin codes, computer ISP numbers, and an armoury of Trojan computer viruses, and digital video and sound recording software in the warehousing of sneaking and snooping across the highs and lows of human success, failure, and tragedy. Just how typical, widespread and real this myth actually was is a matter for police and judicial enquiry. This degree of journalistic vice, although exceptional, risks being unfortunately misrepresented as the general.

Equally absurd about the Hackgate phenomenon is the vista of the sins of the past visiting and punishing the innocent of the present. Far from being properly condemned as the impulsive vandalism, cynical business move, and destructive censorship by a foreign press baron, Rupert Murdoch’s shutting down of the News of the World was fast hand clapped by Britain’s liberal intelligentsia. The Foreign Secretary William Hague said ’sad, but necessary’ in a live two way from Benghazi. And so George Orwell’s 1946 observation:

It is Sunday afternoon preferably before the war. The wife is already asleep in the armchair and the children have been sent out for a nice long walk. You put your feet up on the sofa, settle your spectacles on your nose and open the News of the World.

is now consigned to an obscure and forgotten footnote of popular cultural history.

In reflecting on the brilliant and fascinating papers given at the conference I have been left wondering whether we might have a choice between modernism as antithetical to censorship and a celebration of the anti-social and the art of the scoundrel and the rascal…and postmodernism: the nihilistic indifference to freedom and a collage of the past to mask the present.

The morning keynote address was provided by Professor Brian Cathcart of Kingston University - also accompanied by a cheerful brood of his students - in which he explored the methodology and modus operandi of developing a professional individual responsibility for journalists through source trailing.

Professor Cathcart is part of the ‘Hacked Off’ campaign and very much an intelligent critic, along with the Media Standards Trust, of journalistic irresponsibility. ‘Hacked Off’, and in particular the Guardian journalist Nick Davies and the solicitor Mark Lewis, ably and courageously fought to challenge the denials, obfuscations and false-consciousness of the country’s media and political establishment who had hoped that the 2006-2007 enquiry, prosecution and conviction of one journalist and one private detective was all that was needed and representative in terms of discretionary policing.

In my opinion Professor Cathcart and his associates cannot be blamed for the problems of boomerang, disproportionate political and legal reaction to this scandal. They must be praised for iconoclastic campaigning, investigative journalism and outstanding legal advocacy.

We cannot forget, as he took an opportunity of reminding us in the afternoon, that Hackgate is not just about super-rich indulgent celebrities having their silly private lives tittled and tattled about. The events include the unlawful interception and manipulation of a child abduction and murder victim, Milly Dowler, the victims of modern day terrorism in London and possibly New York City, and the potential interference and obstruction of a murder enquiry into a man slaughtered in a pub car park in Sydenham whose body was left with an axe embedded in his skull.

Dr. Damien Carney, Principal Lecturer in the School of Law at Portsmouth Business School, constructively discussed methods of improving media accountability through regulation. He emphasised the importance and advantage of actively involving the National Union of Journalists and balancing regulation with media freedom and rights scrutiny and protection.

Sean Dodson, Senior Lecturer in Journalism at Leeds Metropolitan University, presented an impressive analysis of the need to develop a relevant and effective self-regulatory code for journalists on the internet. He made some compelling references to codes agreed by US media institutions that seem to be much more progressive and alert to the new world of contemporary multimedia journalistic practice.

He also reminded us that there are many aspects of US journalistic and online culture with much higher and stringent standards of integrity. UK journalists should read the code of ethics for The New York Times and National Public Radio to discover how the US tradition of establishing and maintaining trust between journalists and audience has a longer and more effective trail.

John Mair, chair of ICE, passionately articulated a compelling charge against those responsible for ‘Hackgate’ and a tribute to the warriors shaking News International to its foundations. Rupert Murdoch’s operation as a media magnate between the 20th and 21st centuries, like that of his predecessor press barons, leaves a nasty and ambiguous legacy. Business success and profits have sustained ailing national titles and expanded broadcasting satellite employment and provision.

But the very brakes that a strong trade union presence in mentoring and ethical regulation could have provided were long destroyed and dismantled when he divided and ruled the NUJ chapels of his Fleet Street assets in the middle 1980s to skedaddle to his notorious industrial theme park in Wapping.

Professor John Tulloch, of Lincoln University, was a veritable high and cream tea mid-morning. Lovingly pressing his fingers against anthologies of Charles Dickens’ journalism, John revealed that hacks and coppers have been ‘at it’ from the very beginnings of mass media newspaper publication and modern policing that the creator of Chuzzlewit, Little Nell, Uriah Heap, and Oliver Twist actually campaigned for in the early 19th century.

Professor Tulloch was a cultural and intellectual treat, academic and scholarly nectar, and gave us a little flavour of the riches that undergraduate and postgraduate students at Lincoln must have on a more regular basis.

As he self-effacingly referred to his research as ‘work in progress’ and extemporised with precise and entertaining academic prose Dickens’ role as journalist, magazine editor, and his apparent happy financial investment in Metropolitan Police story provision, he left us with a compassionate entreaty for the tolerance of the journalistic rascal and scoundrel through the ages.

