Bill Hagerty On The Press

Another journalism institute? I think we've been here before
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Forgive editors for a sense of déjà vu when they learned of John Lloyd's latest scheme to clean up journalism's often grubby act. They had every right to feel they had been there before - because they had. This particular bee has been buzzing around in the bonnet of Lloyd, an eminent author and journalist and currently editor of the Financial Times magazine, for quite some time and every now and again it flies out to deliver its sting.

Forgive editors for a sense of déjà vu when they learned of John Lloyd's latest scheme to clean up journalism's often grubby act. They had every right to feel they had been there before - because they had. This particular bee has been buzzing around in the bonnet of Lloyd, an eminent author and journalist and currently editor of the Financial Times magazine, for quite some time and every now and again it flies out to deliver its sting.

This time the sting - released at a seminar organised by the Demos think-tank - is in the form of a proposal for a national institute of journalism, the purpose of which will be to raise standards and rectify what is certainly an unhealthy mistrust of the media throughout the rest of society. So far so good - I have long argued the case for a new body that would examine standards, set new ones and devise a mechanism for enforcing them in the press.

Where Lloyd and I differ is in the composition of such an organisation. I believe, as a supporter of the self-regulation of the press, that it should be under the united control of the industry and be composed of representatives from publishing houses and others they care to invite to contribute. The plan Lloyd unveiled at the seminar calls for journalists, academics and policy-makers - a term more acceptable than politicians, but that's what it means - to get into a huddle under the aegis of an establishment of learning, such as the University of Oxford. There they would engage in debate on standards and the future role of journalism in a Britain where media bashing is set to fill the gap left by foxhunting in the blood sports calendar.

Demos has apparently agreed to help to raise funding for the enterprise. Yet exactly what purpose would it serve? There is already a conveyor belt trundling endless media debates, symposia and seminars across the face of all branches of journalism. Ofcom is already regulating broadcasting. So I can conclude only that the proposed institute would be a camouflaged operation whose real aim would be to lobby for outside and possibly statutory regulation of the press.

To be fair, Lloyd has so far stopped short of urging the type of controls advocated by other critics of excesses by some newspapers. (They mean the red-top tabloids, of course, but are too po-faced to say so.) Those who call for a new royal commission have gone further than he down the road towards regulation by a government-commissioned body, which would effectively neuter a newspaper industry that has been raking muck and, yes, occasionally behaving badly, for centuries.

I don't think they, or John Lloyd, understand that when they consider it necessary, the press is meant to bite the legs of those who control our destiny, even if sometimes they get it wrong. Respect is not a God-given right for the rich and powerful; it has to be earned.

The last time Lloyd's bee took wing, I was invited to a meeting at which he proposed a media forum based at the London School of Economics that would, in composition and intent, be much like his new institute. I understood that funding was in place for a body that would be permanently staffed, publish a journal and pamphlets, "involve" the general public and request editors to attend the forum to be questioned about journalistic practice.

I expressed doubts then that editors would exactly rush to co-operate with such an obviously censorious set-up. I was not invited to any subsequent meetings and, anyway, the media forum went away. Now it's back, wearing a different hat, but with the same buzz resonating in our ears.

Whatever makes media folk happy

Journalists over the age of 59 are the happiest in the business, reports a study conducted for Mediabuddies, the reunion website for the media industries. Hardly surprising - those of us who have spent a working lifetime in the rough old trade can't stop smiling in gratitude for still being alive.

The survey, by research firm VAR International, embraced most media and was conducted across the United Kingdom, the United States and 29 other countries. Admittedly, this means the jam was spread most thinly in the subsequent results sandwich, especially as a total of only 256 media practitioners took part. But, hey, that doesn't mean we can't find solace in such revelations as that in the UK 93 per cent described themselves as hard working, whereas only 17 per cent confessed to hard drinking. There was a time when those percentages would have been reversed.

The top three benefits of working in the media emerged as being creative, enjoying job satisfaction and "making a difference". That's a lot to achieve in the average working week of 43 hours enjoyed by most respondents, although 5 per cent - probably those employed here on national newspapers - claimed to be working 80 hours. The most intriguing statistic of all was that revealed in answer to a question about office affairs. The UK topped the chart of those admitting to carrying on with office colleagues, although it was the TV and radio sector that surfaced as the leaders in this field.

VAR obviously didn't sample anyone at The Spectator, then.

Comments