Media regulation: heat and light

Debates about the state of journalism “post phone-hacking” occur almost nightly in London. The Leveson inquiry into, among other things, press regulation has begun work. Are any new ideas being generated?

Newspaper editors, when they have been audible at all, have cautioned about any form of tougher regulation than the discredited self-regulation which exists now. But they have been less voluble about what might work better than the Press Complaints Commission which Prime Minister David Cameron appeared to pronounce dead when the phone-hacking storm was at its height in the summer. Editors appear nervous that to discuss possible future regulation systems in any detail increases the risk that any new system or laws will err on the side of strangling free journalistic inquiry. The PCC, apparently considering reports of its death to be premature, is advertising for a new chairman and revamping its procedures.

The risk of over-regulation exists for sure. But an intellectual vacuum also has dangers. If you assume that the PCC self-regulation system won’t survive intact, something has to replace it. Alternatives need to be sketched out and tested. Some of this thinking is happening. The rest of this post is a quick tour of the ideas being lined up.

A recent discussion at the Reuters Institute in Oxford looked at seven regulation options pulled together by Martin Moore of the Media Standards Trust.

The barrister Hugh Tomlinson QC added an “Option 8“, which would provide publications with protection from challenges in the courts if they choose to opt in to a regulatory body with teeth. This attracted a lot of attention and discussion. The more I see of the detail, the more complex and expensive it seems.

It’s fair to say that at the Oxford discussion the two problems which seemed knottiest were:

  • Should newspapers have a separate system of regulation and, if so, what is the justification for this in a world a converged, multi-platform media?
  • How does any regulatory system, light or heavy, ensure that it includes everyone? This is becoming known in shorthand as the “Desmond Dilemma”, referring to the proprietor Richard Desmond removing his paper from the PCC this year.

Backgrounders: Alan Rusbridger sets out his stall in this lecture and I’ve looked at “co-regulation” here.

Please let me know in the comments if you see other fresh ideas on this topic.

Update 3/10/11: This suggestion for redoing self-regulation from Legalbrat (he works for the FT but the blog is personal) sounds a bit like co-regulation to me. But what’s in a name? I still think this kind of setup is probably the least dangerous available outcome (hat tip: Jonathan Hewett).

 

 

 

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