Are we about to see the creation of an Independent Press Standards Agency?
What the phone hacking scandal reveals is not only the way some press folk misbehaved. It showed that the public prosecutors were remarkably inept in doing anything about it. That is what needs to be addressed
Despite ministers telling us they do not want statutory press regulation in Britain, I fear we are in danger of moving towards a system where the press will be overseen by a new super quango.
Any such move needs to be fiercely opposed. Why?
The press cannot remain free if editors have to answer to a state quango for what appears in their publications. Any new super quango will come with a worthy sounding code of practice – they always do. But requiring compliance with it - with quango officials sitting in judgement – means the right to publish will be conferred from on high by officialdom. That would be intolerable.
The committee of poobahs on any new super quango will, no doubt, be “independent”. But independent from whom and of what? One person’s independent regulator is another’s unaccountable quango.
And why assume that creating a new quango is the way to solve anything? It is hardly as if government-by-quango has a distinguished record preventing malpractice. If it had, how come the Financial Services Authority managed to preside over a meltdown in British banking?
Any new super regulator would become a sledgehammer wielded to miss the nut. It would not stop nefarious activity. It would, however, require the rest of us wanting to publish perfectly legitimate articles to answer to officialdom when we do so.
You think I exaggerate? Take a look at what has happened to the Advertising Standards Authority. Innocuous sounding, the ASA now claims the right to preside over what is printed off on every desk top printer in the country. The ASA have even threatened constituents of mine for failing to comply with the ASA’s code, which the ASA drew up and with the ASA acting as judge, juror and prosecutor.
In a country where millions of ordinary citizens publish tweets and blogs every day, a system of top down quango regulation would seem half a century out of date.
There has been a real problem with some sections of the British media. But the way to fix it is not to make the press inwardly accountable to officialdom. If we want to restore confidence in the press, then just like MPs, we need to make them more outwardly accountable.
That means making it easier for wronged individuals to seek redress against guilty newspapers through the courts.
What the phone hacking scandal reveals is not only the way some press folk misbehaved. It showed that the public prosecutors were remarkably flat-footed and inept in doing anything about it. That is what needs to be addressed.
Creating a new quango, and a new layer of compliance, is not the answer.
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