Print Media Essay, Research Paper
Phil Smith Writing for the Print Media
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS INVOLVED IN THE SELECTION AND CONSTRUCTION OF NEWS AND THE FREEDOM AND REGULATIONS OF PRESS?
Throughout the world in newspaper, television and radio bulletins, there is news about news. When the leader of a political party has tiffs with the big chief media moguls, that s news. When government ministers pick fights with newspaper interviewers, that s news too. Setting itself up to be a window on the world , it is truism that the news changes the world which we perceive, as well as merely reflecting it. Drilled into delivering the quick hit, the news is a globally important media practice which is the main source in constructing our view of the world; a trusted, authoritative source of information, which creates attitudes and opinion which should be crisp enough to impress those with the shortest of attention spans.
The finely polished news stories and perfectly positioned column inches which we perceive as extremely effectual, not only because they come through a powerful media source such as newspapers, but also because the news is believed. News organisations have spent many years promoting their reputation for sincerity and impartiality. However, through selection and construction, it is hopeless for the news constructors to provide an impartial account of world – wide current affairs. Instead, they will interpret wars, disasters in the way that seems most truthful to them: this becomes the reader s reality.
With reference to The Media Students Book 1st Edition news is constructed within a framework of firm expectations. News items go through a selective process where agenda settings and gatekeepers form part of a news bureaucracy which determines what is news. Gate keeping is a selective filtering process in which an editorial team opens the gates for news items they consider newsworthy and, more importantly, close the gates for items they deem unnewsworthy. Marxist critics would argue that this process is a tool to perpetuate the ideologies of the ruling class.
In the press a set of news values has become the guideline for selecting news. This guideline applies to the gatekeepers in determining the story and the reporters in deciding whether they should report a story and where to place it in the paper. The frequency of an event is always high on the list of criteria.
The threshold of a story is of paramount importance. In the construction of news, a large story will be placed higher on the agenda and consequently towards the beginning of the newspaper. A story needs to have relevance to the audience, so that a story about Outer Mongolia will not be mentioned. Such imperialistic values have been said to suppress the economic development of third world countries and to uphold the domination of the western world. We only ever receive bad news about poor countries, Ethiopia needs food aid , such headlines create a stereotyped image of Third World nations as disaster stricken poverty zones whose economic backwardness is due to internal failures, rather than being subjected to colonisation and neo-colonialism in the 19th century.
As we read the newspaper, the audience enters an agenda a running order of news stories throughout the programme or pages that have been selected due to the values prevalent in the story. The Editor and his/her colleagues take a look back and then forward to plan the often-predictable coverage of the day s events and produce an itinerary, and in so choosing the news, they also choose items that become our view of what is important.
Using information from The Media Students Book 2nd Edition, the angle of a news story is often considered by news editors, reflecting on the kind of treatment or theme, which is to be privileged by primarily the news organisation, and also by the story. The notion of angle contradicts the idea of neutrality that the news system tries to promote, suggesting once again that news is interpreted by journalists in a way that is most truthful to them.
The pinnacle of the news agenda is the lead story, again chosen by the editors. They choose the story, which they think is sufficient, and news worthy to be on the papers front page spread.
Different papers have different news values which they believe to be news worthy. For instance, The Times newspaper is a traditionally solid pro-conservative paper, so therefore a story, which highlights the political party in alluring light, would be valued in preference to others.
Dominantly, news stories are handled in terms of dramatic impact. Bad news is good news as it often increases television ratings and circulation figures. Closeness to home, recency, currency, continuity, simplicity and personality are general values, which cause them to be selected in priority to other events.
In the tabloid press, reference to elite persons is high on the agenda and treats it as their most important headlines. For example Eastender Dot set to be axed , Corries Jim hidden heartbreak , these are just made up examples The preponderance of stories concerning soap opera stars, especially Coronation Street and Eastenders is due to the fact that they have very high TV ratings, both exceeding 16 million and the tabloids can cash in on their success by reporting on them. Other stories concentrate on the failure of stars marriages; Barrymore does a runner , Gazza beat me up , which makes the audience feel that their life is not so bad, and they can be more successful than the rich and famous.
