Survey: Only 24 per cent of Britons say new laws and regulations needed to police journalists

Only 24 per cent of Britons believe that new laws and regulations are needed to control the media, according to a new poll organised by the Free Speech Network.

The Survation poll asked 1000 members of the public the following:  "Recently there has been much criticism of press practises such as phone-hacking, making payments to public officials, hacking of computers and contempt of court. These practices are all illegal, and some people believe that the solution to press misbehaviour is make sure the existing law is fully enforced and that journalist that commit such offences are prosecuted for doing so. Other people believe that the law needs to bee changed to add further regulations to the behaviour of journalists. What should the government focus on top to stop bad practices and misbehaviour by the media?"
 
Some 24 per cent ticked: "Add new laws and regulations", 71 per cent said: "Ensure that the existing laws are actually enforced in full to bring perpetrators to account and 6 per cent said "don't know."
 
The Free Speech Network is a coalition of organisations which oppose moves towards state regulation of the press. It is organised by media owners groups the PPA, NPA and Newspaper Society.
 
The survey also asked respondents how soon the government should be aiming to introduce a new system of press regulation.
 
Some 28 per cent said: "Within the new three or four months, 50 per cent said within the next year and one per cent within the next 10 years. Only 10 per cent said there was no need for any government action to bring in new regulation.
 
The poll also asked: "Apart from already illegal practices such as phone-hacking, computer hacking, contempt of court, and making payments to public officials, are there any additional recent practices of some of the British press that you think the government needs to outlaw or regulate?" To this question only 6 per cent answered "yes".
 
Asked which issue concerned them most, 12.5 per cent cited phone-hacking at the News of the World, 55 per cent said allegations of a cover-up of Jimmy Savile's sex attacks on children at the BBC and 32 per cent said allegations of payments to police and public officials by journalists.
 
Asked what was the most important political issue for MPs to tackle at present, only 0.5 per cent said regulation of the press and journalism was their number one concern over issues like unemployment, the economy and education. Only 12 per cent of respondents put regulation of the press in their 10 most important issues.
 
Asked what is the biggest failing that the phone-hacking scandal has uncovered, 55 per cent ticked: "Failing of journalists to adequately adhere to their own codes of practice" versus 31 per cent who said "Failings of the police to adequately investigate and pursue criminal wrongdoing of the press."
 
One of the co-ordinators of the Free Speech Network, executive director of the Society of Editors Bob Satchwell, said: "The British people are clear that they want a free press and free speech. We agree. This is why the industry supports a new system, independent of both government and the newspaper industry to ensure the highest standards in the press without undermining its capacity to hold people such as politicians to account. We have established a free press in this country over 300 years - we don't want to reverse this trend.
"It would send a terrible signal to emerging democracies around the world if this were to end. "How can we encourage the freedom of the press and free speech abroad if we are threatening it at home?"
 
Commenting on the poll, Professor Brian Cathcart, director of campaign group Hacked Off, said: "Nothing in this survey contradicts recent findings in polls by YouGov and the Carnegie Trust that more than 75 per cent of the public want an independent press regulator and two thirds do not trust the press to police themselves.
 
"The newspaper industry's poll also offers new evidence that a clear majority of the public are well aware of the failures of the self-regulatory system. Asked what the biggest failing was that the phone hacking scandal has uncovered, 55 per cent said 'the failings of journalists to adequately adhere to their own codes of practice'. This finding supports Hacked Off's campaign for a new, effective press regulator, independent of both politicians and the industry itself."
 
The Survation survey was carried out on 12 and 13 November.
 

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