Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Does the press need to be regulated?

What with all the wrong-doings being levied at the press it would seem to be an odd question to ask whether the industry requires regulation, however given the exact nature of the wrongdoings it's rather more pertinent that it first appears.

The first question really is "What is regulation?" in short it's the monitoring and enforcement of rules. So do the press need rules? Yes, yet the set of rules they have to abide by is identical to those rules we all have to abide by - namely the law via legislation.

These rules are regulated by the police in criminal matters and by the 'wronged' party in civil ones. As is the scandal that has affected parts of the mainstream media have all related to legislatively matters with phone-hacking being a criminal offence and invasion of privacy a civil one.

So there already is a regulatory 'board' in place for these matters. So what would a regulation board for the media actually do? Well it can't regulate criminal legislation so it would have to handle civil matters acting as an arbitration court in the same manner as the Press Complaints Commission it is, in effect, replacing.

Under the auspices of a Royal Charter said board would supposedly act in a more independent manner than the PCC and have greater powers to adjudicate. However it remains an arbitration board and to have any power in civil matters both parties involved have to agree to have their case heard by it.

In theory this should lessen both costs and time on the magistrates courts that normally would deal with such matters and be less tiresome and labyrinthian than the UK's current libel laws. In addition it should in theory allow groups to complain about misrepresentation etc. an option that didn't exist under the PCC though don't hold your breath for that.

In and of itself it could be a good thing; except it's coming with a whole heap of baggage.

Firstly is the definition currently in place that determines exactly who or what would fall under its jurisdiction (remembering that it only really has power if both parties agree that it does). Currently anyone or anything providing or commenting on news can be covered. Tweeted about the election of the new Pope - that's news. Write a blog dealing with your own stuff but mention current news events - that's news too. Publish a political pamphlet detailing events in the community - news.

Pretty much anything that can be in anyway linked to the news no matter how inconsequential compared to the rest of the publication could be considered as news. Fortunately there is an amendment trying to go through that would adjust the definition to that for which it was originally intended.

The second piece of baggage is the alteration in fines payable dependent on whether you're a signed up member or not. This has been approached in two ways either as a member any action found against you would result in a reduction in fines; or that non-members would have an increase in fines. They sound the same but they are different. However any alteration in such fines would technically be against the law. Alter the membership clause to read "member of the aristocracy" or "member of the police force" for example and the flaw should be apparent in that it would treat certain sections of the community in a different manner to other sections and would thus be biased/discriminatory.

Thirdly this would still be an arbitration court. That means if the found-against party ignores its findings it would still have to go to court for enforcement if it could enforce by itself that would make it a judicial court in its own right. Likewise it would still have absolutely no power over the actions that led to its introduction in the first place.

So if in reality it's only a slightly more beefed up and independent PCC why bother? Because something needs to be done, or more importantly something needs to be seen to be done.