(Ref.- The Newspack , The English and Media Centre, St Mary s College). While stories are being selected in or out by the superiors, the people who actually investigate or report on events, the honourable and decorous journalists are often out in the field, at the cutting edge of journalism, constantly on the mobile communicating with the news room, interviewing experts to enhance their own credibility and researching the assignment they have been assigned. The correspondent has a pre-eminence of deadlines and is constantly aware of time. Although it is commonly suggested that investigative journalism creates news, newspaper companies often maintain their stories from many other sources, not just from their own home and foreign reporters. A great deal of material is provided by news agencies such as Reuters and the Press Association, while editors always keep an eye on rival newspaper articles.
The way news is selected and constructed has an important effect in creating our consciousness and furthering our ignorance on world issues, and on some angles of home news which are not selected because they are seen to contest our democracy and our parliamentary system.
News is not found, but is created. It is an establishment of journalistic process, rarely the product of investigation and analysis, but a process of selection and construction, where events are interpreted for us. The conspicuous objectivity is actually a fabrication.
So what news can and can t be printed?
In Britain we don t have a written constitution guaranteeing freedom of speech, we don t have a Bill of Rights that sets out the entitlements of British citizens, and we do not have a Freedom of Information law acknowledging the public s right to know about what s done by politicians, civil servants or large companies. But Britain prides itself on having free press. Journalists and newspapers do not have to be licensed and no specific laws exist to control them. They are free in the same way as any other citizen as long as they do not break the law; British law does, however, impose some constraints on what gets published in newspapers.
(All of these points are based on information from Encarta (CD-ROM), Politics & The Mass Media in Britain 2nd Edition and www.thepcc.co.uk).
+ Nothing that might prejudice the outcome of a trial may be reported about people accused of crime. Reports of what happens in court must be accurate.
+ Filming, photography and tape recording are banned in court. A wide range of laws exist to govern what may or may not be published about court proceedings: e.g. anonymity is guaranteed in rape cases and cases heard before juvenile courts, for instance the trial of the Jamie Bulger murder.
+ Judges and magistrates can exclude the press and public from courts and have even banned the taking of photographs outside a court. Breaching these rules risks a fine or imprisonment.
+ A variety of laws, including the Official Secrets Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act, limit journalists right to receive information.
+ The police can use laws like :- The Police and Criminal Evidence Act
The Criminal Justice Act
- To seize material collected by journalists.
Libel is another legal constraint on newspapers.
Publishing a statement that might damage a person s reputation lays a newspaper open to a charge under the defamation Act. Unless they have already been convicted i.e. Gary Glitter.
To avoid charges of censorship, successive British governments have used a voluntary system of control over the publication of material about politically sensitive defence and security matters.
+ The D-Notice system is managed by a committee of senior civil servants and representatives of the press and broadcasting. Any item that might be covered by a D-Notice is referred to the committee, which advises whether or not it should be published.
+ The Lobby System: This allows senior politicians in Parliament to give information to selected journalists anonymously. Stories published following these briefings often say sources close to Downing Street say which is a coded way of saying somebody in the PM s office wishes the information to be known.
The Royal Family uses a similar system.
CODES OF CONDUCT:
Journalists have devised their own codes of conduct as a guide to ethical behaviour but these do not have the force of law.
+ The NUJ has had such a code for 70+ years and complaints can be made about the behaviour of its members.
+ Following concern about falling standards the industry devised its own code which is now policed by the Press Complaints Commission.
Journalists are supposed not to overstep the bounds of common decency when investigating or publishing stories.
COMPLAINTS AGAINST THE PRESS:
The Royal Commission on the press was set up 50 years ago to investigate risk that concentration of Press Ownership would limit the range of information available to public. This led to the Press Council being established (but this was financed entirely by industry itself and was not effective.)
Parliament came close to approving two bills designed to regulate the Press.
+ A Privacy Bill was promoted by Conservative MP John Browne.
+ The Right to Reply Bill was promoted by Labour MP Tony Worthington. This was designed to empower ordinary people whose lives had been disrupted by inaccurate or sensational reporting.
