Citizens’ Juries

The Citizens’ Juries System for Tomorrow

Principle 3 demands “independence and accountability”, and to hold Tomorrow to account, a system must be put in place which both enhances and challenges our principles and our actions as a news organisation.

Tomorrow will call a Citizens’ Jury every six months to review our core principles and how they are being applied or challenged, and for individual issues as may arise. No other such system exists in the world for a news organisation, and it is necessary and ideal for Tomorrow.

 

Background

The sudden death in December 2012 of Prof Gavin Mooney, considered a “father of health economics”, flagged up his considerable body of work, including “A Handbook on Citizens’ Juries”. This concept of a jury of citizens in the community deciding on the priorities and principles for local or regional healthcare is exactly the system that Tomorrow will put in place. It is unfortunately that a death brought the idea to Tomorrow’s attention, but this policy statement pays homage to Prof Mooney’s work and his contribution to helping us meet our core principles.

Why juries?

We must quote extensively from Prof Mooney’s handbook because it applies so expertly to Tomorrow. Though he is talking about health, the conclusions Prof Mooney drew about consultation, democracy, equity and equality are ideal for meeting the demands of Tomorrow’s core principles. For example, he refers to the system being able to “provide sufficient information for the preferences to be meaningful” (principle 6, “duty to openness”), and “an opportunity for respondents to reflect and deliberate” (principle 1, “freedom of expression” and also principle 11, “debate and mediation”).

“Many of the public have become rather cynical about ‘consultation’ and members or potential members of a jury may be somewhat reluctant to be involved or to become energised regarding their tasks if they feel that they are wasting their time or this is all some public relations whitewash job so that the organisers can say ‘oh yes, we consulted the public’.” (p18-19)

“My own view is that when issues of principles and broad priorities are at stake there is no one better placed ethically to judge on such matters. Think of the possible alternatives – and remember that we are talking here about social values and social value judgments – doctors, nurses, administrators, patients, politicians? The only two real possibilities here are patients and politicians. Patients as patients are inevitably and rightly interested only in their own wellbeing and not that of the community. Politicians are clearly a possibility but the issues involved are often too detailed or too local for politicians to be the best people to use to this end. However it is clear that in most instances it will be they who decide how, if at all, citizens’ preferences are to be used.” (p25-26)

So, why citizens’ juries?

“[Citizens’ juries] involve bringing together a random sample of the relevant population; asking them to put their citizens’ hats on; giving them good information on the issues for debate; encouraging them to question experts to clarify that information or seek more information; and then giving them time to reflect on some appropriate issues and make recommendations.” (p50)

“The big advantage of citizens’ juries over most other methods of deliberative democracy is that they embrace all of the key features of random selection of participants, ensuring they are informed and
they are asked to act as citizens.” (p50)

If news builds community, as per our motto, then we must engage that community beyond its members simply being users of Tomorrow as a service. They are citizens and must be engaged as such to ensure Tomorrow is acting in the spirit of its core principles.

If there are questions of how we implement these principles, how we cover stories, what stories we cover or don’t, how we are financed or how we spend contributions from the public and income, then a jury of independent individuals can hold Tomorrow to account and remind us of why we do what we do. It is, in effect, almost a reset button beyond the day-to-day deadlines of news.

 

Tomorrow Juries

Our goal would be to call a Citizens’ Jury once every six months and get a large enough number of people from the electoral roll of the local community, with a view to selecting 15 jurors. Juries could be held in multiple city centres if readers felt regional differences needed to be addressed.

No current or former politician can sit on the jury, nor serving law officer (police, court, etc), nor anyone who has ever been interviewed by Tomorrow. If someone has been featured in other press publications, this must be at least three years ago. No member of any media outlet or any public relations official can sit on the jury. The lower age limit is 16 and there is no upper age limit.

A “facilitator” who is independent of Tomorrow will work with the jury through their time. The jury would sit for two days and be reimbursed for their time.

In the first morning, the system would be generally explained to them and what the jury is to address. A single core principle, or a series, can be considered, or a particular type of story, or the reporting of a specific story if there is public demand for a jury to sit in judgement on the matter. A list of potential witnesses will be presented to the jury and they can select any or all from that list, or request supplemental witnesses. An editor or reporter from Tomorrow must address the jury on the first afternoon. All other witnesses would be heard on the morning of the second day. These sessions can be in public, unless vulnerable witnesses are involved. In the afternoon of the second day, the jury would work with the facilitator to prepare a judgement on the principle, issue or story in question. A majority must agree on everything in the judgement, and unanimity should be the goal. The judgement would state this, and detail dissenting comments if requested.

This judgement must be put in the public sphere at the earliest convenience and promoted by Tomorrow.

Core principles cannot be changed by a single jury. If three successive juries unanimously agree that a principle should be changed, or principles added, Tomorrow must do so.

Disciplinary power. In the event that a member of staff was not disciplined but the public argued they should be, a jury could be convened and, by unanimous agreement, recommend a course of action, including ceasing employment of an individual. It would still be up to the directing editor to take this action, as employer.

Special juries of indigenous members of the community should be called once every two years minimum. If other segments of the community felt a special jury was needed to consider reporting of said community, this can be carried out.

 

Conclusion

Tomorrow must be accountable. Simply relying on a Darwinian survival based on the spending/reading choices of the public is not accountability. Engaging via social media is not sufficient. A system to elect members of the public to sit in oversight injects politics into a system where none is needed. Even our own “debate and mediation” principle does not, in itself, meet the needs of our third principle. The Citizens’ Jury system, as laid out by the late Prof Gavin Mooney, would be the most proactive system of media accountability ever created and that is what is needed to make Tomorrow the news organisation fit for any community.

 

Published February 27, 2013