Media Standards Trust

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The Media Standards Trust (MST) is a front group for establishment interests who are concerned about the proliferation of new information sources that are beyond their control.


The new media technologies have the potential to turn upside down the old relationship between the brokers of information and their audiences. Rupert Murdoch in 2006 noted how "power is moving away from the old elite" towards the consumers.[1] Similarly US News and World Report pointed out:

The shifting tectonic plates have left executives of the old media – who a few decades ago controlled the news agenda from offices just blocks apart in midtown Manhattan – playing catch-up at a time when their stock values pale in comparison with those of the new kids on the block. "When the bubble burst and the stock prices on all these new media companies tanked, [they] breathed a collective sigh of relief that they could go back to normal," says Esther Dyson, editor at CNET Networks, which publishes Release 1.0. "But they were totally mistaken, and now they're finally waking up to what they're losing."[2]

The Trust is one of several elite groups seeking to limit the damage that this shift of power might have. However, its agenda is hidden behind a public interest facade of concern about media standards. It states:

We exist because we believe high standards of news and information are critical to the health of our democratic society. These standards are being challenged by the enormous, revolutionary changes in the way in which news and information are produced, funded, packaged, delivered and consumed. In many areas these changes are leading to; less accurate reporting, less substantial sourcing, an escalation in the use of ‘manufactured news’, an increase in self-censorship, a growth of subjective over objective reporting, and a reduction in sustained, in-depth reporting on the ground, particularly investigative reporting.[3]

The trust describes its website as "a public space — independent of government, commercial interests and the news media — where people can respond, react, review and reflect on the news".[4] Yet there is much to suggest that it is a small, private PR stunt with trustees who are a familiar part of the nexus of government, big business and the media and who view public opinion as a commmodity. Deeper into their site there is a slightly lecturing tone as the Trust's agenda begins to emerge. We are told the Trust's purpose is to "ensure public trust in news is nurtured" [5]. Arguably it is a healthy scepticism of news sources that should be nurtured rather than trust in them.

It is interesting to compare this organisation to Editorial Intelligence who feel that journalism, public relations and business interests should merge; or the 'think tank' Polis, which focuses on journalism and society. Can we really believe that 'standards' have only just recently been challenged by 'revolutionary changes' (presumably new media) and that the era of Murdoch, Maxwell, Beaverbrook, Springer, Hearst et al was a golden era of accurate, substantial, fearless, objective investigative reporting?

Newspapers, and the media generally, have been controlled by elites, and serve the purposes of those elites. Standards have declined because of the effects of market-driven policies in determining lower and lower common denominators. To exclude this factor, as MST has, is another contributory factor in the decline in journalistic standards. A look at the MST trustees (listed below) seems to suggest that the producers of bad standards in the media have got together with business interests (which tend to dominate the media) to lecture everyone else from a holier-than-thou position. Perhaps the great and the good are here, yet again, exonerating themselves by blaming others for the system they have overseen and profited from.

The Board members

This is how the organisation describes itself:

The Trust is governed by a board of trustees made up of leaders of integrity selected from civil society and the media, with representatives from civil society always in the majority. The trustees reflect our diverse contemporary society and have the necessary range of skills and knowledge to lead this initiative; as individuals, they command widespread public respect for their expertise and independence.[6]

The board of trustees are:

Martin Moore is Director of the Media Standards Trust. He has been working in news and media for over a decade, for the BBC, Channel 4, NTL, IPC Media, Trinity Mirror and others. He holds a doctorate from the LSE where he was teaching and researching until summer 2006.

In his blog Moore criticised the Conservative Party appointment of Andy Coulson, ex-editor of the News of the World, as their new Director of Communication, on a salary reported to be over £400,000 a year. He called the appointment "astonishing" because it

shows that the Conservatives want their very own Alastair Campbell - their own tabloid editor who knows how to charm, manipulate, cajole, square and bully the media.

