Nick Jones

Unesco could be replicdebate, Portcullis House, Westminster, 3.5.2007 

Nicholas Jones spoke for the motion: That this house believes world media freedom is in retreat:

You might well ask: “How could a former BBC correspondent of thirty years standing, living in a country like the United Kingdom which is so rich in media output, possibly fear that there is any threat to the freedom of our journalists to investigate and report?” I make that case because while we are output rich, we are becoming increasingly content poor. Our news gathering, in its scope and depth, is nothing like as strong as it once was. And, I fear the trends we see here in the UK ated around the world.

Just look at what has been happening: An ever greater concentration of media ownership; even greater cuts in editorial staff; media proprietors moving big time from newspapers to websites; journalists tied to their computer screens and telephones, with nothing like the freedom that I had in my career, to go out to gather information, to think about the news and report it. Instead those who have jobs are becoming the slaves of multi-task newsrooms, having to churn out endless versions of the same news stories, for audio, websites and print. The dearth of true local reporting is a terrible portent of what is to come.

The effects are all too evident: We regurgitate and recycle rather than initiate news; so fierce is the competition and so great the demand for exclusives, we have seen the emergence of a generation of journalists tempted to manufacture their own stories…and to make up the quotes to fit their story line.

We have become prey to the growing dominance of the public relations industry and to government sources of information. Seventy per cent of editorial matter can now be sourced -- it is said -- to pr and public affairs. We look on with sadness at the constant stream of experienced journalists leaving for the higher salaries and vastly more rewarding career structures which the pr world can offer.

So we have a fight on here. Yes the web and the blogosphere offer tremendous opportunities but I bet it’ll still be the media conglomerates that’ll be setting the agenda in news and current affairs. They’re not going to let go of that advantage. Believe me the UK is an international trend setter in news reporting. And the growing commercialisation of our media will become a problem elsewhere.

We should be demanding the widest possible spread of media ownership. What’s happened to all that legislation on monopolies. We should recognise that our editorial standards are under threat. We should not take press freedom for granted here in the UK while we fight to defend journalists around the world, not least those whose very lives might be at risk.