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  1. Media Law
September 21, 2012updated 25 Sep 2012 2:50pm

Survey reveals UK journalists place call of conscience above all else

By Dominic Ponsford

Who do journalists see themselves as answerable to above all else?

Advertisers? The audience? Their editor?

The answer, according to a new survey of British journalists, is in fact rather less prosaic. When journalists were asked "To whom do you have the highest responsibility?", by far the biggest number answered: "My consience".

The MediaAct survey is part of a four-year EU-funded project. Some 1,500 journalists were interviewed across Europe including 318 in the UK. The sample was weighted to be representative across all sectors of the journalism industry.

Just looking at the UK figures, some 79 per cent said of journalists said their highest responsiblity was to their conscience, followed by 73.7 per cent saying their sources and 72 per cent journalistic standards.

To whom do you have the highest responsibility?
1 My conscience 79.2%
2 My sources 73.7%
3 Journalistic standards 72%
4 My target audience  51.5%
5 Democratic values           43%
6 My colleague


7 The general public  42.1%
8 My editor 36.2%
9 My publisher  22.1%
10 God    7.6%
11 Advertisers  3.8%
12 Religious groups 2.7%
13 Political parties 2.1%
14 The government            1.7%


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According to lecturer and press standards campaigner Mike Jempson, who worked on the study, the results reinforce the argument that journalists should have conscience clauses inserted in their contracts.

The survey found that 50 per cent of UK journalists feel that economic pressures are damaging quality and 17 per cent warned that a herd approach to journalism meant stories were being hyped.

Jempson said: “In contrast to the perception some might have gained from the Inquiry hearings, the concept of personal responsibility and the public interest would appear to be deeply embedded in the psyche of all journalists.

”Across the range of very different media cultures surveyed, the vast majority of all respondents saw journalistic responsibility is a prerequisite for press freedom, and overwhelmingly considered their highest responsibility as being to their consciences. This is especially true in the UK where 79% put their consciences well ahead of obedience to editors and proprietors.

“Their self-declared guiding principles put their sources, journalistic standards, target audiences, democratic values, their colleagues, and the general public way above the interests of their employers This may help explain why editors seem so reluctant to include a conscience clause in contracts of employment, and why the NUJ has been campaigning for so long for its inclusion.

“Contradicting claims made to Leveson by media executives, most journalists blame economic pressure for damaging the quality of UK journalism, with almost half saying this is a major problem. However only 8% regarded failure to comply with journalistic standards as a problem, citing inadequate wages and the tendency to hype stores as more significant.”

What are the biggest problems facing UK journalism?
Economic pressures damaging quality           49.3%
Inadequate pay     38.2%
A herd approach to hyping stories  16.8%
Government pressure damaging quality           9.6%
Ignoring professional standards  7.8%
Inadequate training 6.9% 


What has the biggest impact on journalistic behaviour?
The law  50%
Legal department   41.1%
Codes of ethics 


Company guidelines  31.3%
Journalism education  20% 
OfCom          12.8% 
Press Complaints Commission  11.1%
Audience comments  6.5% 
Criticism in the news media            5.9%
Satire about the media    


Ombudsman/Readers Editor  4.2%
Professional media bloggers  3.4% 
Comments on social media  3.1% 
Blogs by members of the public  2.7% 
Trade journals   2.1%
Academic analysis            1.7%
Viewers associations  1.7%
In-house media blogs  1.4% 
Non-governmental organisations   1%


Some 318 journalists were interviewed for the UK portion of the MediaAct survey. Of these 27.8 per cent worked for a daily newspaper, 19.3 per cent weekly newspaper, 12.5 per cent magazine, 7.4 per cent online news. 7.1 per cent BBC TV, 5.4 per cent BBC Radio, 4.4 per cent commercial TV, 4.4 per cent news agency and 1.77 per cent commercial radio.


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