THE former head of news at BBC Scotland and chair of the Scottish Broadcasting Commission has called for the creation of a new independent press regulator with substantial powers to investigate unethical behaviour.
The regulator should be able to impose “significant sanctions” including financial penalties, Blair Jenkins says in a report for the Carnegie Trust UK.
The document, published today, also calls for a new ethical and editorial code for all journalists as the key measure to support and encourage better news media in the digital age.
It said that an industry-wide code would give much clearer guidance and set high standards for journalists in newspapers, broadcasting and the internet.
The report – Better Journalism in the Digital Age – will be forwarded as a formal submission to the Leveson Inquiry into press standards.
The document said that a new regulatory framework for the press is needed, one that is independent of government and the newspaper industry.
It suggests the system should be voluntary, but with very strong incentives for joining.
A “key incentive” could be press accreditation and recognition, a system that gives journalists privileged access to important venues, events and people.
Only news outlets participating in the regulatory framework would obtain the benefits of press accreditation.
The report says: “A new regulator can effectively guarantee adherence to a more substantial and ambitious editorial code, with penalties for breaches.
“It is important the new regulator has teeth: the issue is how fiercely and frequently we wish it to bite.”
However, the regulator would not have statutory powers.
Other recommendations include the maintenance or strengthening of public service broadcasting to ensure that not all news ventures are commercially driven, and a renewed emphasis on professional ethics in journalism education and training.
Mr Jenkins is a former head of news and current affairs at both BBC Scotland and STV, and now a Carnegie Fellow.
He said: “Journalism is based on trust and integrity and that needs to be reflected in a new industry-wide code of conduct. It should be inspiring and authentic for all journalists, but also sufficiently clear and reassuring for the public, who depend upon those journalists for reliable news and information.
“The independent regulatory system proposed would strike a new balance. You only get the many benefits of being a serious news operation if you also live up to the obligations.
“If you want the accreditation that gets you special access to the big stories, you have to sign up to decent and reasonable standards.”
The report also recommends that civil society organisations offer help to fund new initiatives to ensure greater quality and diversity of news sources.