Editor of 'The Independent' says proposed changes to UK media regulation don’t threaten a free press.
The Legatum Institute and Editorial Intelligence co-hosted a breakfast discussion with Chris Blackhurst, Editor of The Independent, and Anne Applebaum, Director of the Legatum Institute’s Global Transitions programme. Blackhurst and Applebaum discussed the current debate about media regulation in the UK and the implications for the British press and its global image.
Blackhurst was adamant that the British press are still the best in the world, despite recent knocks to its reputation. He based this assessment on the diverse range of UK papers - from tabloid to broadsheet, left to right of the political spectrum - and the record number of scoops the press generates. He emphasised, however, that trust in journalists had reached unacceptably low levels. Opinion polls show that only 7% of people say they trust journalists, the same percentage as politicians and bankers, compared to nurses at 82%.
Blackhurst takes this as proof that the industry needs reform, though he disagrees with the scope of the Leveson inquiry, pointing out that it was unable to address the issue of hacking which triggered the current crisis in the first place. That said, Blackhurst argues that there is nothing in Leveson that would stop journalists from doing their jobs as they do now. He dismissed the anti-Leveson commentary in some papers as ‘hysterical nonsense’.
However, he made the point that every other industry has regulations to abide by, so why shouldn’t the British press. “The BBC are regulated by Ofcom and they don’t complain that they can’t do their jobs”.
He understands that supporters of free media in countries such as Rwanda, who might look to the UK press as a model, may be afraid that the proposed regulation would curtail a free and fair press in the UK. But while it may seem disconcerting to see former editors of UK newspapers going to jail, Blackhurst stressed that UK journalists only end up in prison if they break the law – a law that affects everybody, not just journalists.