Breakdown in trust rubs off on to news

News organisations have suffered from a crisis of trust, the Society of Editor’s conference heard.

In a debate on trust, delegates also heard that online comments are mainly worthless and that Britain has the ‘freest press in the world”.

ITN newsreader Alastair Stewart chaired the debate and said public scepticism following recent TV phone-in scandals and the re-editing of footage of the Queen for a BBC documentary had spread to news.

He said: ‘It has rubbed off on to other genres because we are deemed to be in the same business.”

Sky News political editor Adam Boulton said journalists were in many ways more trustworthy than the political figures it reports on. He used the example of Cherie Blair’s off-the-cuff remark at last year’s Labour Party conference when she said, as Gordon Brown was praising his relationship with her husband Tony Blair: ‘That’s a lie.’

The Blairs and Downing Street denied it, but newspapers and broadcasters gave it blanket coverage – later Blair referred to his wife’s comment in his final conference speech.

Boulton said: ‘Every news organisation reported this as true. For me the significance of this is that there has been a sharp tradition of trust in the past 10 years but that tradition has been [weaker] with the authorities – including government – than it has been with news organisations.’

Boulton also spoke of the growth of comment and interaction in news media online – and cast doubt on the value of blog comments.

He said: ‘By and large the comments on my own blog are not worth the paper they are printed on – or not printed on”.

Speaking to Press Gazette after the meeting he said: ‘We had one million hits on our website last month but the comments on our political blog were less than 50 or 100 ­– and I sometimes see the same names on Guido’s [Fawkes’s political blog] too. We get comments and we’re open to them but the value of what what we put on the blog is our editorial rather than comments.’

‘When a major event happens, that’s when citizen journalism works – having people on the ground at the scene.”

Shami Chakrabati director of the civil rights group Liberty called the media here one of the ‘freest in the world”.

Daily Mail executive managing editor Robin Esser kicked off the question and answer session by asking whether the internet needed greater regulation – he said sites such as Wikipedia were full of inaccuracies and ‘beyond the law”.

In response Boulton said that ‘just because something is written in ink and paper doesn’t mean it’s true either”.

Daily Mirror editor Richard Wallace was asked about the effect the departure of his predecessor Piers Morgan has had on the paper. Morgan resigned after faked pictures apparently showing the abuse of Iraqis by British troops were printed on the front page.

Wallace called it an ‘unfortunate chapter in our newspaper’s history’and warned against newspapers and broadcasters reporting what they see as true before checking the facts.

‘I was in America during the Virginia Tech shootings and NBC’s information was wrong most of the day – if I was to publish on page one of our newspaper a completely wrong fact I would be fired,’he said.

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