Newspapers opposed to statutory regulation of the press are keeping their readers in the dark about public opinion on the issue by omitting unhelpful polling data from their reporting, a campaign group claims.
Hacked Off has pointed to several instances where newspapers have highlighted research findings favourable to self-regulation and ignored those supporting a state-created system of independent regulation, expected to be proposed by the Leveson Inquiry later this month.
The evidence comes from opinion polls commissioned by the newspapers themselves.
Over recent months, The Sun, the Daily Mail and other titles have run articles warning that MPs should not be allowed to legislate to end distortion and other misbehaviour, instead favouring a successor to the discredited Press Complaints Commission.
Claiming the industry is selectively reporting its own polling to give the impression that it enjoys the public's support, Hacked Off pointed to a Sun story on Thursday about its YouGov poll, headlined: "State-run watchdog 'will gag free press'".
The story stressed that 75 per cent said there was a risk that politicians would use a statutory system to silence papers, adding: "Only 36 per cent said media groups cannot be trusted to set up their own system as the 'behaviour of our press and journalists has gone too far'".
However, the paper neglected to mention less helpful data from the same poll – published later on the YouGov website – notably that 63 per cent did not trust newspapers and journalists to set up a fair system of regulation.
On 20 June, The Sun's sister paper, The Times, reported the finding of a Populus poll that 61 per cent agreed with the statement: "The Leveson inquiry has lost its way as a procession of politicians, journalists and celebrities have simply tried to defend themselves against one another's allegations".
Only 44 per cent of the public, it added, thought the inquiry would "result in a healthier, more arms-length relationship between politicians and the media".
The paper, also part of Rupert Murdoch's News International group, omitted to report another important finding from the poll: that the public believed the Leveson Inquiry was worthwhile.
Some 59 per cent of people agreed (and 27 per cent disagreed) that the inquiry "will lead to more effective regulation of the press offering better protection to members of the public against unwarranted intrusion into their private lives".
Hacked Off, which wants state-created independent regulation, says that only The Independent and The Guardian have publicised the key finding of its own YouGov research in October. That found that 77 per cent of the public no longer think newspapers should control the complaints system.
Last month, The Daily Telegraph excised a mention of Hacked Off's polling when it printed a letter by a campaign supporter. Christopher Jefferies, who was smeared by several newspapers over the murder of the student Joanna Yeates in Bristol, had signed off: "Hacked Off wants effective press regulation that is independent of both the industry and of political influence. In our view this will probably require underpinning in statute. The evidence of opinion polls shows that more than 75 per cent of the country wants this too."
The version of the letter which appeared in The Daily Telegraph ended: "This will probably require underpinning in statute," with no mention of the poll.
Brian Cathcart, a journalism professor and director of Hacked Off, said: "The treatment of the opinion polls show the industry is denying information to its readers, which is essential for a full understanding of the arguments."
News International, which owns The Sun and The Times, and The Daily Telegraph, which are supporting the Free Speech Network campaign against statutory regulation, declined to comment.
What the papers said
A majority of respondents had confidence in the inquiry. Some 59 per cent agreed and 27 per cent disagreed with the statement: 'The Leveson Inquiry will lead to more effective regulation of the press offering better protection to members of the public against unwarranted intrusion into their private lives.'
Half of respondents said current rules were not tough enough, against 31 per cent who said they were about right.
Christopher Jefferies ended his letter: 'The evidence of opinion polls shows that more than 75 per cent of the country wants this too.'
... and omitted
The Times, 20 June
"A new Populus poll for The Times ... found 61 per cent agreeing that the 'Leveson Inquiry has lost its way as a procession of politicians, journalists and celebrities have simply tried to defend themselves against one another's allegations'."
Daily Telegraph, 31 October
A letter from Christopher Jefferies – who won damages from several papers for smearing him over the Joanna Yeates murder – ended: "Hacked Off wants press regulation that is independent both of the industry and of political influence. This will probably require underpinning in statute."
The Sun, 15 November
"Only 36 per cent said media groups cannot be trusted to set up their own system."