The Government set up the Calcutt Enquiry, which resulted in The Press Council being replaced by the Press Complaints Commission, which is funded by Newspaper Industry!
THE RIGHT OF REPLY:
Many countries acknowledge that anyone who is misrepresented by the press should have a right of reply.
+ No such right exists in Britain. Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom argues that the public should have legal rights to redress if the press abuses its power.
So Press Wise was set up to promote higher ethical standards founded by victims of Press abuse.
The Press Council (voluntary) was established in 1953 with the aim of maintaining high ethical standards of journalism and promoting freedom of the press.
However, during the 1980s, a small number of publications failed in the view of many to observe the basic ethics of journalism. This then reinforced a belief among many members of Parliament that the Press Council, which had lost the confidence of some in the press, was not adequately successful. Some of them believed that the public interest required the passing of a law of privacy and a right of reply as well as a statutory press council wielding enforceable legal sanctions.
Given the serious implications of such a course of action, the Government appointed a Departmental Committee under Mr. David Calcutt QC to consider the entire matter. The terms of reference were: -
+ To consider what actions (whether legislative or otherwise) were needed to give further protection to individual privacy from the activities of the press, and improve the options the individual citizen can take against the press. Taking in to account the existing remedies, including the law on defamation and breach of confidence; and to make recommendations.
The Report of the Calcutt Committee was published in June 1990. It recommended the setting up of a new Press Complaints Commission in place of the Press Council. The new Commission would have eighteen months to demonstrate that non-statutory self-regulation can be made to work effectively . The press responded with energy to the report and acted with great speed and co-operation to set up an independent Press Complaints Commission at the beginning of 1991.
A Committee of national and regional editors produced for the very first time a Code of Practice for the new Press Complaints Commission to uphold. All members of the press have a duty to maintain the highest professional and ethical standards. Editors and publishers must ensure that the code is observed rigorously not only by their staff but also by anyone who contributes to their publications.
The code should not be interpreted so narrowly as to compromise its commitment to respect the rights of the individual, nor so broadly that it prevents publication in the public interest.
It is the responsibility of editors to co-operate with the PCC as quickly as possible in the settlement of complaints.
Any publication which is criticised by the PCC. Under one of the following clauses must print the verdict which follows in full and with due prominence.
There may be exceptions to clauses where they can be demonstrated to be in the public interest.
1. The public interest includes:
i) Detecting or exposing crime or a serious misdemeanour.
ii) Protecting public health and safety i.e. the BSE crisis.
iii) Preventing the public from being misled by some statement or action of an individual or organisation.
2. In any case where the public interest is invoked, the Press Complaints Commission will require a full explanation by the editor demonstrating how the public interest was served.
3. In cases involving children, editors must demonstrate an exceptional public interest to over-ride the normally paramount interests of the child.
i) Newspapers and periodicals should take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading material including pictures.
ii) Whenever it is recognised that a significant inaccuracy, misleading statement has been published, it should be corrected promptly.
iii) An apology must be published whenever appropriate.
iv) Newspapers, whilst free to be partial, must distinguish clearly between comment, speculation and fact.
v) A newspaper or periodical must report fairly and accurately the result of an action for defamation to which it has been a party.
2. Opportunity to reply
A fair opportunity for reply to inaccuracies must be given to individuals or organisations when reasonably called for.
i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence. A publication will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual’s private life without consent
ii) The use of long lens photography to take pictures of people in private places without their consent is unacceptable, this is often broken, for example the topless shots of spice girl Mel G in the Sun newspaper on Saturday 8th January 2000.
i) Journalists and photographers must neither obtain nor seek to obtain information or pictures through intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit
ii) They must not photograph individuals in private places (as defined by the note to clause 3) without their consent; must not persist in telephoning, questioning, pursuing or photographing individuals after having been asked to stop; must not remain on their property after having been asked to leave and must not follow them.
iii) Editors must ensure that those working for them comply with these requirements and must not publish material from other sources that do not meet these requirements.
