Current Magazine

Post Hackgate, What Next for Media Regulation?

Posted on the 22 July 2011 by Periscope @periscopepost

Post Hackgate, what next for media regulation?

Amid the bloody remnants of the post-hacking battlefield, voices shriek for more regulation of the press, with the intention of preventing a Murdoch-style empire ever arising again. The judicial inquiry led by Lord Justice Leveson into the conduct of the media has broadened its terms to include the BBC and social media. Prime Minister David Cameron has also announced that he wants politicians taken out of future decisions on media takeovers, with Ofcom being given powers to intervene. Do we really want a free press? What on earth would Milton think?

“Who guards the guardians?” Lord Justice Leveson

  • Curbing media might. David Cameron’s list of adviser’s for Leveson’s inquiry, said Patrick Wintour in The Guardian, included a policeman as well as newspaper executives; it lacked, however, a tabloid journalist. “Giving his most detailed thoughts so far on the future of media regulation, Cameron said media ownership rules could be changed to avoid any organisation holding too much sway. He said: ‘We need competition policy properly enforced. We need a sensible look at the relevance of plurality and cross-media ownership. Above all we need to ensure that no one voice, not News Corporation, not the BBC, becomes too powerful.’”

The inquiry has been asked to make recommendations for “a new, more effective policy and regulatory regime which supports the integrity and freedom of the press, the plurality of the media and its independence including from the government, while encouraging the highest ethical and professional standards”.

  • Toothless and anachronistic regulators. The Prime Minister, said Barry Turner on, has “found that this scandal had come about in the main because of lack of regulation of the press, meaning the tabloid print media.” This scandal is insidious, but “as usual the focus is deflected to the ‘symptom of the disease’ not the cause. Press regulation in Britain is already a mess,” as we absurdly have two sets of media regulation, neither of which work very well, one for print and one for broadcasting. The Press Complaints Commission is “a toothless talking shop” while Ofcom is “a bureaucratic anachronism unfit for modern broadcast media in a democracy.” Both regulators work from “outdated and frankly quaint ideas of ‘decency’.”
  • What REALLY needs to be looked at. This scandal, continued Turner, “is about the criminal acts of a few journalists and editors” which “would hardly have been affected by any kind of ‘regulations’”. The real scandal is the relationship between politicians and the press. This is what “needs to be regulated”. What’s more, it’s “hardly surprising that giant media corporations believe that they are bombproof when it comes to the law. When the legislators themselves sycophantically curry favour with the owners of giant corporations it is obvious that it will come at a price. Favours need to be re-paid so if you don’t want to grant them don’t ask for them.”
  • The press needs press barons. Bagehot in The Economist asked  ”who, exactly, do they imagine could afford to run The Times and Sunday Times on their own, following a forced break-up of News International?” The quality papers lose a million pounds a week; it’s a “lot of money for even the most public-spirited billionaire” – especially so if invitations to powerful lunches are no longer forthcoming.
  • Leveson needs to achieve a subtle balance. True, said Damian Tambini, also in The Guardian. But, “[t]oo often, press freedom is a shorthand for anarchic self-regulation rather than [the] subtle balancing that accepts necessary and agreed limits to press freedom, such as the freedom to invade privacy. If ‘press freedom’ is shorthand for a veto on parliament setting out the standards that a self-regulatory body should impose on the press then the term should be jettisoned. If it cannot be jettisoned, Leveson should grab the initiative by offering his own definition.”

More on hacking

  • Murdochs field questions
  • Murdochs in Parliamentary dock
  • Rebekah Brooks arrested

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog