Monday, February 6, 2006
London, February 2006 

The United Kingdom Chapter of the International Communications Forum was launched at a meeting in London on 6th February 2006. The meeting, chaired by Magnus Linklater, columnist for The Times and a former editor of The Scotsman, was attended by thirty ICF supporters from all branches of the media. 

In his opening address, Magnus Linklater spoke of the need to rebuild the trust between media and the public which had, over many years, broken down. He was particularly concerned about what he regarded as the low esteem, even cynicism, felt by many members of the public about the process of self-regulation. He had attended a talk given by a senior member of the Press Complaints Commission, which suggested to him that some of the less reputable activities of the press, such as entrapment, impersonation, cheque-book journalism, and other acts of subterfuge, by which the tabloid press managed to get cheap front-page headlines exposing the private lives of public individuals, was precisely the kind of behaviour which led to a breakdown of trust. The newspapers involved simply cited the defence of “public interest,” making no distinction between matters of genuine public trust and those which were simply “interesting to the public.” Yet the PCC made no observations about these, and, because of its silence, is increasingly seen as being a creature of the media. Unless and until a more independent and respected body could be set up, then the process of self-regulation would continue to be regarded as being a hollow one.   Mr Linklater argued that the profession of journalism was an essentially honourable one, and that many young journalists seeking newspaper work had high ideals. He hoped that they would still be able to report and investigate genuine stories about matters of public interest, rather than being led to believe that the lowest common denominator of tabloid journalism was all that mattered. 

Founder President Bill Porter paid tribute to the late Dr Zaki Badawi, principal of the Muslim College in Britain, who had accepted an invitation to the launch but had died on 24 January. Bill Porter then spoke of his concerns about the role of the media and his own decision to ‘do something about it’ that led to the foundation of the ICF.

ICF President Bernard Margueritte outlined the development of the ICF Network of chapters, with the United Kingdom following the launch of chapters in the USA and Poland, and the intention of establishing chapters in South Africa and India. 

ICF Executive Director Robin Williamson described the initiatives that the ICF had undertaken in the United Kingdom, including a major London conference held at the Financial Times in 1999, followed by events in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Eire, and activities in England. Three current initiatives supported by the ICF were described, by the Rev George Pitcher of St Bride’s Church, a spiritual centre for the media in London’s Fleet Street, Richard Yorke of the Next Century Foundation, developing an on-line Institute of Media Ethics, and Simon Cohen, director of Global Tolerance, on a project promoting media skills in ethnic and underprivileged communities.

In the course of a lively and constructive discussion, John Albert emphasised the need for research to identify what is needed and requires change, and reflected on his experience in establishing the Institute of Business Ethics, powered by those with a strong academic qualification. The ICF Chapter should have subscribing members, and will require a positive person to lead it. 

David Kingsley was concerned that the Chapter’s programme should have clear co-ordination, and connect with the public. 

Martyn Lewis said that the launch of the ICF chapter was flowing with the tide, and emphasised that we must partner with other organisations if we are to make an impact. He suggested an award programme to be pursued through the web.   He believed that there must come a change in the prevailing culture of the journalists. Owners have a role to play in defining the parameters which must guide all media activity. He cited an organisation in Canada, which requires all journalists reporting news to seek out the actions being sought to cure the problems about which they write. 

George Pitcher saw the need for private discussions between owners and editors on how their work should be made more constructive. It was important to recognise the positive in the media and not just dwell on the negative. 

William Morris said that journalists do provide a lead to the nation. How they do it is the issue. He believed that there is plenty of research already done. We need now to use what is known to make the case for change. 

Pat Healey pointed out that the standards to which journalists should adhere are already established. It is the owners who are not helping journalists to fulfil these obligations. MediaWise is already training journalists in Africa and Asia in these issues.

In a message read on her behalf because of her absence through illness Dr Frances Pinter, ICF Vice President, announced the formation of a Steering Committee to help establish the structure and programme for the UK Chapter, and asked those present to help with this task. In response to her appeal six colleagues came forward to form the Committee, and the meeting approved a motion stating that “the Steering Committee prepare a strategic plan and administrative structure for discussion and acceptance at the next meeting of the Chapter”.  

The Steering Committee’s plans will be presented to the ICF Assembly in Caux, Switzerland, in August 2006.