11. Memorandum submitted by the Society
The Society of Editors has more than 400 members
in national, regional and local newspapers, magazines, broadcasting,
new media, media law and journalism education. They are all editors
or senior editorial executives in their organisations responsible
for editorial policies and content. It is the only organisation
that represents editors in all sectors of the media. It is independent
of publishers and other media organisations.
The society campaigns to maintain media freedom
within the wider public right to free expression and the public's
right to know. Members work within the law and accept the constraints
explicit and implied by the Newspaper and Magazine Editors' Code
of Practice and in broadcasting codes and producers' guidelines.
Editors recognise the importance of good community
relations and their responsibility for reporting accurately and
Their responsibility is defined by the ethical
arguments that can be used for promoting community cohesion and
by the business case for endeavouring to promote safe and harmonious
Too often the media is dismissed as thoughtlessly
pursuing circulation or ratings. It is condemned for chasing headlines
without thought for the consequences. Nothing could be further
from the truth. Editors clearly have a vested interest in good
community relations because people from minority faith or ethnic
groups are their potential readers, listeners and viewers. No
editor working in the national media can afford to ignore the
needs and interests of any minority. The local and regional media
is directly concerned with building or rebuilding communities
within the geographical areas that they serve.
As an organisation the society has worked with
the Home Office Community Cohesion unit and contributed to reports
from Community Cohesion Panel and its Media Practitioner Group.
The committee should consider those reports and recommendations.
In particular the conclusion to those discussions
was that it would be inappropriate to prescribe to print and broadcasting
media how to address cohesion, particularly because of the general
acceptance of the need to maintain a free press. However it was
recognised that the press and broadcasting industries need to
ensure that the existing regulatory frameworks build confidence
in media standards.
The Media Practitioner Group also recommended
that local government and community groups themselves had a part
to play in improving their contacts with the media which would
The society has also been active in researching
the recruitment and training of journalists from ethnic minority
communities. A survey by the SoE Training Committee published
in October 2004 (Diversity in the Newsroom) followed up on earlier
research by the Journalism Training Forum. The report on the survey
shows that the newspaper industry is now taking action similar
to that that had been initiated by broadcasters.
In summary the report said that the issue was
now being taken very seriously at the highest level by editors
and publishers. Detailed comments from regional newspaper editors
particularly underlined the problem of attracting recruits from
minority communities. Again, the ethical and commercial cases
for making greater effort were emphasised. Some editors in northern
towns were adamant however that disturbances had been based on
economics rather than race or religion.
Following from these initiatives the society
has also been a driving force in the compilation of a new booklet
for journalists to be published under the auspices of the SoE
and the Media Trust and financed by the Home Office Community
Cohesion unit. Getting it RightCommunities and the Media
will be a practical reporter's guide to how to avoid some of the
pitfalls of reporting on minority communities and faiths.
It will draw on work originated by the Media
Trust that outlined some of the perceptions that minority groups
and academics had of the media. However it will also spotlight
good practice with examples from papers including the Sun and
the Daily Mail that have frequently gone unnoticed. The
Sun, for example, carried a two-page editorial in the aftermath
of the 11 September attacks in New York. The Daily Mail is noted
for its attempts to get behind the headlines of the so-called
race riots in northern cities.
Through the society, editors have also been
playing a leading part in the work of the Media Emergencies Forum
that brings government, local authorities, the emergency services
and emergency planners together. This was originally set up in
the 1990s to look at lessons that could be learned about keeping
the public informed after major emergencies such as train and
aircraft accidents. The US attacks brought new urgency to the
task. The forum produced a detailed report on how to improve communications
with the public through the media.
It has also led to the formation of regional
MEFs across the country that bring the media and authorities together
before major incidents occur to promote greater understanding.
Part of the work of the MEF nationally included
the arrangement of special background briefings from senior government
scientists and security officials to editors and senior correspondents
about terrorist threats. The work also involved discussions about
the use of language in reporting the level of threats to try to
promote the idea of keeping the public alert but not alarmed.
Such briefings were considered valuable by all
sides. No confidences were betrayed and they enabled the media
to report more effectively and responsibly because it was properly
The media is used to criticism and there is
a frequently expressed perception that politicians and government
are in a permanent state of warfare with the media. The MEF initiative
has been described as an example of a grown up relationship between
a wide range of organisations all of which, including the media,
seek to serve the public.
Discussions of these issues have been long and
detailed at national level through media organisations. At a local
level they are an everyday occurrence through formal groups and
informally between editors and the police and other authorities
at police force and more local levels.
5 January 2005