February 9, 2009 / 2:26 PM / 10 years ago

Recession eroding British press standards: charity

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - The quality of journalism in British newspapers is declining and more mistakes are being made as editors sacrifice standards to keep up sales during the recession, an independent media charity said on Monday.

A review by the Media Standards Trust (MST), compiled in consultation with industry experts, said there was growing public cynicism about papers’ reliability and about intrusive behavior which would only get worse in the economic downturn.

It concluded that Britain’s system of press self-regulation was no longer able to cope with the situation.

Research by the MST found that public faith in journalists, which was already very low, was getting worse.

Only 7 percent of people trusted newspapers to behave responsibly while 75 percent thought papers “frequently publish stories they know are inaccurate.”

It is not only tabloids that are suffering.

A 2003 survey found 65 percent of people trusted journalists on “upmarket” papers, such as the Times or the Guardian but a 2008 poll found this had dropped to just 43 percent, according to the review, whose panel members included Martin Dickson, the Financial Times’s Deputy Editor and Simon Kelner, Editor in Chief of the Independent and Independent on Sunday.

With newspapers battling declining circulation and revenues, growing demand for sensationalist scoops had led to greater intrusion into people’s privacy, the report said.

Meanwhile cuts in staff and greater reliance on user-generated content such as comments and blogs had raised the risk of inaccuracies and mistakes.


“Journalists are under greater pressure than ever before and the situation has been made worse by the recession which has seen newsrooms cutting editorial resources,” the MST said.

“Some newspapers are also sacrificing standards in order to maintain sales, as seen in the inaccurate and in some cases defamatory reporting of the Madeleine McCann case.”

Eleven news outlets were ordered to pay out 600,000 pounds in libel damages to a man they had wrongly accused of involvement in the disappearance of the three-year-old British girl who went missing while on holiday in Portugal with her parents in May 2007.

The MST called for an overhaul of Britain’s Press Complaints Commission (PCC), the self-regulating industry body, saying it was incapable of dealing with the radical changes in the media.

“Our research has shown that the current system of press self-regulation is failing the public,” said David Bell, chairman of the Financial Times who chairs the MST.

“It is fundamentally flawed and in urgent need of reform. The system needs to be brought into the 21st century or it runs the risk of greater government intervention and a further accumulation of legal privacy protection.”

Christopher Meyer, chairman of the PCC, described the MST report as “careless and shoddy.”

“It’s full of assertions unsupported by the evidence on privacy, on public confidence, on transparency,” he told BBC radio, saying record numbers of people were coming to the PCC to complain or seek advice.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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