Monday, 5 December 2011

What Price Accreditation?

This was the story run by the JEP this week:

NATIONAL newspapers knowingly ran misleading stories about children being killed and buried at Haut de la Garenne to sell more copies, the Leveson inquiry into phone hacking heard this week. Journalists sent to the Island could have told editors across Fleet Street that the reports were 'crap', but they would have run them anyway, it was alleged. The evidence was given by leading Guardian investigative journalist Nick Davies, who said that his employers were not exempt from letting 'commercial considerations' influence news judgment. It was Mr Davies, a veteran critic of the way journalists ride roughshod over the truth in the feeding frenzy over big stories, who revealed that murder victim Milly Dowler's mobile phone had been hacked by the News of the World.

And yet the editor of the JEP, Mr Chris Bright in a submission to a Scrutiny Panel, argued that "accredited media" could be trusted because they adhered to certain standards and a code of conduct:

"The public needs and wants information it can trust. That can come neither directly from the government nor from the mixture of partial pamphleteering, gossip and hearsay which typifies many blogs in both the U.K. and C.I., particularly those with politics and government as primary interests."

Now if the press has standards which non-accredited media does not then Mr Bright's argument is a valid one. Journalist, he says, sign up to a code of professional practice. And yet this week, the same JEP which is edited by Mr Bright is telling us that, after all, journalists cannot be trusted, because they make up and exaggerate stories. Where does that leave Mr Bright's argument?

He could, of course, argue that the difference is that the JEP does adhere to those standards, even if the National Press does not. But how are we to know that this is the case? I have had emails from former Senator Terry le Sueur and Senator Ian le Marquand claiming they have been misrepresented in stories. Former Senator Freddie Cohen writes in "to put the record straight" about Portelet. Senator Philip Ozouf writes in to correct misleading stories. And those are the more establishment figures in the States! If they think that the JEP presents from time to time, sloppy and misleading journalism, then where does the uniquely perfection that the JEP aspires to stand? And there are also the mistakes which are caused by reliance on hearsay, like that on Montfort Tadier spoiling an election paper, which in fact he did not do.

As for partial pamphleteering, what on earth does one call editorials which blatantly tell the public to support Sir Philip Bailhache, and tell States Members that he must be the best man for Chief Minister? Now I'm not commenting on the merits of Sir Philip, which may be substantial; all I'm saying is that as far as "partial pamphleteering" goes, the JEP certainly does that as well as reporting on news.

And for partiality, where in the Hustings reports was the question raised by former Constable Bob le Brocq at a St Helier hustings? It was available courtesy of non-accredited media, but was missing from the JEP report. Now it could be argued that there is a lot to take in a hustings, and any reporting must be selective, but any selection is a matter of judgement, or to put in another way, partiality.

So while the JEP may not make up stories on quite the scale of the National Press, I'm not wholly convinced that it is immune from partial pamphleteering or hearsay. It provides information, but sometimes the information can be selected or presented in particular ways. The election coverage had an awful lot of coverage of Sir Philip, both in photographs and snippets of speech, beginning with front page coverage of the hustings devoted to him at the start of the election campaign; other candidates were relegated to inside pages.

And of course, there are the lurid headlines, of massive rises in the percentage of burglaries over last year, when a moments thought shows that the percentage per building in Jersey has gone up fractions of a percent; it is only the small numbers that mean comparisons of one year with the last can be manipulated to give a reader grabbing headline - Darrell Huff exposed all this long ago, in How to lie with Statistics. Information we can trust? Certainly not headlines that are trustworthy. But it sells papers - commercial considerations' influence news judgment perhaps?

Finally, of course, it's not much use pointing to national journalistic standards, because, as the JEP has shown us, national journalists just ignore them, and there is therefore no way of knowing whether the local journalists do likewise when the need arises for a good story. They may say they adhere to standards, and deserve their press card, but so did the National journalists in the UK. Mistrust, unfortunately, has a corrosive effect and devalues more reliable news sources - with the possible exception of Private Eye.


Deputy Montfort Tadier said...

A very interesting post Tony. You highlight the contradictions of the JEP who seem to want to 'have it both ways'.

Very topical, as my recent blog deals with similar issues

voiceforchildren said...


One only needs to look at a couple of the findings in the recently published Report from the Education and Home Affairs Scrutiny Sub Panel concerning how the review by BDO/Alto was so badly misrepresented by, among other State Media THE JEP

James said...

I'm still wondering how it is that the JEP can insist on publishing my personal details as part of a letter - what sort of interpretation of Data Protection is that?

I'm also wondering how it is that the JEP can state that defamatory comments will not be published - and then themselves publish comments by a man who hides behind a pseudonym that slur the reputation of a whole area of St Helier.

Rob Kent said...

Other areas of Nick Davies evidence were interesting. He is an investigative journalist de rigeur and he explained his working methodologies, particularly how he never takes one source on trust, even if it is an official one. He is always digging around for other sources to triangulate a piece of evidence.

I would say that the Guardian, and a few other broadsheets, follow journalistic high standards most of the time; the tabloids rarely ever. The latter just do not care if a story is true or not and they will print a headline from one anonymous source who happened to phone their office (also explained to Leveson).

In that respect, the JEP is similar to the tabloids. It receives information from a States member or a press officer and it goes straight onto the front page without investigation and without printing an opposing view.

I am only referring here to the stories they printed around HdlG, which is the short period where I bothered looking at the JEP.

Their coverage of that was tendentious and unresearched. I mean, how much does it tell you when Rico can unearth the relationships between BDO Alto, Gradwell, Warcup and the Home Affairs office and the JEP didn't even notice it or thought it not worth reporting if they did.

Their persistent misreporting of the 7.5 million spent surrounding the HdlG investigation - ascribing it all to Harper/Power when the majority of it was spent by others, is a travesty. In fact, they should be reprimanded by their professional body for misrepresentation of the known facts.