IPSO Blog: Trust in journalism and fake news – some thoughts on the Bob Satchwell lecture

Policy and Public Affairs Officer Sophie Malleson shares some thoughts on trust in journalism and fake news in response to the Bob Satchwell Address, hosted by the Society of Editors.

This week, staff from IPSO attended the Bob Satchwell Address given by the BBC’s Director General Lord Tony Hall, along with journalists, editors and media professionals.

Lord Hall described Bob Satchwell, who stood down as President of the Society of Editors due to ill health, as “a fearless defender of free speech and the public’s right to know” and described the British media industry – “based on a fearless newspaper industry and a vibrant broadcast sector” – as “one of the strongest in the world”.

There are lots of differences between broadcast and the press – not least how they are regulated. It’s certainly true that broadcast news does not have that same freedom to be partisan as newspapers, who are free to campaign and editorialise provided of course that there is a distinction between comment, conjecture and fact.

Despite key differences, there are industry wide concerns that we all share, and this is definitely true of fake news and public trust in journalism. Lord Hall said:

“The ‘fake news’ label is too dangerous for us to bandy about unthinkingly. I’m sorry to say that does happen occasionally. An honest mistake – honestly admitted to and corrected – is not the same as fake news.”

"Every publisher and every journalist has made mistakes but, in an age when any mistake is portrayed as evidence of an intention to mislead, we must re-double our efforts to get it right first time – and be open and generous about it if we get things wrong.”

As fake news becomes an increasing concern, regulation of the media has never been more relevant. Newspapers and magazines regulated by IPSO operate within a strict framework – in contrast to much of the internet – and are accountable if they are found to fall foul of the Editors’ Code. They have chosen to set themselves apart with professionally produced and edited content produced in a framework of accountability. The IPSO mark, displayed in many of our regulated publications helps readers identify professionally produced, regulated news.

This is really important for public trust in journalism. When the public have knowledge of how to assess it critically, there’s less chance for harmful ‘fake news’ to flourish. And also, with better media literacy, the public know that they can come to us for advice, information and redress if things go wrong. As Lord Hall said:

"I think audiences are learning fast. They increasingly know the difference between different news brands - and they’re becoming increasingly discerning about the brands they follow. But we can all do a lot more to help them."

You can read the full text of the speech here.