Guest Blog | How can the IMPRESS Standards Code adapt to the future of journalism online? Suggestions from IMPRESS Code Review research

As part of our ongoing Code Review process, IMPRESS commissioned Dr Bina Ogbebor of the University of Sheffield to undertake a literature review of media standards research in the UK.

Through a content analysis of 289 publications, the study highlighted key concerns and developments on media standards in the United Kingdom that have arisen since the IMPRESS Standards Code was first developed in 2016.

This research will be considered alongside all other contributions to the Code Review when our Code Committee convenes to determine what changes to the IMPRESS Standards Code should be recommended.

In this blog, Dr Ogbebor provides an insight into concerns and issues revealed by the study concerning the future of journalism online, including around the increased use of User Generated Content (UGC) and the rise of artificial intelligence.


Press Standards and Journalism Online

Journalism standards could be more comprehensive, user-friendly, and further adapt to changing trends in journalism.

One of the key concerns highlighted by the study was the impact of digital technology on journalism and the need for press regulation to adapt to journalism in the digital age. The need for effective regulation of journalism on online platforms emerged as the dominant theme in the press standards literature, raised in 24.9 per cent of debates in the study sample.

In particular, the literature review indicated that there has been an ongoing debate around the role of press regulation with regards to ensuring the authenticity of information, the ethical use of content from social media and tackling online abuse. There were also suggestions that press standards could be more comprehensive, user-friendly, and further adapt to changing trends in journalism caused by technological and cultural transformations.

The need to provide more clarity on how press regulation applies to journalism online was raised repeatedly. More information is sought on how to keep online news consumers safe from online harms, including online harassment such as hate speech and cyberbullying. Doxing, the sharing of individuals’ personal information online without consent to cause them harm, was also highlighted as a particularly dangerous online harm that specific guidelines could help to address.


Artificial intelligence

Over 50% of concerns raised about the impact of digital transformations on press standards were concerned with how artificial intelligence would be implemented on online news platforms.

One of the key arguments made in relation to the issue of journalism online is that more attention should be given to how artificial intelligence is employed by online news platforms. This featured in 55.3 per cent of concerns about the impact of digital transformations on press standards.

While some present AI as a means of improving journalism, others are sceptical and warn that it can be abused if not properly regulated. When used in negative ways, such as for the creation of deepfakes and computer-generated clickbait, AI has the potential to cause real harm.

It has been suggested that regulators could require online news platforms to employ effective algorithms to prevent the spread of harmful materials on their platforms, rather than waiting to be notified before doing so. Studies have shown that relying only on the “notice and take down” system risks people being harmed before the content is removed. To address this, the study recommends that IMPRESS could provide robust guidelines detailing algorithmic accountability in journalism.


User-generated content (UGC)

There’s a growing consensus that the high level of dangerous and inaccurate content online and the speed at which such harmful content spreads necessitates more pragmatic and preventive approaches to ensuring the safety of users of news UGC spaces.

Some consider the moderation of UGC content on online news platforms as something which can impede freedom of expression and that having to moderate, places too much burden on publishers who are already under pressure and short of time and resources. Some have also expressed concern that moderating UGC would divert user participation to social media and result in publishers losing more patronage and revenue.

On the other side of the debate, others argue that effective moderation is necessary to protect the public from serious harm and can actually improve freedom of expression if adequate guidelines are provided on how to do this without harming debates in the public interest.

Suggestions have been made that online harm can be prevented by replacing total anonymity with partial anonymity in UGC spaces, and by adopting proposals for moderation on online news spaces in sync with the “safety by design” approach outlined in the draft Online Safety bill currently being considered by the government. Updating the IMPRESS Standards Code and guidance to consider UGC and how regulations apply to digital spaces, was also suggested.


Dr Ogbebor’s literature review joins our call for evidence report and evidence gathered through our extensive engagement and workshops programme, as a rich information pool for our Code Committee to consider as they seek to draft an updated IMPRESS Standards Code. For more information on the literature review, check out our handy infographic for a summary of the other major themes and issues raised in the research findings.

Find out more about the IMPRESS Code Review and its progress so far here.

Dr Bina Ogbebor joined the University of Sheffield in February 2020 as Lecturer in Journalism Studies. Before then, she worked as a teacher at Cardiff University’s Department of Journalism, Media and Culture. Bina also worked as a TV reporter, news editor and producer/presenter for 18 years before moving into higher education. Her research and teaching interests include media representation, media policy, media and democracy, public sphere, media power, and self-coverage, among others.