Full results: Frontline Club phone hacking survey

In late July Frontline Club asked its members to share their thoughts on the ongoing phone hacking scandal. The resulting survey showed that there was broad agreement on a range of issues – from opposition to statutory regulation of the press, to the role of investigative journalism and the need for a new code of ethics.

After publishing the preliminary results, we invited non-members to participate. The final statistics, published in full below, reveal that there has been no dramatic shift in opinion.

This would suggest – if our survey is any measure – that there is a broad consensus on the key issues around the phone hacking debate. A clear majority not only believe phone hacking was a widespread practice used by more media groups than just News International, but also agree that:

• Illegal practices such as blagging and bribery were accepted as common practice in journalism.

• The Press Complaints Commission should not be scrapped, but instead restructured.

• Prime minister David Cameron’s reputation has been tarnished by the scandal.

• The introduction of new statutory powers over the press is not the best solution.

• The industry of journalism should implement a new code of ethics similar to a Hippocratic Oath.

The only notable change from the premilinary results is that a majority said they believed it was too early to tell whether the phone hacking scandal would fundamentally change the relationship between politics and journalism (in the preliminary survey a majority felt that the scandal would not change the relationship).

Along with the full statistics, we have included some outstanding written contributions that cover media regulation and thoughts on how the phone hacking scandal might end.

We have also collated a series of further written contributions on "the role of investigative journalism", which have been published a seperate page (see here).

Frontline Club would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank all of those who took the time to participate.

Full results

Of those who responded*, a majority believe:

• It is too early to tell whether the phone hacking scandal will fundamentally change the relationship between politics and journalism (Yes 23%; No 35%; Too early to tell 42%)

• Phone hacking was a widespread practice used by more media groups than just News International (Yes 88%; No 2%; Don’t know 10%)

• Illegal practices such as blagging, bribery etc. were accepted as common practice in journalism (Yes 84%; No 7%; Don’t know 9%)

• That the Press Complaints Commission should not be scrapped, but instead be restructured (Yes 16%; No 9%; It shouldn’t be scrapped, but it should be restructured 65%; Don’t know 10%)

A majority also said they:

• Had confidence in the Media Ethics inquiry committee not to harm press freedoms (Yes 51%; No 19%; Don’t know 30%)

• Did not believe the introduction of new statutory powers over the press was the best solution (Yes 16%; No 63%; 21%)

• Felt David Cameron’s reputation and leadership has been harmed by the scandal (Yes 82%; No 9%; Don’t know 9%)

• Agreed that the industry of journalism should implement a new code of ethics, similar to a Hippocratic oath (Yes 79%; No 17%; Don’t know 4%)

Asked if the introduction of an independent body such as Ofcom be a good idea for print media, responses included:

• No. The more controls that are in place, the less responsibility the individual has for his own code of behaviour. As more controls have been introduced into all areas of society the more it seems that it is someone else’s job to check things. There used to be codes of behaviour, that were understood by the various professions, people used to resign when they abused these. When the story is the all-important thing  without the ethical responsibility that goes with this other independent bodies such as Ofcom are only window dressing.

• Yes. It has been proven over and over again that self regulation doesn’t work. The PCC’s weakness has been detrimental to the profession of journalism and damaged its reputation over the past 20 years, culminating in the current crisis. An independent, credible, authoritative body would not only keep the press in line, but also keep politicians from abusing their position vis a vis the media, since they will know their conduct or collusion with the media would more likely come under scrutiny. Ofcom has broadly been successful in regulating broadcasting without bringing in censorship or tipping the balance towards politicians. A similar body could achieve the same success. It can’t do a worse job than the PCC.

• No. I cannot see what powers it could use to prevent the sort of abuses now under discussion. This is a fundamental failure of ethical behaviour – that is a societal problem that cannot be legislated against.

• Depends if it will have any teeth. Fine line between upholding standards and constricting the freedom of the press.

• No. There are already laws against invasion of privacy, bribery, etc. They just need to be enforced. And news outlets should all adopt their own ethics policies, with punishments, including sacking, for those who violate them.

Asked to propose a change to media regulation in the UK, contributions included:

• The NUJ’s Code of Conduct should be recognised by employers. Media workers should be protected from bullying employers so that they are not forced to work in ‘a culture of fear’ (NOTW) and can resist unethical practices. This also has implications for proper training. I work in a university that trains journalists – we could all do better on this. There’s not enough discussion about ethics, nor about media history, from which lessons can be learned.

• Give the PCC some teeth. In particular the right to take total control of the front page of any publication. The right to create editorial content in the name of any publication, and have that publication print that editorial, as its own, in a place in the publication of the PCC’s choosing. To refer to the courts any publication that does not comply, or has committed wrongs too great to be put right with the above remedies.

• I’d like to see something that regulates communication between the police and the papers. I was talking to a friend who was caught in a scandal and the police told her not to say a word about the case. By the time she left the police station and got back to her flat the tabloids were camped outside and had already tried to interview her father. Surely that must be stopped.

