Rapid change is creating profound economic, legal and regulatory challenges for investigative journalism and how it might be conducted in the future. It also continues to suffer as a result of inconsistencies and lack of clarity in the law. A report published by the House of Lords Communications Committee today therefore makes recommendations which will provide guidance on the complex and sensitive issues surrounding the public interest and investigative journalism.
In its report, The future of investigative journalism, the Committee look at the media landscape in which investigative journalism operates, concluding that news organisations, regulators and relevant legal bodies need to make important changes if the future of investigative journalism is to be assured. In summary, the Committee recommends:
Audit trail – the introduction by media organisations of a two stage internal process to track and record decisions: firstly, to commence an investigation and second, to publish a story. This would provide two internal check points for testing whether a story falls within the public interest, and a record which should be used by regulators when evaluating individual cases.
Legal clarity & consistency – the publication of guidelines by the prosecuting authorities to help media outlets decide whether conducting an investigation or publishing a story could lead to prosecution.
Other recommendations that the Committee make in their report include:
- funding models need to be flexible and creative. For example, the Committee suggest that fines for breaches of regulatory codes should be allocated to a special fund reserved for the financing of investigative journalism or training;
- all PR practitioners should abide by a clear code of behaviour, potentially overseen by a third party. This should apply equally to those working in this area for both the Government and political parties, ensuring that they can set an example for communications which are universally transparent and straightforward; and
- zero-rated VAT for newspapers should be maintained in order to provide a continued form of support for the industry. However, the Committee recommend that the Government should consider further the legality of any proposals to limit the receipt of zero-rated VAT only to those newspapers which are members of the PCC (or any successor body).
Lord Inglewood, Committee Chairman, talks more about the report in a YouTube video here, and commenting on the report said:
“Investigative journalism plays a vital role in the UK’s system of democratic governance and accountability. However, its role and practices have received unprecedented scrutiny over recent months and it faces a number of profound economic, legal and regulatory challenges. News organisations, regulators and relevant legal bodies therefore need to make sure, as changes and new measures are introduced, that these are not rooted in the past but seek to enable responsible investigative journalism to flourish in the future.
“We are encouraged, nonetheless, by the number of new funding and organisational initiatives that have started to materialise as a means of promoting investigative journalism, and believe it is vital that measures are taken to support and foster further initiatives which are independent of public subsidies or state support.
“The purpose of our work has been, against the background of perhaps the greatest political media scandal of a generation, to look at the future of investigative journalism in the light of the problems currently facing the media and the technological revolution unfolding in this area. We hope that what we have done will enable those going into the issues in greater detail than us to come forward with proposals which will be relevant to and protect the responsible investigative journalism of tomorrow.”