Healthy sandwiches, mineral water, orange juice, coffee and biscuits for lunch were followed by Richard Peppiatt, former reporter for the Daily Star. Richard could have been type-cast as the repentant tabloid hack, but in fact he contributed strongly to the debate with intelligent analysis in the Baudrillard frame of simulacra and his realisation that those working within a tabloid newsroom need greater insight and awareness of the difference between ‘journalism’ and ’story telling’. Both are creative enterprises, but the former needs ethics and responsibility.

Richard is no stranger to Goldsmiths. On his last visit there, he ‘confessed’ to infiltrating the first days of teaching in the history department of the Princess Beatrice as part of his reporting duties for a national ‘newspaper’ covering the country and the world with two or three foot sloggers.

His presentation indicated considerable potential as an academic lecturer. If it is within his personal ambition, I certainly think he deserves a fair run of intelligent journalism at the BBC or a Guardian style media institution.

Jackie Newton, Senior Lecturer in Journalism at Liverpool John Moores University, and Dr. Sallyanne Duncan, Lecturer in Journalism and Media Ethics at the University of Strathclyde, revealed brilliant research into journalistic use of social media and the relationship between journalists and the bereaved. This is just the kind of information needed at the Leveson inquiry.

They have quietly and professionally explored and researched the practices of regional journalists, who of course, make up the majority of British journalistic publication, and who do not appear to be properly represented at Leveson. What they discovered, and I apologise for simplifying or not comprehensively reflecting the complexity of their study, is that:

1) the bereaved need journalists and appreciate their interest; particularly when most of their suffering is caused by the criminal justice system and not the media;

2) overblown construction and expectation of ‘privacy’ for the bereaved should not result in any self-censorial journalistic avoidance of the bereaved;

3) there is an active contestation and debate about the ethics of using material from social media sites without the permission of bereaved families even though they appear to be public spaces, when in fact they are perceived by many relatives of ‘victims’ to belong to Habermasian ‘intimate space’.

Dr Eamonn O’Neill, Programme Director of the MSc in Investigative Journalism at the University of Strathclyde, explored the complexities of challenging the rule of law when pursuing a public interest that can be supported and confirmed as ‘a greater good’.

It requires professional discipline, strong and supportive editorial and legal supervision, and something I have been advising colleagues and students for many years: the need to protect sources and confidential information through digital safeguarding, counter-surveillance techniques and putting controversial material in a protective shield beyond the British legal jurisdiction.

Dr. O’Neill spoke with authority and referenced some of his own case histories working ‘undercover’ (though in one case he used his own name: it seems nobody bothered to Google him!) exposing a miscarriage of justice and meeting a renegade MI5 agent abroad for the purposes of journalism.

Digital finger-printing can, of course, work both ways. It seems his blog is regularly visited by somebody at the Home Office and he is tempted to increase the boredom level of his postings in anticipation of the apparent surveillance.

David Baines and Joel Stein, of Newcastle University, presented more detailed qualitative and quantitative research into the potential problematical relationship between a regional business daily and the Northern Rock, then a major employer, investor and political and social institution.

As I found when presenting a broadcast business programme many years ago, there was not a lot of scope for ideological questioning of the fruits of capitalism, high profit and short-term banking practices. David and Joel’s exploration of ‘myth-making on the business pages’ reminded everyone that the world’s financial crisis has powerful and compelling dimensions in the local and regional frame of journalism.

The final, and I think, most powerful presentation of the day came from Professor Tim Luckhurst of the University of Kent. He warned convincingly that Leveson and the wider crisis of journalism standards, ethics and illegality risked missing the target and ignoring the prize.

Expensive and invaluable public interest journalism needs a new business model. The present one is failing. What does a nihilistic endgame attack on News International achieve? The Times is kept alive by the Sun. The success of the News of the World and others like it cross-pollinate across the media industry that is dying from new media, the fiduciary drainage of media legal and compliance settlements and many other climate change dimensions in economies of scale and social and media consumption.

‘Don’t imagine,’ said Professor Luckhurst, ‘that the readers of the Daily Star are not perfectly aware of what they are buying and reading. I speak as somebody who went from comprehensive school to Cambridge University and would not for one minute wish to patronise the kind of people who know what is real news and entertaining story telling.’

The debate acknowledged the risk of moral entrepreneurs giving ‘Hackgate’ an importance that was disproportionate to the problems it revealed. A reference was made to the weapons of mass destruction scandal and the Chilcot enquiry. Surely more important? Points and arguments were robustly and respectfully made and then the delightful, award-winning Professor Richard Keeble, continually grabbing my copy of the last edition of the News of the World to highlight the quotation from his beloved George Orwell, got everyone in a circle, distinguished professors included, to reflect on why did Hackgate happen and what is the solution?

