Academics before Leveson

Academics give evidence to the Leveson inquiry

A panel of journalism academics told the Leveson inquiry today that ethics training offered to journalism students is not an issue, but gave mixed views on certain forms of accreditation.

Giving evidence to the inquiry professor Steven Barnett of the University of Westminster said his courses and those provided by the other training centres represented on the panel offer sufficient ethical training.

"Even if we're being as self critical as we possibly can, I would find it quite difficult to identify courses where there is insufficient emphasis on ethical training."

Angela Philips, a senior lecturer at Goldsmiths, added that there is very much a focus on "teaching students to be ethical" and making them aware of the "constant pressure" they will face in the industry.

"Young people come into journalism through training as very ethical young people."

Professor George Brock, of City University London, concurred that the "quality of ethical teaching is not the issue". Professor Brian Cathcart, who teaches at Kingston University, London and is also a founder of the Hacked Off campaign, added that "we have come a long way" when it comes to passing on ethical training to those coming into the industry, stating that he "received no explicit ethical training whatsoever" when he entered the profession.

During their evidence session the journalism academics gave varied views on accreditation, particularly in relation to the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ).

Professor Barnett told the inquiry that the NCTJ is viewed by some as "slightly inflexible" and "produces a narrowness in course delivery". Philips also referred to NCTJ accreditation as being "far too narrow", adding that she had a desire for her training to encourage students "to look at what a journalist is".

"They need to be constantly challenged with ethical questions", she added.

Professor Brock proposed that an "over-arching body" may be one answer, but that this "in reality … might be quite difficult to do" and would result in a "disproportionate effort".

Professor Cathcart differed in his view to the others, arguing that for Kingston University's journalism MA course NCTJ accreditation was considered an "appropriate way to teach journalists".

Moving the spotlight away from the training centre, Brock told the inquiry the way people behave as journalists is actually determined by the "culture of the newsroom".

"You can tell people about what they might be about to face but the central issue is producing incentives that will work, that popular newsrooms will sustain and make happen."

Philips added that the "culture in newsrooms providing and producing light-hearted approach to daily news is quite different".

Leveson sought to clarify that he was "not in any respect trying to beat down the tabloid press", adding that they "do in a large part a very valuable job" and that he will hear from all sides by the end of his inquiry.

"The problem is going to be to try and find the line and a way of affecting an approach so that we can remove what at least some people consider to a be a problem in output," he said.

In the panel's concluding points to the inquiry Professor Barnett added that one possible solution to addressing adherence to editorial codes once journalists do reach the newsroom would be through effective audit trails, "supplanted into newsrooms to show serious consideration according to a proper set of codes".

Therefore, he added, if questions over potential ethical breaches have been taken through the correct authorisation process and are given permission, it would show in the audit trail that the "decision reached was proportional".

While some members of the panel seemed unsure about the practical reality for some journalists to be able to "stop and do a tick box", Professor Cathcart responded that "maybe the holiday is over for journalists".

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