He noted that just a few weeks prior to the appointment Michael Howard had accused Campbell on Newsnight of having "a heavy share of the responsibility" for a decline in "the tone and standards of public life in this country".[7] Moore is aggrieved by both Tory and Labour mendacity and according to the Press Gazette:

Moore said the Trust would assist both parties: "On the one hand you have the public which is feeling quite confused and bewildered particularly as information accumulates. It becomes more and more difficult to distinguish between what's accurate, what the source of information are, if they have conflicts of interest and if they even have registered those."[8]


Although the Trust is supported and funded by multi-millionaires, it accepts charitable funds that might otherwise be directed to more genuine public interest groups. This is what the Trust says on its website:

To preserve our independence, we seek funding from a wide variety of sources.
We are very grateful for the continuing support of the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.
We have also received funding from the MacArthur Foundation, the Knight Foundation, the Nuffield Foundation, the Eranda Foundation, Scott Trust, Christopher Stone, Sir David Bell, Sir Cyril Chantler, Amelia Fawcett, Sir Robert Worcester, Albert Scardino, Dennis Stevenson, the Samuel Storey Charitable Trust and Willie Nagel.
We receive support in kind (office space and IT support) from Common Purpose.[9]


What do they intend to actually do? The Media Standards Trust insists it "doesn't just want to talk about news standards", they "want to take action". After lengthy negotiations they "have so far come up with four ideas". These are: (1) a Wikipedia style directory of journalists and their career history, is being proposed under the name 'Journa-list'; (2) "an annual award"; (3) "web based support and advice for journalists"; and (4) "basic 'how-to' advice about citizen journalism." As of 24 January 2009 these ideas have elicited "0 Comments" on the webpage. [10]

The MST want to use the new communication technologies which, in the hands of others outside their grouping, is seen as a problem. What is odd about the MST line-up is that it does not contain anyone with any real experience of the new technologies.

There is a conservatism about the Trust's reaction to changes in the way news and information are being produced, distributed and consumed. It bemoans the way that "standards are under threat as never before" yet criticises a flaccid liberalism which simply reproduces much of the same dross. They say "We will work on behalf of the public and the public interest to find ways to preserve and foster high standards" [11] but the public wouldn't fund this, and the tone is one of remote insiders.

Why should we believe that the Trust's funders — such as political lobbyist, Lord Stevenson, who has gone on record suggesting that ordinary people would not feel uncomfortable in the House of Lords [12] — would now fund a small elite all-too-busy group to help ordinary people to participate in political debate? This group may have noticed that the times they are a-changin' but unlike Dylan they seem to crave the past. This is a profoundly conservative lament that the old world is rapidly changing and, for many, hopefully, along with it the power of elites. To argue that just about everyone else is to blame for adverse conditions in the media — except for those in charge of it — and that only they can play with web sites and blogs and produce high standards is incongruous.


  1. Richard Sambrook, "Talkin' bout a media revolution", BBC News, 2 May 2006.
  2. Betsy Streisand and Richard J. Newman R. J. "The New Media Elites", US News & World Report, November 6, 2005.
  3. Media Standards Trust, "About us", accessed 24 January 2009.
  4. Media Standards Trust, "Media Standards Trust website launch", accessed 24 January 2009.
  5. Media Standards Trust, "About us", accessed 24 January 2009.
  6. Media Standards Trust, "People", accessed 24 January 2009.
  7. Martin Moore, "Martin Moore Blog", 1 June 2007, accessed 24 January 2009.
  8. "New trust seeks to help 'bewildered' public and 'overworked' journalists", Press Gazette, 22 May 2007.
  9. Media Standards Trust, "How we are funded", accessed 24 January 2009.
  10. Media Standards Trust, "Propose Solutions", accessed January 2009.
  11. Media Standards Trust, "About us", accessed 24 January 2009.
  12. "People's Peers", BBC News 2001, accessed 24 January 2009.