Alan Dee: Why it’s time for a front-page star rating

As the world waits with bated breath for the details of a new system of press regulation to be announced, here’s a quick fix which the men in suits might like to consider.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 29th January 2013, 5:30 am

As far as I can see, the root of the problem isn’t that rogue hacks have been listening in to the voicemails of those in the public eye or chasing after starlets in the street – it’s whether we can believe a word of what’s on the front page in the first place.

I am a voracious and enthusiastic reader of all sorts of newspapers and it pains me to admit it, but too often what’s being peddled as the most important story of the day either isn’t important, or interesting, or of any value. What’s more, it’s often just plain wrong.

What’s driven me to this unhappy conclusion is the slew of hyperbolic headlines chosen by our national press to highlight the recent spot of tricky weather.

You don’t need me to tell you that it’s been a bit nippy. We can all accept that there’s been a bit of snow around and it caused a bit of inconvenience – but to read some of the supposedly authoritative reports, we were all going to freeze to death as a new Ice Age blew in from Russia and caused the country to seize up entirely.

We all know that didn’t happen. However, what did happen as a consequence of all that hype is that people who were taken in by the overheated tosh masquerading as news dashed out to the shops and cleared the shelves of bread and milk, commuters hunkered down at home because their journey was obviously going to be hellish, and schools took the early decision to shut the gates rather than take a chance. In wartime, such talk would be called treason.

Here’s what I would like to see happen. You know how food establishments can display a star rating in their front window, depending on how clean their kitchens are? I’d like the same requirement to apply to newspapers.

Every six months, an independent panel would review just the front and back pages of previous period – the accumulated bonkers health scares, weather warnings, royal rumours and reality TV tosh - and work out exactly which had come to pass, or could be judged to have been a reasonable call at the time.

Based on the hit rate of the paper in question, they’d be given a star rating which would have to be prominently displayed on the front page for the next six months.

Surely the prospect of being condemned to own up to a one-star accuracy rating might encourage the overheated hacks making key editorial decisions to err just a little on the side of caution, and in the process stop scaring the pants off foolish readers who are only too happy to swallow their current unsubstantiated scares and silliness?