Government Regulation won't Work for UK Press

If a system of government statutory regulation would not work for the press then what would? Self-regulation has to remain. The best option may be not allowing members of the PCC to be those that work for newspapers

Strong regulations on the press would mutilate originality; prohibit freedom of expression, and kill the British press as we know it.

"Newspapers will never again be solely responsible for policing themselves."

The words of prime minster David Cameron ringing a change in how newspapers will be controlled after the current self-regulatory body failed to stop the phone hacking scandal and the death of the News of the World.

He said there will be a public inquiry to recommend what a new press regulatory body should look like.

Cameron and other MPs agree the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) has failed, with Labour MP Alun Michael branding it a 'joke' and calling for "statuatory regulation of the press and media."

The PCC replied to the prime minister in a statement that said: "The work of the PCC, and of a press allowed to have freedom of expression, has been grossly undervalued today."

Unlike the print media, broadcast journalism is heavily regulated by the governmental body, Ofcom, who impose strict rules on broadcasts and fines those who flout the rules.

Could the same system and regulations be applied to the press?

No. It wouldn't work for newspapers without turning them all into a series of clones, each with the same monotonic headlines and text.

Ofcom requires broadcasters to produce news with "due impartiality and due accuracy and undue prominence of views and opinions." This means no editorial stances on issues and no opinions.

Newspapers sell because of their own political stances. Sales will plummet if they are censored from expressing their own opinions on issues - if they are all forced to be the same by impartiality then there is no freedom of expression.

At election times there would be no papers endorsing parties and candidates. Ofcom states that no prominence can be given to any party or individual and all must be given a chance to speak.

In last year's general elections the Guardian wouldn't have been able to support the Lib Dems. The Sun couldn't win an election for anyone.

The quality of journalism produced would be influenced by strong regulations, journalists would be in fear of what they could and could not print, with the threat of fines hanging over their heads.

Could a system of censorship be introduced? Would a 'watershed' of what is suitable be created? Would Page 3 of the Sun be axed because it would offend?

However in a case of history repeating itself this isn't the first time that the self-regulated press has been under threat from the government. The PCC was created in the early 1990s after its predecessor, the Press Council was ruled not to be upholding journalism ethics.

A departmental committee to see whether a body with formal legal powers should be created investigated the Press Council. Thus the PCC was born.

But Cameron, calling for the public inquiry to determine what the new form of regulator should be, said that whatever replaces the PCC should be independent of government. Forcing the question to be asked, like the News of the World closing and potentially being reincarnated as the Sunday Sun, will the PCC just be rebranded and be as ineffective?

I can't see that happening. The phone scandal has been too shocking and memorable to allow a simple rebrand of the PCC. We'll soon have stifled journalists printing plain, un-opinionated stories.

If a system of government statutory regulation would not work for the press then what would? Self-regulation has to remain. The best option may be not allowing members of the PCC to be those that work for newspapers. Outsiders who would not have any party political affiliation or those in the media, and independent panel should be looking into complaints received.

If strict Ofcom style regulations were to control the press all you have to do to find the result is imagine a newspaper created by the BBC.


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