The Society of Editors has issued a 'call to arms' to its members to challenge authorities that are obstructive to press requests and attempt to encroach on media freedom in a new campaign.
The Campaign for Real News encourages editors and reporters to report attempts to undermine the press, particularly through the rise of unbalanced media operations.
"We aim to underscore the fact that real news is being produced by mainstream and emerging media that holds to the standards that are expected of news organisations, and that that’s where your best chance of finding real news is," executive director of the Society of Editors Ian Murray explained.
Society launches new Campaign for Real News— Society of Editors UK (@EditorsUK) February 27, 2020
Ian Murray, Executive Director of the Society said: “The Society strongly believes that political parties, local councils and police press offices should not be in competition with the mainstream media."https://t.co/qGeg35JjRU pic.twitter.com/47gCcQXiqm
Murray criticised the tactic of political parties creating campaign material during last year's UK general election in the style of local newspapers, which he described as an "atrocious" attempt to undermine confidence in news and mislead the public. He also pointed out that sometimes local councils and police press offices go as far as denying the media access to information of legitimate public interest.
"Real news is being diluted and, in some places, replaced by alternatives. Politicians speak with forked tongues - they constantly say we need a free press in this country, and in the next breath they’re pointing fingers and saying you can’t trust the mainstream media."
Murray explained that the challenges and attacks being faced by the press in the UK are unprecedented in scale at a time when newspapers are already struggling with cuts and closures due to declining advertising revenue.
The campaign group, which represents 400 editors from a range of publications, hopes to use its influence to call out examples of partisan reporting by authorities and call on local police and politicians to work with the media, alongside promoting genuine reporting by news outlets.
The group also aims to provide support by collating examples and publishing them to expose those it accuses of undermining the press.
Murray also warned of the prospect of knee-jerk reactions from the government in response to issues such as the prevalence of extremist and misleading content online. Whilst actions, such as the Online Harms White Paper, are well-intentioned, he said that this can open up the prospect of greater regulation of the press by the back door.
"You may not want to know what a celebrity looks like when they haven’t got their makeup on and that’s absolutely fine. But in an attempt to clamp down on that kind of media, you will by default clamp down on the rest of us as well."
"There is a very real threat to the existence of the media. A free press plays a vital role in the health of the nation but we need to be vigilant and on our guard because those liberties are being taken away."
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