• I’d abolish the PCC, of course. I’d establish a regulator like the ASA [Advertising Standards Authority], with a very strong independent element. A majority of people making any decision should not be press or media figures, and no members should be appointed or recommended by the press, or currently working in it. It should not be in any sense optional for the press to submit to it – if you’re a registered newspaper, it should have jurisdiction over you. It should have very strong and flexible powers – to obtain documents, to have questions answered. Critical is the power to prohibit publication, and to impose an unlimited fine. I doubt it would need to use these powers – but the public could have no confidence in it unless it has them. It should certainly be backed by statute. If need be it should also be backed (like the ASA is by the OFT [Office of Fair Trading]) by Ofcom. This regulator would regulate content, and n
ewspapers and magazines.

In addition, I’d establish a General Council of Journalism, like the Bar Standards Board (BSB) or General Medical Council (GMC) as a regulator of individual journalists, admonishing them or even striking them off for unacceptable professional conduct, just as the BSB or the GMC do for people in other professions. Professions that  are subject to this kind of thing see them a s a guarantee of quality – so should journalists. They should grow up, and stop being afraid of these sorts of professional conduct controls. This "GCJ" should publish standards, and then should enforce them. This body (unlike the content/organisation regulator) should have a majority of working journalists on it. However, they should be appointed individually, and on merit, and they should reflect all levels of the profession, including trainees and even students. There should also be a strong independent component: it should not be possible for journalists alone to adopt standards without the agreement of lay members of the GCJ, and professional conduct committees should be chaired by a lay member, with a mixed membership (lay and journalist) making every decision. The GCJ should have to disclose the fact whenever a decision is made with only journalists in favour of it.

• I would change the libel laws, which currently prevent journalists from reporting important issues that are in the public interest (eg: Trafigura case). There needs to be a way of separating out the exposure of corruption/wrong-doing by a company such as Trafigura and the exposure of some footballer’s sexual habits. The latter is not necessarily in the public interest, unless he has a campaign to tell young people to be faithful to their spouses or somesuch. The former is.

• The fit and proper test applied to owners, editors and board members.

•  Improve the right to privacy. France’s privacy laws are tougher than those in the UK but France remains a thriving democracy, even if we Brits don’t like to admit it.

• Hold the press accountable for incorrect or malicious reporting.

• Create an independent regulator that is neither for or against the press, but is genuinely independent.

• To have a [regulatory] body with more ability to act – more teeth.

Asked how the phone hacking scandal would end, answers included:

• People will go to jail, tabloid journalists will behave themselves for a little while, then bad practices will creep back in.

• We shouldn’t get too euphoric about the sudden outbreaks of nobility we’ve seen lately. The moral of the story thus far is still "don’t get caught" and "change your PIN". And other forms of illicit information gathering (emails etc) haven’t come under much scrutiny yet. But the death of the Screws and the postponement of Rupert Murdoch’s BskyB majority have changed the landscape pretty dramatically, whatever happens with inquiry.

• Corruptly. All this is water off a ducks’ back. Murdoch will carry on with oodles of power. Cameron will survive in the long term, pretend he’s clean and keep spouting off about The Big Society. The police will continue to support all of it. The public will move on to some horrifying atrocity. The Labour party will lose the next election. And then we’ll all buy some crap tabloid and love the celebrity scandal on the front page.

• With the weakening of News International, and diminution of Rupert Murdoch’s power in British politics. I also think the tabloids may be ‘tamed’ to some extent but the danger is that important investigative reporting in the public interest will be caught in the same net.

• Whitewash with a few scapegoats but no one higher up held accountable

• A series of mid-level resignations and (some) prosecutions at several newspapers, a significant lessening of the influence of the Murdoch press in particular on British politics, and (hopefully) a reining in of the tabloid press’ intrusions into the private lives of minor public servants and a comprehensive discussion about the definition and meaning of ‘the public interest’ in British journalism.

• There will be a lot of early retirement (on full pensions of course) of many older hacks, of many more papers than have been implicated right now. There will be some calls for an independent press. Give it two months and it will all be forgotten.

• The ultimate outcome of the scandal does not appear obvious at this early stage in the investigation, but I would not be surprised if employees and management at other News Corporation subsidiaries or other companies such as The Daily Star are found to have a similar track record of malfeasance. Once all the documents of legally or ethically questionable activity have been examined, a large share of the presently established news media will have been forced to close or restructure — nothing less than a sea change among the British press.

• In 24 months we will have forgotten all about it.

• Hopefully with all of those responsible – police, journalists, private investigators – being brought to court and pleading not guilty, so that the full facts of these cases come out in court. And then long, exemplary jail sentences for those found guilty.

 • It will be old news at some point. Old scores will have been settled and new ones started. It will be referred by the sanctimonious to grab moral high ground when it is useful. Although it is extremely serious, it is being treated as a drama that devalues the important ethical implications.

We also asked respondents to tell us what they thought was the role of investigative journalism. We have published these responses separately on this page.

* The survey results are based on the contributions of 57 respondents, gathered between 25 July – 10 August 2011.