In the light of evidence given to the ongoing Leveson inquiry into press and media ethics, Martin Smith puts the case for the integrity and reliability of The Star and its essential role in the democracy of the city
NEVER before have newspapers come under such scrutiny.
The News Of The World phone hacking scandal has shaken the industry to its foundations and put all newspapers in the firing line at the Leveson inquiry into press ethics and practice.
The inquiry was sparked by the revelation that tragic murder victim Milly Dowler’s phone messages had been hacked by The News of the World after her abduction.
So what does the examination of press values mean to the The Star and our readers?
Can you still believe our stories and in the integrity of our news gathering methods?
Or do you think newspapers are all the same and that if they’re up to no good in London, surely they must be at it up here too?
No. Actually we ARE different.
The Star has been the voice of Sheffield through 45,000 issues over 125 years. Six days a week telling it like it is in the city and across South Yorkshire.
Of course we’ve made mistakes, mis-spellings, missed names and issues, councillors offended and officials humbled in a century and a quarter.
We’ve told millions of football stories that enrage half the city one day and the other half the next.
And occasionally we upset people as we go about our work.
That’s 12 decades of door-knocking reporters, requests for interviews on the streets and outside courts and coroner’s hearings.
All those hastily snatched photographs of villains, wrong-doers, but also photos of politicians, royalty, footballers and celebrities.
But our methods and intentions have always been in the interests of our readers and the people of this region.
And we play by the rules, strict rules on libel, intrusion into grief, accuracy and on your right to reply.
Former Star Editor and current editor of the Yorkshire Post Peter Charlton told the Leveson Inquiry that in over 40 years working in the regional press he has never encountered behaviour that “remotely resembles” the subterfuge and invasions of privacy revealed by the phone hacking scandal.
“These practices have never been a feature of regional journalism at any of the newspapers on which I have worked or edited,” said the current editor of the Yorkshire Post.
“Such unlawful and unethical behaviour is anathema to regional titles. It is not now, nor ever has been, part of our mindset.
“Nor is the obsession with celebrity gossip that was the driver for so much of the subterfuge at red-top titles part of our mindset.”
Star editor Jeremy Clifford reiterates that viewpoint. “Every regional newspaper I have ever worked on adheres strictly to the guidelines and code of behaviour laid down by the Press Complaints Commission. That is not to say newspapers do not make mistakes and sometimes transgress those guidelines, but an adjudication against a newspaper is seen as a badge of shame.
“Our day-to-day behaviour is governed by common decency, respect of privacy and a sense that we are a part of the community in which we work and that we report on. However, there will be times when the public interest overrides that right to privacy and the role of the free press has to be protected to allow us to expose wrongdoing or scandal.”
“The Star and dozens of papers around the country are vital to our democracy and that our role to inform and entertain is still a role we fulfill, through the newspaper six days a week and online 24 hours a day.”
A new code of press ethics is actually unnecessary.
The existing code laid down by the Society Of Editors and supported by the Press Complaints commission is adequate in its scope and reach.
It simply needs to be enforced robustly, and there’s the issue.
No-one wants the kind of intrusion that has seen umpteen stars, wannabees and 48-hour celebrities paid out handsome compensation for having their telephones hacked.
But the need to control excess cannot be allowed to impose on the freedom of the press at any level.
Imagine life without the news those millions of Star pages have brought you and your families since 1887.
A world where councils, police and big business are never challenged.
A Sheffield where murder, rape and arson cases go largely unreported, council policies go through without the wider public’s awareness, cuts are made to schools, social services and transport budgets without public debate.
In short, a world without The Star and a free press.
It could never happen you say? Well it just might.
Thanks to the excessess of a small number of tabloid journalsts whose competitive desire has been allowed and encouraged to take them down some very dark roads to gather information, the freedom of the press, all the press is at stake.
The Leveson inquiry has heard that the UK’s regional press has a “very good reputation” for behaving ethically and should not be tarnished by the phone hacking scandal.
We would put it much more forcefully than that and we try to do so every day.
*You can see the full Society Of Editors Code of Conduct that we subscribe to at this web address: http://www.pcc.org.uk/cop/practice.html
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There are 1200 regional and local newspapers and 1600 associated websites in the UK.
Local press is the UK’s most popular print medium, read by 33 million people a week.
Local newspapers (60 per cent) are the first media people turn to raise awareness of a local issue or problem.
4.42 million unique users rely on their local newspaper websites every month.
More than 70 per cent of people act on the advertisements in local newspapers.
More than 6,100 local newspapers are sold or distributed in the UK every minute.
Local media employs more than 30,000 people including 10,000 journalists.
Eighty-five per cent of local newspaper readers in Britain say that it is important that their local paper keeps them informed about local council issues.
Newspaper (30 per cent) and TV advertising (56 per cent) have more impact upon consumers than magazines (17 per cent), radio 15 (per cent), and outdoor (15 per cent).
Local press is the most effective media channel for generating word of mouth conversations.
Source: Society of Editors.
THE Star is committed to Sheffield and the people of South Yorkshire.
For 125 years we have been battling for our readers against hypocrisy, obstruction and secrecy.
One of the most important roles we play is to act as watchdog to reveal how well those vested with responsibility for spending our money actually deliver good value services.
Of course we love the stories about precocious children, diamond weddings, multiple births, silly haircuts and sponsored walks because it’s our role to record the life of this city and South Yorkshire.
But we are also there to tell you about the drug dealers and thieves in our midst, how your council tax is being spent, why your roads haven’t been repaired, how many policemen are on the beat, when your binmen are on strike and where your speeding fine money goes.
And we are here to bring the news that someone, somewhere doesn’t want you to know.
Just in the last few days we have bought you exclusives on the council amnesty on people who put out the wrong bins, a detailed analysis of every aspect of Sheffield’s economic and political health, an interview with a former policeman still haunted by the Hillsborough Disaster and an exclusive chat with Johannah Tomlinson, mother of One Direction star Louis Tomlinson.
Variety, value and sound information gathered according to professional guidelines.
Lifelong Sheffielder, former city councillor and Home Secretary David Blunkett is a great supporter of the Star.
“Information is power and the more information people have at their disposal, the better they can make a judgement about what is going on in the world on their behalf,” he said
“The Star tries to get to the aspects of public life which would not otherwise come to light.”
As your newspaper we are committed to making public the hidden facts affecting everyday lives – from statistics on school truancy to how councils and other organisations spend your money.
And we are committed to our Your Right to Know campaign where the Star will be publishing reports and investigations into how your money is spent and how well public services are being delivered over the next 12 months