18th December 2023
Murdoch, AI, SLAPPs and Misinformation: The Media Moments That Shaped 2023

Just like that, another year is drawing to a close and, much like its predecessors, 2023 has packed in a lot.

A new King was coronated, both in Westminster Abbey and on Wimbledon’s Centre Court, Hollywood blockbusters about a bomb and a doll gripped the world, the Lionesses came within a whisker of World Cup glory, a jazz act won the Mercury Prize, and so much more.

The world of news and media was hardly immune from upheaval as well, with huge stories on policy, technology and scandal once again reshaping the industry.

The task of building a news ecosystem that protects press freedoms and works in the public interest will continue into 2024. But what were the moments that shaped the sector this past year?

We run through a number of high-profile stories that sum up this year in media.

IPSO upholds Jeremy Clarkson complaint

Towards the end of 2022, former Top Gear star Jeremy Clarkson penned a column for The Sun in which he bolded expressed his dislike for Megan Markle.

It caused uproar, with many pointing to the misogynistic language. Flashforward six months and IPSO finally came to a decision and upheld the complaint on sexism. But it was far too little, far too late. We observed for regulation to work for the public good, there must be shorter process times, so failures in journalism ethics have less impact.

Mass redundancies

It has been another incredibly tough year for thousands of journalists across the country, with news of redundancies emerging on an almost weekly basis.

Reach was the most prominent in this respect, carrying out three rounds of redundancies in just 10 months. Given their large pool of local titles will feel the impact of this most, it leaves a worrying question of who will serve these communities with hundreds of journalists out of jobs?

Local Impress publishers are providing top-class coverage in many of the same areas. Will 2024 become a tipping point, where independent local titles pick up the slack?

SLAPPs and Section 40

We have once again seen the insidious use of legal threats to shut down public interest journalism in 2023.

Often, they occurred while the Media Bill made its way through Parliament, promising to improve media freedoms by repealing Section 40. But seeing as Section 40 was never enacted, is this the best we can do to improve media freedoms? The Attorney General’s decision to warn publishers off covering allegations against Russell Brand by publishing a contempt of court warning was also chilling, and we raised several questions about the unprecedented move.

At Impress we have called for, and will continue to call for, wide-reaching cost protections for all journalists and publishers so they can report with confidence.

AI

While the robots did not quite manager a full takeover in 2023, we have seen its influence grow among a divided industry over the advances in artificial intelligence.

Some have blocked bots from the likes of ChatGPT from harvesting information from their articles. Others are starting to enter content license arrangements with the big tech companies. Some have perhaps become too comfortable with the technology, producing error-riddled pieces and even creating fake authors to attribute them to.

But while the powerful publishers are able to fight the software and or sit at the negotiating table, what can be done to help independent publishers? This is something we will be looking into through 2024.

Misinformation

Sadly, it is not going anywhere. One of the biggest scourges of modern media has been allowed to flourish, and arguably grow, once again.

The quality of social media discourse has been battered by the changes made to X by Elon Musk, while many mainstream outlets also played their part in the spreading of misinformation during the conflict in the Middle East.

Adopting robust, independent self-regulation is one way any publisher can help combat this. Interested?

Keeping it in the family

He has been one of the most infamous figures in news publishing for decades – but 2023 saw Rupert Murdoch step aside as chairman of News Corp and Fox. Lachlan Murdoch, his eldest son, won the Succession-style race to take the reins. Kendall Roy, watch and learn. But will his period of control bring any noticeable change to the corporation’s culture, ethics and reputation?

On billionaire news dynasties, it was first reported in the Summer that Lloyds Bank would seize control of the Telegraph, one of Britain’s largest and oldest broadsheet publications, over financial disputes with the Barclay family.

It has led to debates over plurality, foreign state ownership and even national security, with the Barclay’s doing a deal with a UAE investment firm to take back control – they are now the frontrunner, but could Ofcom and CMA investigations scupper their chances?

Right to privacy VS the public interest

When does a public figure have a right to privacy? It is a question that has been banded around again this year.

Reporting from Byline Times revealed that GB News presenter Dan Wootton was under investigation by the police, a line picked up by the likes of The Mirror and The Guardian. But after a legal letter, in which Wootton claimed the reporting breached his privacy, the latter two took down their articles.

It showed – again – a blatant need for alternatives to Section 40 that ensure claims are fairly managed through independent regulation, and serious cost-protections for journalists against SLAPPs.

Fake newspapers

We have taken a stand this year when it comes to the practice of politicians disguising their campaign materials as local newspapers.

It is clearly a tactic designed to feign authenticity to their claims and trick the public into believing they are reading a piece of independent journalism. In fact, it is just some poorly attributed electioneering. We want to see this reviewed, and have asked all political parties to do exactly that.

BBC appointments under the microscope

How the BBC appoints its Chair came under fire this year when it emerged Richard Sharp had helped former Prime Minister Boris Johnson secure a loan guarantee agreement.

As a result, he was found to be in breach of the governance code regarding public appointments. Perhaps, if they followed the example of Impress and put an independent panel in charge of appointments moving forward, they could avoid such a mess. Just a thought.

A billion reasons to behave ethically

Phone hacking was back on the agenda too with Prince Harry attempting to sue Associated Newspapers – parent company of the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday – over alleged gross breaches of privacy and gaining information by deception.

Flanked by Sir Elton John, David Furnish, Elizabeth Hurley, Sadie Frost, Sir Simon Hughes and Baroness Doreen Lawrence, the Prince will get his day in court after an attempt to block the claims failed.

Add to that the latest settlements with 7/7 bombing victim Davinia Douglass, former government minister Chris Huhne, comedian Catherine Tate, former Spice Girl Melanie Chisholm and others, the cost of the scandal to Murdoch’s UK publishing business has sped way past the billion-pound mark.

Prince Harry had time for one last moment in the limelight too, as his case against the Daily Mirror was partially successful, proving 13 of the 35 allegations of phone-hacking or unlawful information gathering to be true.

However, the case further demonstrated the need for EVERYONE to have the same access to justice as the rich do.

Cause for optimism

We know, there is plenty of doom and gloom in the list. But let’s end on a more positive note.

Across the industry, there has been a shift. Publishers are becoming less reliant on ad-revenue and are looking to alternative revenue models. Impress members Great Central Gazette and The Lincolnite are just two examples that have been set this year.

Meanwhile, we continue to look to the future. At the start of 2023, we launched our new Standards Code, designed to help the public and protect press freedoms. It also included the first official guidance on artificial intelligence of its kind, helping to ensure we are ready to tackle the challenges rapidly evolving technology throws up in 2024.


About Impress 

Impress is a champion for news that can be trusted. We are here to make sure news providers can publish with integrity; and the public can engage in an ever-changing media landscape with confidence. We set the highest regulatory standards for news, offer education to help people make informed choices and provide resolution when disputes arise. 

Media enquiries

Louie Chandler: louie@impressorg.com / 02033076778