Setting Standards

Holding unregulated media accountable

There are countless ways to define good news reporting: that it needs to be accurate, balanced and fair, or that its job is to inform, educate and entertain.

But the details of how to ensure news content matches this standard is typically defined by an organisation’s style guide, or its code of practice.

At every stage of news production, these two guides control how an editorial team makes its content to match the criteria above.

Style Guide

The style guide is concerned with the form which the news is delivered. In print, it includes everything from the format for dates and time, through to how the language is used, the style of headline writing, the type of fonts and every other small detail that ensures a consistent character and feel for a news organisation’s editorial output.

Code of Practice

The code of practice is the ethical part of the process, covering how information is gathered, how it is filtered, what is appropriate to use and how it can be used. It is the moral heart of the news production process and complaints to an organisation are typically a result of an alleged breach of the code of practice.

Organisations should always have their own code of practice which is usually a variation of one of the two codes applied by the two UK regulators, IPSO and Impress.

The IPSO Editor’s Code of Practice can be found here. This is the standard code that QC recommends and will utilise if an organisation does not use its own code of practice. A PDF copy of the current version (last updated on January 1, 2021) can be downloaded from here.

The Impress Standards Code can be found here.

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Where QC Fits In

These codes are designed to balance the competing rights of freedom of expression against other rights like the right to privacy or confidentiality.

But while many of the UK’s media are independently regulated on how they apply these codes, usually via IPSO or Impress, there are others which refuse to be regulated at all.

If you believe that such media have breached their self-defined code of conduct, they expect you to allow them to judge for themselves whether that is the case. And there is nothing to stop this being a one-sided conversation when they decide they did nothing wrong. As far as they are concerned, that is the end of it.

QC looks at the code of conduct declared by the organisation that produced a news article being complained about, and applies that code to decide if they lived up to those standards and values in the offending article.

It is far quicker than multi-year legal battles costing millions, and also more transparent than an organisation sitting in secret before announcing their team had done nothing wrong.

There are many arguments that regulation is a slippery slope to allowing control of the media by those opposed to a free press.

However, QC, is not aligned to any political ideology. There are no wealthy backers or investors to call the shots on what we decide. It is simply journalists, or the guardians if you like, applying the declared standards to the work of other journalists.

The champion of moral philosophy Socrates, was documented by Plato as having posed the question: “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? – Who guards the guardians? The irony of this was not lost when he became the victim of political and religious persecution and was later killed as a result.

This is the reason why QC exists.

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