Why we need stricter press regulations in the UK, and why it doesn’t hurt free speech.

Press regulation has been a hot topic in the UK for some time now, more so recently after Parliament drew a Royal Charter for it. As you might expect, certain parts of the media have strong feelings about this, as do the ‘we need free speech! Democracyyyyyyyy!’ group of people. And that’s fine.

I, however, call bullshit.

For starters, regulation isn’t new. The Press Complaints Commission, or PCC, have been around since 1991, but as pointed out by Lord Justice Leveson, they’ve been as useful as UN sanctions on North Korea. We also have laws against things like phone hacking, libel, slander, harassment, and a number of things that the press have been getting away with for years, but that hasn’t stopped them either. 

I’m not suggesting a strict regulatory body will suddenly convert the likes of Mr Murdoch into saints. I’m suggesting that considering people die because of newspaper harassment, considering that it wrecks lives, and considering that newspaper editors sit on the complaints commission, things have to get tougher. Believe it or not, it is possible to do this without sacrificing free speech. Here’s my ideas for it:

  1. Create a truly independent commission-no politicians, no media representatives.
  2. Allow the scope to cover all media, including online blogs, twitter etc-just because you’re online doesn’t mean you can get away with libel, as the Conservative peer Lord McAlpine proved.
  3. Have the commission completely independent to the courts-this would allow a civil/criminal prosecution to take place against a specific journalist or editor alongside a complaint against the organisation, allowing the offending person to be prosecuted and the offending organisation to be punished for allowing it to happen, as well as allow the courts decision to influence the commissions’ verdict.
  4. Scalable fines and punishment for successful complaints-This would stop an offending blogger being punished in the same way as News International for example. You could also change the severity of an offence committed by a blogger as compared to NI; if I were to write absolute lies about a person, as a fairly obscure blog I shouldn’t have the same punishment as a media organisation more in the public eye.
  5. The commission should have the power to force apologies-just as companies, like Tesco after the horse meat scandle, can be made to make very public apologies in the press, so should the media, and I’m not just talking a couple of column inches.

None of these, in my view, impact upon a person right to write whatever they feel like saying. The link I provided about the the transgender teacher committing suicide wasn’t because of the bigoted idiot who wrote the initial article, it was because of the journalists who were sent to hound her. What’s worse is that these things won’t stop happening until something is done to reign the press in.

What are your thoughts? Have I missed the point, or do you agree?

Keep smiling



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7 comments on “Why we need stricter press regulations in the UK, and why it doesn’t hurt free speech.
  1. Learnolism says:

    Firstly, is joining this group mandatory for the press? Secondly, how would you enforce that mandatory element? By creating a group with fines and the ability to force apologies, you’d need legislative enforcement – thus, politicians get involved.

    Secondly, if there are no politicians or media individuals involved in the argument, you’re leaving the media’s regulation to members of the public who are both unspecialised in media relations and are obviously going to side with the members of public under press scrutiny. This can cause a huge problem for investigative journalists who need to bend the rules of the law to uncover stories like the incident with the Mark Daly police racism incident.

    I’d like to clarify I’m not arguing, by the way – this is an important topic and it really needs detailed discussion!

    • This is why I’m glad you follow me 🙂

      Politicians would give them the power, and perhaps the commission could have an advisory board for cases that may need further advice, like those that involve investigative journalism. My problem is with the current set up, acting editors are on the commission, which doesn’t sit well with me.

      I would prefer it if people of high standing that had no involvement in either politics or the media to be on the commission. This eradicates the notion of the industry policing itself, and keeps politicians away from managing the complaints, which should keep Cameron happy. These people maybe former judges, proffessors od journalism, etc. People who have some knowledge of what they’re handling, but aren’t directly affiliated with it.

      • Learnolism says:

        Now you’re starting to develop a level of understanding I appreciate. Having an advisory board is a very, very good idea. I understand what you mean about the current set-up, but because it’s not enforceable, the media initially needed encouragement to join the PCC. How would the system be paid for, though? Because – and you have to bear this in mind – a lot of money would be spent looking after the commission; do you think the government are prepared to spend something like that on this?

  2. We could keep the same financial structure as the current PCC set-up, i.e. newspapers and magizines pay an annual levy. They could also take a slice of any fines imposed. The encouragement to do so would a garunteed spot on the advisory board.
    I would also make compliance mandatory. It wouldn’t be so much a case of signing up to the regulator, but the regulations are applied like laws are.

  3. Well thought out blog and I certainly agree with some of the points. However, I do fear how successful a truly independent body would be, especially as they would be subjected to lobbying from both sides and the third party – the politicians. Also, how would they scrutinise satire? Would they prevent ‘beyond the law’ investigative journalism, such as The Telegraph’s MP Expenses investigation/leak, or The Guardian’s leak of illegal press activity?

    I also think that this would only work against the nationals – local news, in my opinion, is more important than national, and more regulation against them would likely signify the end to this. See the Peterborough Telegraph editor’s well written and balanced comment piece on this for more.

    Finally, and the point I think most people miss with this and something Ian Hislop rightly pointed out, we already have laws that protect against every violation that the national press have committed. It is criminal law. It should bring people, and organisations into the courts and trialled in front of a jury of our peers. However, the criminal justice and police system has failed massively on this and over many decades.

    Ultimately, if the criminal justice system doesn’t protect against crime, then no independent regulatory body will do any better. It’s an unfortunate situation, but one that we have to face.

    Sorry for the length of this response, but as a media graduate, specialising in political communication, and working in the media, I wanted to put my thoughts into this one.

    Hope it provokes some thoughts.

  4. BeckBockk says:

    Reblogged this on Learnolism and commented:
    For a more public-orientated view on press freedoms, read this post. We need a balanced perspective on press regulation, and I’d only give you a big “WE NEED THE PRESS TO BE FREE” type post.

    Take care. B. x

  5. Steven Hill says:

    Surely the issue is that press should never have to make apologies if they had some form of moral compass. I mean if someone is courting fame then I call fair game on stories about them, to phone hack a victim is entirely abhorent and no amount of apologies will be enough. The moral compass that existed in the past was due to the relative small size of these press companies, now its all broken up into factory like compartments and everyone is simply trying to get the most hits on a website, so obviously being more outrageous you attract clicks, whether that is good or bad makes no odds as you are generating traffic or sales for those still buying fish shop wrappers.
    The other thing about libel is a dodgy road to go down, I regularly blog and have on occasion been told I am an *insert insulting term here* which i shrug off, but if someone called me a pedophile then I could sue them? The internet is like a pub, some people are very nice to chat to but you might get one idiot who has had to many throw a bunch of insults. I’m sure people had a thicker skin when insults weren’t written down.
    The only punitive measures that would work is to have proper journalism licenced and to revoke licences when there was discrepancies, this means that you can create a system whereby bloggers and fantasists can still write stuff but the public know there stuff is not accredited but real journalists are licenced and have that badge of honour that there stories are factual and correct. The rise in popularity of opinion is divisive in society but it has begun to make its way into traditional news outlets, how many times to I see an ‘expert’ on BBC claim a bunch of things that are just his or her opinion. This is not news, why should i listen to opinion and propaganda? Give me facts and hard evidence and if you can’t give me balanced two sided views from relevant parties not just some random lecturer from some nameless institution.

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