(Video) Reuters hacking debate: Are editors 'farting against the thunderstorm' if they think they can avoid state regulation?

Leading national newspaper editors last night insisted that the system of press self-regulation can be reformed rather than scrapped.

But, as former BBC chairman of governors Sir Christopher Bland put it at the same event,  editors should not underestimate the pressure for change. After listening to their pleas that the industry can put its own house in order he said: “It is useless to fart against the thunderstorm”. 

The Reuters Press We Deserve event, chaired by Sir Harold Evans, brought together a stellar line-up of journalism luminaries to discuss how the industry can recover from the hacking scandal. They included Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, Times editor James Harding, Financial Times editor Lionel Barber and Economist editor John Micklethwait.

But absent from the panel, and from the hall, were any voices from the tabloid end of the industry.

As Press Gazette has found, the likes of the Mail titles, the Mirror and The Sun are so far reluctant to get involved in a public debate about the future of the industry post hacking.

In my view they need to wake-up fast to the fact that we are now in a new era where they have to open up to a new level of public scrutiny if the journalism industry is to save itself from state control.

Media commentator Roy Greenslade suggested that a sinister cabal comprising Associated Newspapers, News International and Telegraph Media Group secretly pulls the strings of the PCC.

The PCC does nothing to dispell this by the way it has gone about the reform process so far – which so far appears to have involved discussion between editors and owners conducted behind closed doors (if is has gone on at all). It needs to open up a public consultation on reform and involve the likes of the NUJ and the targets of media excesses in an open process if it is to save itself.

Here are some of the highlights from last night’s event. A detailed written report will (with pics) will be appearing in the October edition of Press Gazette magazine.

Labour Peer Bernard Donoughue:

“Because of phone-hacking the present situation cannot persist – you should not underestimate the damage that has been done and therefore there must be a change.. We have to look at how we can make self regulation work…I think it must have the powers to fine and punish, it must be conducted by independents and you can get I am sure a statutory backing.”

Financial Times editor Lionel Barber:

“Newspapers are dying in this country, they are struggling. This is an existential problem… We have to both innovate and embrace this new media, we have to think about how regulation will affect the new and old media.

“The freedom for us to publish is consttantly being challenged by well-heeled oligarchs who shall remain nameless with deep pockets who are bringnig libel actions or people who are invoking some right to confidentiality regarding financial information…”

Times lawyer Pia Sarma had some interesting insight into the Met Police’s extraordinary bid to force Guardian journalist Amelia Hill to disclose her sources for a stories about the police investigation into the News of the World. The debate took place hours before the Met abandoned its bid under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act and the Official Secrets Act.

“The introduction of a production order into a production order under PACE is unprecedented and it is an extraordinary step in the climate we have now. Under the relevant legislation you can raise a public interest defence and it seems that they have worked backwards here, they have trumped that public interest from the outset by introducing the Official Secrets Act and making the crime so heinous that you can’t possible go in there and expect to win.”

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