A YouGov poll commissioned by the Media Standards Trust has found overwhelming public support for a new system of independent regulation, established by law. When asked how newspapers in Britain should be regulated, 79% chose the option “There should be an independent press regulator, established by law, which deals with complaints and decides what sanctions there should be if journalists break agreed codes of conduct”. Only 9% believe that newspapers should establish their own body to do this.

In addition, 82% believe that national newspapers should be obliged by law to join a new regulatory system; only 8% believe national newspapers should be allowed to opt out.  60% believe that the Government should implement the recommendations, against 6% who do not; 34% don’t know

The poll showed that a only a small minority of the public trust the press to deal with complaints against their own conduct:

  • 82% of respondents agreed that ‘it is no longer acceptable for newspaper owners and editors to control the system for dealing with complaints about press behaviour’
  • 86% believe that there is a risk (56% ‘a strong risk’) that if the press continue to regulate themselves, there will be a repeat of unethical and illegal practices (such as phone-hacking and intrusions into people’s private lives) that have been revealed during the Leveson Inquiry

Furthermore, 70% disagree with the statement that “we can trust newspaper editors to ensure that their journalists act in the public interest”.

A full analysis of the results can be found on the Media Standards Trust website.  A summary of the poll is available here [pdf] and the full poll is available here [pdf].

A story about the poll was published in the Guardian today.  It is interesting to note that the 79% figure is higher than the finding of a similar poll commissioned by Hacked Off two months ago which asked exactly the same question.  Between the two polls, several national newspapers have conducted intensive campaigns suggesting that tougher press regulation would inevitably threaten free speech.

Professor Brian Cathcart, director of Hacked Off, said:

‘This YouGov poll is disastrous news for those editors and proprietors who have been doing their very worst to shift public opinion in their favour. They have been bullying and blustering for two months now and they haven’t changed anyone’s mind.  It is clear that the public is standing up to the press campaign. With Lord Justice Leveson due to report tomorrow, let us hope the politicians are ready to do the same. Hacked Off urges all parties to work together to implement the judge’s recommendations for change, assuming – as the prime minister put it, they are not bonkers.’

Meanwhile the Hunt-Black plan, touted by some editors and proprietors as a rival or alternative to whatever the Leveson Inquiry reports, is falling apart. This proposal was exposed both at the inquiry and in research by the Media Standards Trust as another flawed form of self-regulation, in which real power still lay with editors and proprietors.

Though Lord Hunt and Lord Black, who devised it, have insisted that it enjoyed widespread if not unanimous backing from the leading newspaper groups, the Independent, the Guardian, the Financial Times and the London Evening Standard have distanced themselves from it and the editor of the Times has suggested it is not sufficient.

Six months ago the victims of press abuses who gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry also declared the Hunt-Black plan insufficient.

Only one plan for press regulation matters and that is the one that Lord Justice Leveson announces tomorrow. Editors and proprietors should stop ducking and diving and hope that the judge provides them with an effective, independent regulator that upholds high standards and enables their papers to win back the trust of the public.’