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Q&A: Digital Spy Editor David Moynihan on press freedom

David Moynihan David Moynihan - to speak at #aopsummit
Digital Spy Editor David Moynihan is speaking on 'Openness vs Privacy – Drawing new journalistic lines', one of four panels at the AOP Digital Publishing Summit on 14 October (book your place here.) Also appearing on the panel:
  • Boyd Hilton, TV and Reviews Editor, Heat Magazine
  • Mumsnet Co-Founder & CEO, Justine Roberts
  • Jonathan Coad, Partner, Media, Brands and Technology at Lewis Silkin
  • Moderator: Rory Cellan-Jones, Technology Correspondent, BBC.
For a taster of what to expect on the day, we got David's views on the phone hacking scandal, press regulation and how far journalists should be going in the search for a story:

At a Thomson Reuters event on 20th September its Editor-at-large Sir Harold Evans said 'British press was in its greatest danger since two journalists were jailed for not revealing their sources in 1963'. In light of the Met's trying to get the Guardian to reveal its sources, do you agree? Fortunately, we have the benefit of hindsight: the Met’s bid was dropped. A few days ago it still looked like going either way. I was at a Law Society event the other week, where David Leigh (one of the Guardian journalists involved in the case) seemed genuinely fearful we’d see the other outcome, and that this could be a watershed moment for curbing press freedoms. Lots of people are obviously questioning why the Met took this approach in the first place, even MPs. On the other side, when the Milly Dowler phone hacking came to light, it hit home for the first time for many just how morally broken the newspapers had become. And, by association, their readers too. I’m hopeful that the Dowler case marks the absolute low point of this crisis, and the point where the tabloids start to focus more on the public interest. What would be the effect of statutory regulation of the press, and if it's to be avoided, where does self-regulation go from here?  State regulation is something to be concerned about. If the disc with the MPs expenses on it had landed on the BBC’s desk, would they have published it? Probably not. Though I am sure they would have wanted to run with it, the regulatory pressures on them would very likely have restricted them. The PCC is very important to the public, but in terms of reining in the tabloids, it has proved toothless. Since it was set up by the press itself, largely in a bid to avoid external regulation, its effectiveness was arguably always going to be questionable. I personally think the Leveson Government Inquiry will bring about the start of something new, but there are still all kinds of questions around regulation which stretch beyond the press. For instance: Facebook, Google and Apple have an element of control over more and more of the web, and can therefore control content to an extent too - Google could in theory take down a big news agency if it chose to. At the Reuters event, John Prescott said: 'Editors decide what is public and what is private' – to what extent is the web/social networking redefining the personal and the private, and to what extent is it the press?  He’s right and wrong. On one hand, judges decide, as we’ve seen with the injunctions of this year, which are way beyond editors’ control. Editors can decide what’s published, but more and more with the advent of sites like Facebook and Twitter the public are editors too. Everyone can now publish information that is extremely easily disseminated and accessed via these networks. It’s very hard to control too: national laws may not apply to international websites. Social network profiles may be anonymous. The web has undoubtedly become a catalyst in bringing private information to light. Have the events around Wikileaks and phone hacking changed your views on how far a journalist should go in search of the story, or how they should go about it? With regard to phone hacking, stating the obvious here, but the basic thing as a journalist is staying within the law and within what’s morally right. It’s never that black and white of course, but to be so morally and culturally corrupt as to break the law where there is no public interest - for celebrity gossip or during the murder enquiry of a young girl for example - is appalling. What really changed was the exposure of the truth about some publishers’ practices. The veil was lifted but everyone had suspected for years that some journalists’ practices were morally reprehensible. Wikileaks is more complicated because on one hand it can be about exposing corruption or misuses of power, on the other hand it’s placing too much power within the hands of unelected, unregulated editors about what is private - or secret - and what isn’t. In more general  terms, I think it’s a genuinely exciting time to be a journalist. We can publish faster and in a more interactive and instant manner than ever before. Fragmentation means there are more ‘editors’ and ‘publishers’ than ever before. But what we’re seeing is a press that is increasingly competitive and desperate for content as a direct result of that.

See David speak at the AOP Summit on 14 October on the 'openness vs. privacy' panel, with Telegraph, Mumsnet, BBC and Lewis Silkin - book now to avoid disappointment.

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