Thursday, 16 May 2013

The future of press regulation......we need to talk a bit more!

Regular viewers of my Twitter feed can’t help but notice I have had, for me, a rather engrossing discussion with Dr Evan Harris from Hacked Off this week.

What started off as rather heated actually became an interesting to and fro between two people at the opposite ends of the regulation scale, me opposed to Hacked Off, him opposed to some of my profession.
But do you know what? I get it, I get Hacked Off and their campaign now and certainly their calls for a Royal Chater.
The Newspaper Society’s plan is OK but fails on one key area, power would pretty much still be in national newspapers and proprietors hands. We have lost that right to govern ourselves now given phone hacking, given the flagrant bending of the Contempt of Court Act and given the rush for a headline.

Hacked Off are right on that respect, we need independent self regulation and I repeat what I called for in an earlier blog and echo now what Hacked Off, an independent board to rule on complaints.
Hacked Off’s briefing note was sent to editor’s like myself in the week and unlike what the national press say, is not a scaremongering tactic but quite a thought provoking rebuttal.

For example, the Newspaper Society state that should the Royal Charter go ahead, the principle of a free press not subject to Parliamentary statute would be conceded. Erm, no because as the briefing note points out, we journalists are already governed by Contempt of Court Act, Defamation Act, Data Protection Act and of course the Human Rights Act!
All of these benefit my profession greatly if you abide by them, think about all those FOI’s – would not have happened without the Freedom of Infomation Act!

Contempt of Court is a biggie, every journalist should be able to recite it backwards because its common sense, basically don’t do anything until the jury have heard EVERYTHING!
Sadly, in the case of Chris Jeffries, the landlord of the flats where Joanna Yates lived before her brutal murder, contempt of court went out the window. The national media were branding him ‘weird’ and ‘a peeping tom’ – all of which wholly untrue and slanderous.

All of which prayed on the fact you can say what you want before a suspect is charged and the case becomes active. His life was spilled on the front pages and he was only being questioned! A process which happens every day, suspects are brought in and often ruled out.
Hacking is a cancer which needs to be nuked big time (another good idea from Hacked Off being £1million damages by the way)

But national newspapers need to remember the contempt of court act, let every man have his day in court (innocent until proven guilty) and if guilty then rake it all up.
I still have worries about the Royal Charter, such as the possibility of rampant compensation claims from past stories. I accept Hacked Off’s assertions but everyone knows if a law is in place it probably can be ‘intepreted’ in 40 different ways. For example did anyone ever imagine the Human Rights Act would keep terrorism suspects in the UK?

There is good and bad in each proposal being put forward. I hope my profession perhaps grows up a bit and sits down with people such as Dr Harris who can deliver throughtful and analytical prose.
Because if any national colleagues are listening, we can still be free and able to stand as the ‘fourth estate’, but boys and girls we do need to grow up a bit!

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