5. Intrusion into grief or shock
In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries should be carried out and approaches made with sympathy and discretion. Publication must be handled sensitively at such times but this should not be interpreted as restricting the right to report judicial proceedings.
i) Young people should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion.
ii) Journalists must not interview or photograph a child under the age of 16 on subjects involving the welfare of the child or any other child in the absence of or without the consent of a parent or other adult who is responsible for the children.
iii) Pupils must not be approached or photographed while at school without the permission of the school authorities.
iv) There must be no payment to minors for material involving the welfare of children nor payments to parents or guardians for material about their children or wards unless it is demonstrably in the child’s interest.
v) Where material about the private life of a child is published, there must be justification for publication other than the fame, notoriety or position of his or her parents or guardian.
7. Children in sex cases
1. The press must not, even where the law does not prohibit it, identify children under the age of 16 who are involved in cases concerning sexual offences.
2. In any press report of a case involving a sexual offence against a child -
i) The child must not be identified.
ii) The adult may be identified.
iii) The word “incest” must not be used where a child victim might be identified.
iv) Care must be taken that nothing in the report implies the relationship between the accused and the child.
8. Listening Devices
Journalists must not obtain or publish material obtained by using clandestine listening devices or by intercepting private telephone conversations.
i) Journalists or photographers making enquiries at hospitals or similar institutions should identify themselves to someone of responsibility, and obtain permission before entering restricted areas.
ii) The restrictions on intruding into privacy are particularly relevant to enquiries about individuals in hospitals or similar institutions.
10. Innocent relatives and friends
The press must avoid identifying relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime without their consent.
i) Journalists must not generally obtain or seek to obtain information or pictures through misrepresentation or deceit.
ii) Documents or photographs should be removed only with the owner s consent.
iii) Subterfuge can be justified only in the public interest and only when material cannot be obtained by any other means.
12. Victims of sexual assault
The press must not identify victims of sexual assault or publish material likely to contribute to such identification unless there is adequate justification and, by law, they are free to do so.
i) The press must avoid prejudicial or disrespectful reference to a person’s race, colour, religion, sex or sexuality or to any disability or physical/mental illness.
ii) It must avoid publishing details of a person’s race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability unless these are relevant to the story.
14. Financial journalism
i) Journalists must not use for their own profit financial information they receive in advance of its general publication, nor should they pass such information to others.
ii) They must not write about shares or securities in whose performance they know that they or their close families have a significant financial interest without disclosing the interest to the editor or financial editor.
iii) They must not buy or sell, directly or through nominees or agents, shares or securities about which they have written recently or about which they intend to write in the near future.
15. Confidential sources
Journalists have a moral obligation to protect confidential sources of information.
16. Payment for articles
Payment or offers of payment for stories or information must not be made directly or through agents to witnesses or potential witnesses in current criminal proceedings except where the material concerned ought to be published in the public interest and there is an overriding need to make or promise to make a payment for this to be done.
(An editor authorising such a payment must be prepared to demonstrate that there is an official public interest at stake involving matters that the public has a right to know. The payment or the offer of payment to any witness who is actually named to give evidence should be disclosed to the prosecution and the defence and the witness should be advised of this).
ii) Payment or offers of payment for stories, pictures or information, must not be made directly or through agents to convicted or confessed criminals or to their associates – who may include family, friends and colleagues – except where the material concerned ought to be published in the public interest and payment is necessary for this to be done.
All publishers and editors committed themselves to this Code of Practice.
A Press Standards Board of Finance (Pressbof), modelled on the self-regulatory system established by the advertising industry in 1974, was put in place and charged with raising a charge upon the newspaper and periodical industries to finance the Commission. This arrangement ensures secure financial support for the PCC, while its complete independence is at the same time guaranteed by a majority of amateur members, and is a further sign of the industry’s commitment to effective self-regulation.
Over the past few years, the PCC has continued to grow in reputation – building on the accomplishments of its early years. In 1995 the then Government recognized the achievements of the PCC in making effective press self-regulation in its White Paper – “Privacy and Media Intrusion”.
The new Government, elected in 1997, has also made clear its support for effective self-regulation and for the work of the Press Complaints Commission.