Defining Freedom of the Press: A Cross national examination of press ethics and regulation in ten European countries

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Journalism Studies


Inquiries into the ethics of the UK press, prompted by a series of scandals associated with newspapers, have hitherto been far too parochial: too focussed on the UK itself, they have missed opportunities to learn from parallel developments and concerns overseas. This project, in contrast will develop knowledge and understanding of how press councils in comparable jurisdictions from around Europe approach the difficult questions in media ethics of balancing freedom and responsibility. Significantly, it will also examine news work itself and explore the extent to which ethical codes impact on the daily working practices of journalists, news workers and those directly affected by the activities of the press. The isolationism that has characterised the debates about press ethics has hitherto hindered the possibility of benchmarking and learning from other societies in which problems of ethics and regulation have been addressed by legislators, journalists and the general public. By examining the top European nations in the World Press Freedom rankings, this project will develop a set of evidence based recommendations to the UK regulator (IMPRESS) that can be used to provide a benchmark for the UK press code of ethics. This project will directly help IMPRESS and other organisations review and update future iterations of their codes and related guidance. It will help establish norms of journalism ethics in these areas. Moreover, by examining how the press councils in these countries intersect with the law (e.g., do they have statutory status or recognition; are their judgments recognised by the courts; how do their codes overlap with the law?), we will gain a much richer understanding of how press regulation operates in practice, rather than in theory. This would then offer the possibility of learning from best practice as to what can work and what can be viable in addressing issues around press self-regulation. By holding them accountable to more comprehensive standards, this research will allow regulators to support publishers in achieving a new status and profile, which will allow them to both pursue the classical liberal rationale for journalism as 'watchdog' or 'fourth estate' - and challenge the hegemony of the corporate press. This could have far-reaching social impact given the technological and societal changes that that the news landscape faces not only in producing viable and sustainable codes of conduct but also helping to strengthen this new sector of the news media and protect groups that have hitherto been subject to press abuses.

Planned Impact

There are a number of beneficiaries of the research and impact will be generated at various levels:

Individual journalists (citizen and traditional), regulators and the UK journalism industry: the key findings of the research will be disseminated amongst industry players including the Press Association and the Guardian newspaper.
How might they benefit? Journalists will have cause to reflect on the broader scope of press ethics and regulation given the international environment and range of new challenges and opportunities within the new media ecology. Activities aiding change: Stakeholder workshops; capacity building workshops; project website; final written report.

Regulatory bodies and organisations who have developed their own ethical codes of practice, including IMPRESS, IPSO and the National Union of Journalists
How might they benefit? Regulators and organisations with their own set of ethical guidelines will be able to adapt and refine their ethical codes of practice which will be underpinned by substantive research. Activities aiding change: Stakeholder workshops; capacity building workshops; project website; written report, end of project conference.

Organisations (participants and stakeholders) such as the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom; Index on Censorship; Article19; the Ethical Journalism Network; Association of Journalism Education; Society of Editors. Outside the UK the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom and individual press regulators across Europe. How might they benefit? A wider appreciation and understanding of the principle and practice of freedom of the press will be garnered from interviews and stakeholder workshops. This will then be incorporated into their own specific programmes and press ethics principles. Activities aiding change: Stakeholder workshops; capacity building workshops; project website; MOOC, written report, end of project conference and published research.

Minority groups and organisations who have regularly been subject to significant discrimination and abuse by sections of the press. Organisations such as Faith Matters, Tell Mama, TransMediaWatch and the Travellers movement. The formulation of the clear parameters of press ethics may stifle negative representations of discriminated against groups and enable and empower such groups to clearly identify and challenge such breaches of press ethics. Activities aiding change: Project website and dissemination activities including capacity building workshops, written report, end of project conference, MOOC and exhibition.

General Public. How might they benefit? Our project envisages that a clearer understanding of the parameters of freedom of the press and press ethics will empower and enable citizens to better understand and utilize press freedom for social benefit. Activities aiding change: Project website, Public exhibition, MOOC.


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