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Public Support for New IMPRESS Standards Code

IMPRESS today announces the findings of a national survey into the principles which should guide its new standards code.

IMPRESS has commissioned the research agency BritainThinks to conduct a series of public workshops and a survey of public opinion as part of its consultation into a new standards code. This research consisted of two three-hour workshops in London and Glasgow with a diverse range of members of the public and a nationally representative poll of 2,014 adult members of the public in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

When asked to rate the individual principles out of 10, respondents to the survey expressed support for the principles as follows:

Publishers should…                                                                     (rate out of 10)

Ensure information is accurate                                                                  9.27

Respect the rights of children                                                                    8.92

Not allow journalists to harass people                                                     8.80

Respect the right to a fair trial                                                                   8.80

Provide balanced news coverage                                                             8.75

Avoid discrimination                                                                                    8.66

Respect people’s privacy                                                                            8.56

Declare conflicts of interest                                                                       8.49

Not plagiarise                                                                                                8.05

Protect confidential sources                                                                      8.02

Exceptions to these principles where there is a public interest         7.37

When asked to rate the importance of these principles, the two principles that the public rated as the most important were accuracy (53%) and privacy (30%). Other principles prioritised were balance (29%), harassment (26%) and the rights of children (24%).

When asked to choose between self-regulation, regulation by the government or regulation by an independent body, a significant majority of respondents (58%) preferred independent regulation. Only 17% were in favour of self-regulation by publishers and editors whilst 21% preferred state regulation.

The public was most likely to identify bias (28% mentioned spontaneously) and dishonesty (16%) as things that news publications might do that are wrong or unfair. Honesty (43%) and balance (24%) were spontaneously identified as the most important standards to be upheld by a press regulator.

Máire Messenger Davies, Chair of the IMPRESS Code Committee, said: ‘We want to ensure that the new standards code takes account of the public view. The basic principle of independent regulation of news publications has widespread public support with the majority of our respondents preferring an independent body to uphold the code rather than leaving this to news publications themselves.’

‘The poll also revealed the public’s concern over press standards. They are particularly unhappy about what they perceive as “bias”, coupled with the problems of “dishonesty”, “not checking facts” and reporting which “invades privacy”. These are important views to take into account as we continue to work on the new code.’

IMPRESS is now holding meetings with a range of stakeholders, including civil society organisations, academics, media lawyers, media regulators, journalists and publishers. The results of the public phase of the consultation are at the heart of the agenda for these discussions.

Jonathan Heawood, CEO of IMPRESS, said: ‘We began with ten principles which reflect best practice in journalism and news publishing from around the world. We wanted to find out whether the public agree that these principles should inform our future standards code. We added an eleventh principle, on balance, because the participants in the public workshops told us very clearly that they would value more balanced news coverage. When we tested this with a large sample of the public, they also supported the inclusion of balance. When we looked more deeply into this, 53% of survey respondents said that a news publication “has a right to express an opinion but not distort facts”. We will reflect on the public response as we develop our code.

The aim of the consultation is to help develop a clear statement of the standards which the public expect of editors and journalists. This will inform the draft standards code, including both principles and detailed rules, that will be published by the IMPRESS Code Committee for consultation this summer.

Click here to download a PDF presentation of the public findings of our Code Consultation.