New scrutiny must not restrict investigative reporting, warn Lords


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The Independent Online

Phone hacking at Rupert Murdoch's News International is perhaps "the greatest political media scandal of a generation" and means the practices of investigative journalism are now receiving "unprecedented scrutiny", according to a new report by the Lords.

In their report into the future of investigative reporting, peers identify the legal indepth inquiry of journalists as "vital" to the UK's democracy and call on the Government to find ways of ensuring it flourishes.

Although the Lords report specifically states it does not want to cross into territory currently being examined by Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry into press practice and ethics, it singly fails to keep its word by offering recommendations for greater clarity over the definition of "public interest", how libel laws can be improved, and how the "fit and proper" test for a broadcasting licence should be extended to newspaper proprietors.

The report also takes one of the key issues faced by Lord Justice Leveson and recommends that the current system of zero-rated VAT for newspapers should only be granted to members of the regulatory body, the PCC, or its successor.

Calling on the Government to recognise the financial problems facing newspapers by offering financial incentives that might help them during "this difficult transitional stage", the report controversially says fines imposed on the media could be allocated to a "fund reserved for financing investigative journalism".

It describes investigative journalism as a "vital constituent" of UK democracy which is currently suffering from a "lack of proper investment".

Pointing to a reduced focus on investigative journalism on British television screens, which once included specialist programmes like 'World in Action' and 'This Week', the peers' report says investment in investigative reporting could be boosted by amending the definition of "current affairs" and thus the quota required for public service broadcast licences.

The peers also voice their conerns in in the report on the future of the BBC's flagship investigative programme, 'Panorama', and say that despite all the cost-saving measures being undertaken, the corporation's commitment to investigative content should not be diminished.