OK – hands up, I’m no expert on the changing media landscape, nor on the impact of the Leveson inquiry, however as a B2B PR consultant and a source of news stories myself, I do have an avid interest in how the media governs itself and how far it goes in its role as a responsible and ethical source of information.
Prior to the publication of the recommendations from the Leveson inquiry, we undertook some research with ICM for our management consultancy client, IBP. The premise of the research was to ascertain the attitude of the nation towards Britain’s bosses. The bad news is that in general they are behaving badly. At the same time as asking the nation about their own boss, we also shone a light on high profile bosses instantly recognisable for their own leadership crises.
Naturally we turned to media bosses at News International as a possible example of poor leadership behaviour. Our research, which used IBP’s Leadership Employee Index tool as its questioning model, found that the hacking scandal has in fact dented the reputation of the media industry as a whole. But more worryingly the survey also found that the scandal had a financial impact on all media outlets.
Over a third of consumers trust the media less following the scandal, with 36% of respondents saying that it would impact their choice of newspaper and 16% saying that they would never buy a News International paper again. 6% went as far as saying that it would make them stop buying newspapers altogether.
With trust so clearly badly damaged by the phone hacking scandal, you have to wonder whether the Leveson inquiry will turn out to be the proverbial nail in the coffin for traditional media. The luke-warm response to the recommendations highlights the general apathy/disdain to regulation that newspaper groups have. Isn’t it time for the media to be less passive and reactive over self-regulation and look at it as an opportunity to re-build its reputation as a trusted source of truth and unbiased information?
The industry has already spent billions reinventing itself in the face of fierce competition from online information (and I’m not just talking about online media but social media that regularly breaks stories first and citizen journalism). Yet the newspaper groups run the risk of losing out further to the likes of Twitter as these sources continue to build trust with consumers.
Talking of self-regulation, there’s the added confusion about whether the Royal Charter would apply to online websites and blogs who publish news-related material. Are we also looking at regulating the internet as well?
So is the Royal Charter the answer? I’m not sure, as I said at the start I’m no expert. Fundamentally as a society (and a democratic one) freedom of the press is essential – but at what cost? The focus should be on what constitutes freedom to investigate and where the boundaries lie, balanced with being trusted to report accurately. If the press’ role is to uncover the unscrupulous, then it needs to ensure its own scruples are intact.