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Credit: Image: Kennymatic

Former director of BBC News Richard Sambrook has called for "new ways to place a premium" on reporting that shows a focus on evidence, diversity and transparency, in a bid to "help rescue the core of what impartiality and objectivity delivered in the past" in a digital world.

In a report published today by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Sambrook asks whether there is a need for "different codes or journalistic norms for the digital age" in order to ensure trust in the media, particularly in light of the Leveson inquiry into the press in the UK and "debate about a ‘post-truth’ political environment in the US".

He identifies that the journalism industry is "in transition from the old analogue world of limited supply, where professional codes and regulation were effective in ensuring quality, to the digital age of plenty".

In the digital era these professional regulations are considered by some "less practical or effective", he finds, and to others even "unnecessary".

But while the terms impartiality and objectivity "are becoming undermined and empty", according to the report, the fact remains that the "problems they were designed to address are still with us".

As a result there may be a need to either "reinvent" the terms "or find alternative norms to ground journalism and help it serve its public purpose".

In the report, "Delivering Trust; Impartiality and Objectivity in the Digital Age", Sambrook, who is now professor of journalism and director of the centre for journalism as Cardiff University, runs through some of the ongoing debate and proposed "solutions to the trust-deficit in modern media".

He concludes that "the digital age presents significant challenges to the century-old norms of journalistic objectivity and impartiality", but adds that it would be "dangerous" to disregard "the standards they were designed to support".

He also added that transparency alone is not enough to solve the issue of trust in the digital world, but instead forms one of three principles which Sambrook proposes could "help rescue the core of what impartiality and objectivity delivered in the past".

He adds that "a premium" should be afforded to reporting that demonstrates journalism driven by evidence, diverse opinions and transparency.

Sambrook also highlights "a growing need to encourage critical awareness of the media" within the general public that can "equip them with the knowledge and tools to understand what they are consuming".

"This could include kitemarking, tiered regulation, technical signposting, and a greater pedagogical emphasis on media literacy.

"There are currently serious concerns about the quality and practices of news media and their impact on public debate. These principles, supported by greater media literacy, can help us navigate in the new digital world of information abundance and deliver journalism that is trustworthy and fulfils its public purpose."

Following publication of the report the RISJ is holding a free event at the London School of Economics in partnership with POLIS and the BBC College of Journalism, looking at how to maintain the trust, impartiality and objectivity in journalism in the digital era.

The panel discussion, including Sambrook, Helen Boaden, director of BBC News group, and John Lloyd, director of journalism, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism will ask if the media can "maintain trust, ethics and values in the digital age?"

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