Never being one to avoid getting in a last word or two, I piped up: ‘Ego, fear and ambition’ and left it to the other half circle to suggest some reforms and amelioration.
Solutions that do not cut journalism below the knees, as one of my colleagues once graphically described it, are difficult to find. But if there was a consensus emerging, I thought it was the empowerment of the individual journalist’s ‘conscience clause’ in regulation and employment contracts, long campaigned for by the NUJ. It is a low cost and non-punitive popularist option. It has the advantage of confronting the oppression of aggressive and unethical media managements demanding ‘rat-like cunning’ with the ends justifying a doubtful means culture. The battle zone would be employment tribunals.

- The conference was superbly organised by Fiona Thompson and twittered as #ICE2011

September 25, 2011

Call for papers: Institute of Communication Ethics Annual Conference, 28 October 2011

Filed under: Blogroll, News, journalism, conflict, conferences — news_editor @ 5:29 pm

The annual conference of the Institute of Communication Ethics is to be held on October 28 at the Commonwealth Club, 25 Northumberland Avenue, London WC2N 5AP, from 10 am to 5 pm. The theme is to be “Cops, Hacks and Hackers: Communication and Ethics in the Internet Age”. The on-going “Hackgate” controversy, the rise and rise of Twitter and the implications for personal privacy and journalistic responsibilities; and the Guardian’s use of mobile footage provided by a “citizen journalist” in its expose on the death of news vendor Ian Tomlinson on the G20 demo in April 2009 provide some of the context for the conference.

Papers are invited on a range of issues:

- Ethics of modern (especially tabloid) journalism
- Internet ethics for journalists
- Hacks and police PR: is the relationship too close?
- Super-injunctions and serial philanderers: are there any solutions?
- The long, murky history of journalists’ relationship with the Metropolitan Police
- Is there a special role for social networks in investigative journalism?
- Law and disorder: the coverage of crime in the local media
- What’s the place for an ethically engaged literary reportage in an age of sound-bites and PR-fed churnalism?
- The history of Special Branch’s links with mainstream journalists
- How do journalists cover the crimes of the powerful and the wealthy? Are there consistent cover-ups in the coverage?
- Can internet-based investigative journalism fulfil the watchdog role that the traditional mainstream media have so often failed to provide?
- Has the framing of the WikiLeaks story by the mainstream media undermined rather than endorsed the role of whistleblowers?

Abstracts (of 200 words) on these and other related issues should be sent to ICE director Prof Richard Lance Keeble, of the University of Lincoln, ( before October 2. Papers chosen for the conference will be published in a special edition of Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics (which has gained an A ranking in the Australian equivalent of the RAE). Leading figures from the world of academia and the communications industries will give keynote talks to the conference.

November 27, 2010

Just gimme some ‘truth’!?

Filed under: Blogroll, News, ethical space editors blog, Headlines, journalism, conferences — news_editor @ 10:18 pm

John Mair, chair of the Institute of Communication Ethics, reflects on ICE’s annual conference in London on 29 October 2010 when a fascinating range of papers dared to ponder the meaning of truth
Friday is a suitable day for penance and thinking about the idea of truth. Good for the soul. I spent the whole day with hackademics at ICE’s conference on ‘Journalism, PR and the problem of truth telling’ ( London.
Fascinating it was too.
Some starters for ten. Is truth a noun or a verb? Is it upper case or lower case? Just what is the truth and whose is it? As Trevor Morris, one of Britain’s two Professors of PR, put it: ‘PR is not a branch of moral philosophy!’ Some speakers, however, thought it should be.
Most amusing and thought-provoking was Chris Atkins, the director of the feature documentarty Starsuckers ( who showed how he had conned the tabloid press in both an amusing way with a fake story on Amy Winehouse setting fire to her barnet in, well, Barnet and in a serious way offering and getting offers from newspapers for the illegal private medical records of celebs based on a fake Harley Street plastic surgery practice. Plus more recently and closer to home spoofing BBC London News (and the ‘quality’ newspapers) into believing there was an urban fox hunting group based in Victoria Park Shoreditch (the ‘fox’ was a dog with a fake theatrical fur coat…). Laughter but hollow laughter at these hoaxes. (You can see Atkins in action at a recent event
Atkins, like Morris, argued that a new by-line should appear in stories to acknowledge the increasing input of PR to them (up to 90 per cent in some publications, according to Morris’s figures). At the end of the piece, an addendum could be placed: ‘THIS STORY BASED ON PR.’ Go figure that!
Truth is always the first casualty of war as Lincoln University PhD student Florian Zollmann and Tim Crook, senior lecturer at Goldsmiths’ College, London, showed in their papers on the reporting of the US assault on Fallujah in 2004 and the similarities and contrasts in the 1930s’ and the current reporting of the forces of war and appeasement. The US and the British media did not come out of both smelling of roses.
Even on the internet, there’s no permanency to truth as Murray Dick, of Brunel University, alerted us to the concept of ‘unpublishing’ where stories on newspaper websites are altered or even removed ex post facto when found to be wrong or dangerous legally. How long does truth last? It withers on the cyberspace vine.
All of us hacks and hackettes (real and manque) aspire to tell ‘the truth’ but do we really know what is and how to get to it? Do we actually need lessons in moral philosophy?

« Previous PageNext Page »

Powered by WordPress