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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Investigative journalism is 'vital', says Lords

By Rowena Mason, Political Correspondent

Investigative journalism is “vital to our democracy” and should be supported through a new fund to promote responsible reporting, an influential group of Lords will say today.

In a new report, the Communications Select Committee is set to argue that Britain needs to protect “responsible, high-quality, investigative journalism” at a time when the media is under unprecedented scrutiny.

Lord Inglewood, the committee chairman, said the news organisations face a number of “profound economic, legal and regulatory challenges”, following the phone hacking scandal that closed down the News of the World newspaper.

But he said it was important to make sure investigative journalism continues to be at the heart of "the UK’s system of democratic governance and accountability”.

The committee’s report recommends a new fund to help train investigative journalists, potentially funded by fines levied on the media for any breaches of the regulatory code.

It also advises that the Crown Prosecution Service urgently publishes some guidelines to help journalists decide whether an investigation is in the public interest.

The committee will say there is no need to define the meaning of “public interest” in law, but journalists should be given a better idea of what activities could lead to a prosecution.

The Lords claim new guidelines would help media companies navigate their way through the current “inconsistencies and lack of clarity” in law.

Lord Inglewood and the committee will also call on the Government to consider how to help newspapers financially.

“We urge the Government to recognise the financial problems facing newspapers and encourage them to think creatively about any tax breaks or other financial incentives which might help the industry through this difficult transitional stage,” the report will say.

The report also recommends that all public relations practitioners abide by a clear code of behaviour, potentially overseen by a third party.


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