Oct 11

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.

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May 11

Privacy, superinjunctions and converging regulation

Confused by the simmering froth of indignation and counter-claim about superinjunctions, Twitter and privacy? Here’s an attempt to extract what’s important.

1. Media regulation is not going away as an issue. This is not because of the sudden eruption of rows about superinjunctions. The fundamental reason for unease about laws and regulators is that they are out of date. The system of media regulation we have in Britain was designed for an analogue age in which each platform (print, radio, TV) was distinct and regulated separately. Digital “convergence”, with words, sound and video all carried by the internet, undermines that. This is very clearly on the mind of Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, quoted here. Convergence has consequences for privacy, the kinds of issues dealt with under the Press Complaints Commission Code of Conduct and plurality of ownership and control (see here).

2. Alan Rusbridger of The Guardian, giving the Sampson lecture this week, defended the “mixed economy” of British media regulation, which varies from tight regulation (such as for the BBC) to a “wild west” free for all in the printed press, whose self-regulation system is certainly not onerous. Rusbridger argues that this mixture both establishes a visible “gold standard” for good practice while allowing risk-taking  and controversial journalism at the same time. He was asked whether this view was tenable in an era in which print publishers were becoming broadcasters on the web, established broadcasters were becoming magazine publishers and barriers between technologies were vanishing.

3. If we look hard enough there are many issues to wrestle with in the legal framework for the news media. It’s plausible and logical to argue that they are all connected. But this approach risks making the task of improving things look impossibly large. I’d argue that privacy is the issue on which to focus: it lies at the heart of the concerns about super-injunctions, phone-hacking and the idea of self-regulation. I’ve argued elsewhere (£) that new legislation may be closer than many journalists like to think and that editors had better stake out their positions soon.

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