Voicing the Public Interest

November 23, 2012

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The most important element of our report is that the public want to be involved: they want to have a voice in press regulation. They are not content with a system of self-regulation whereby editors and journalists set the guidelines on what is acceptable in the public interest.  In adjudicating on complaints, they are most positive about an independent regulator funded by government but again, the majority want a clear role for the general public in the process.  The 77% figure on an independent regulator exactly matches that found by campaigning group Hacked Off in a similar poll, suggesting that the public are consistently in favour of a press regulator independent of the industry.

The first research of its kind, Voicing the Public Interest: listening to the public on press regulation was based on a representative poll of 2000 adults in the UK and found that:

  • 77% want an independent regulator involved in setting guidelines
  • 71% want to see independent regulator in place to adjudicate on complaints
  • 63% of the public feel that the general public should play role in setting guidelines
  • 63% think that parliament already plays a roll in setting guidelines on ‘the public interest’

The key findings can be reviewed in our one-page infographic, available below.

Participants of the research were given a total of 90 different scenarios, exploring public attitudes towards free speech, privacy and investigative journalism. Out of these scenarios, only 15 had a majority of the public approving publication.

For example,

  • Just 29% supported the publication of a kiss and tell story about a sports star or actor, using information gained through interviewing friends and neighbours.
  • Only 41% support publication of a story about a FTSE 100 director making money illegally, with information for the story gained from going through the dustbins outside of a house.
  • Less than half (46%) of the public supported publication of a story about an elected politician putting others at risk, with information for the story gained from going through the dustbins outside of a house.
  • 40% believe that stories should ‘never’ be published if they draw on information gained through illegal entry into premises.

The public appear to take a more pragmatic than moralistic approach in judgements about the public interest. Stories calling people’s professional competence into question enjoyed higher support for publication than those revealing deceit for example.

Meanwhile, no ‘kiss and tell’ stories enjoyed majority public support for publication. The public were also most likely to support the publication of stories about people in positions of power and responsibility.

The report reveals strikingly low levels of trust, with many people not believing that tabloid newspapers in particular operate ethically, with due regard to the public interest.
Only one in ten of those surveyed expects the Sun to behave ethically, with just 12% taking that view of the Daily Mirror.  The highest ethical approval rating was given to the Financial Times at 55%.

For more information on this work please contact Jennifer Wallace, Policy Manager ([email protected]).