‘New press body must look to marketing to establish trust’

The new press regulator as proposed by Lord Justice Leveson in his report on press standards must look to raise consumer awareness of its responsibilities and make it more accessible in order to rebuild trust in the industry, according to media and regulation experts.

Lord Justice Leveson.

Leveson, in his report published today (29 November), called for the current Press Complaints Commission to be overhauled and replaced with a new independent self-regulatory body, with the legislative power to fine newspapers of up to £1m for breaches of the press standards code.

To raise awareness of the new regulatory body, Leveson has suggested it considers establishing a kitemark for use by member newspapers to establish a “recognised brand of trusted journalism”.

Rufus Olins, chief executive of newspaper marketing body Newsworks, says whatever proposals are taken on board, the new regulator must work to make it clear to the public that papers have signed up to its code and are abiding by it.

He adds: “To get this message across there must be a clear communication about how the system works and what consumers’ rights and processes are. Transparency and clarity is important to both sides [consumer and papers].”

Ian Barber, director of communications at the Advertising Association, says it has always been important for advertisers to ensure that the medium they choose to adopt has the trust and confidence of the public. This has only been exacerbated since the advertiser fallout amid the News of the World scandal and the way sponsors are quick to drop badly behaving celebrities that endorse their products, he says.

To ensure the new regulator obtains the trust of the public, Barber suggests it makes efforts to boost its profile. This could include looking to its members to provide in-kind advertising space, in a similar way in which the Advertising Standards Authority has promoted its remit in the past.

Barber says: “The ASA is among the best recognised regulators in the country. It also has a track record of investing in that [awareness] and advertises itself to raise consumer understanding and value. It’s definitely true to say the profile of the ASA is a fundamental part of what makes it work.”

Lynsay Taffe, ASA director of communications, marketing and public affairs, says while a certain level of consumer awareness is important with any regulator, there is a “tricky line to walk between having a overly-confident level of awareness and being reassured there is [a press regulator].”

She adds: “There is a balance to strike between being unknown or overexposed – either would show the failure of regulation at either end.”

Taffe would also advise the regulator to reassure the public it would welcome complaints and makes the process as simple as possible to ensure the public finds it an accessible watchdog to deal with.

Bob Wootton, ISBA’s director of media advertising, says the new press body will already achieve a high level of awareness, given the level of press and public interest in the eight-month Leveson Inquiry – which means a kitemark system or additional advertising may not be necessary.

He adds: “Kitemarks can be very costly to establish both b2b and b2c, nor have they got a particularly auspicious track record. A logo is fine, but it’s the system that needs to have teeth not the kitemark.”

The Leveson report was debated by MPs in the House of Commons this afternoon, while media owners are currently preparing their reactions to the proposals.

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