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:
- Create a truly independent commission-no politicians, no media representatives.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?