On 14 September 2011 the Editor of the Financial Times, Lionel Barber, gave the Fulbright Lecture with the title “Adapt or Die: The Future of News and Newspapers in the Digital Revolution“.   After considering the impact of the phone hacking scandal, he said that Press Complaints Commission in its current form is dead and should be replaced by an entirely new system of self-regulation.

He observed that the phone hacking scandal marks a watershed for tabloid journalism.  He went on to draw attention to the “conspiracy of silence” about the story, when

Aside from a few lone voices, no one dared speak the truth: that self-regulation had failed“.

Drawing attention to the “uncomfortable truth” that politicians, the police and certain corners of the press have enjoyed too cosy a relationship, he continued

“the News of the World scandal should give us pause for thought. Not just because of News International’s painfully inadequate response, but also because of the culture which bred such practices. The best thing now is for the mainstream media to clean house and set out new ideas to reform our self-regulatory system“.

He went on to set out a number of ideas as to how to reform the self-regulatory system:

  • The PCC in its current form is dead
  • The time had come to open up self-regulatory bodies by bringing in outsiders and reducing or eliminating the role of insiders.
  • The new body – call it the “Media Standards Commission” – should have intelligible statements of principle, measurabale standards and a mandate for intervention.
  • The industry must participate fully in the new system

“all printed media should be “encouraged” to be full members and committed to making it work. There should be consequences for those who opt out a la Express Newspapers, perhaps via a form of statutory levy on advertising revenues for non-participants, with such levies being used to fund the new body”.

He suggested that new system should embrace new media such as the Huffington Post UK and individual bloggers.

  • Finally, he suggested that it was time for a serious debate on public interest.

Mr Barber concluded that it was time for the mainstream media to “rebuild trust with its readers and viewers” by adhering to basic standards of accuracy, fairness and intellectual honesty.

“We journalists will also have to be more a bit more open about the way we do business. We are not members of a secret society. Newspapers can and should publish their respective codes of conduct. Journalists should be more forthcoming about their real and potential conflicts of interest, whether it be accepting gifts, commanding fees for speeches, or dealing in stocks and shares. Other professions such as bankers and politicians have suffered similar scrutiny. The Fourth Estate cannot expect to be exempt”.