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Daily View: How should the press be regulated?

Clare Spencer | 09:42 UK time, Monday, 11 July 2011

Following the phone-hacking scandal commentators look at how the press should be regulated.

The Telegraph editorial warns against a new system which could protect the rich and powerful:

"The PCC [Press Complaints Commission], or its successor, must have the power to investigate accusations far more thoroughly. But David Cameron's plan for a new system of government-imposed regulation, whose nature will be determined via a second inquiry, has its dangers, too. As 'super-injunctions' have shown, the law has given those with the money to do so the ability to stifle discussion, and to prevent the publication of facts they find inconvenient. We can be sure that some politicians would, if given the chance, frame regulations in a way which would impede the investigation of serious wrongdoing by public figures, and even diminish the ability of the press to scrutinise and criticise government policy. This would be disastrous for the media, and for democracy."

In the Independent Tim Luckhurst also protests against the possibility of politicians regulating the press:

"Formal regulation of the press has long appealed to some politicians in all parties. Now the prospect of a Britain denuded of raucous, trouble-making journalism loomed before my eyes...
"The News of the World's criminal cruelty has created an opportunity to enhance and reinforce standards in British journalism. Our democracy will suffer if politicians exploit it as a Trojan horse to introduce statutory regulation. British democracy grew to maturity in partnership with a free press. It cannot thrive by muzzling journalists who must always be free to offend and humiliate the powerful."

In the Daily Mail Stephen Glover worries about the costs of tougher regulation:

"What Mr Cameron seemingly ignores in conjuring up a supposedly dysfunctional press is that most newspapers are financially in a weak state. The News of the World, for example, is barely profitable, if profitable at all, and its circulation of less than three million is about a third of its sale half a century ago...
"I can assure him that heaping regulations on an already enfeebled press would almost certainly lead to circulations falling further as blander, frightened newspapers found it more difficult to gain the interest of readers."

The Guardian's Peter Preston remembers when the Press Complaints Commission was set up after two Sunday Sport journalists sneaked into a hospital to take pictures of the injured 'Allo 'Allo actor Gordon Kaye. He warns there are new challenges to setting up regulation this time:

"Will it be any easier, this time round, to decide on successor regulation? No, it will be much more difficult. The NPA [Newspaper Publishers' Association] is weaker. Big movers and shakers - from the Mail to Wapping - are hors de combat. The digital revolution peddling true freedom of information ploughs on. Even loftier journalists who've derided the PCC, like those who've betrayed it, haven't thought through what comes after.
"But, from the Caribbean to the Balkans to southern Africa, all those countries that have built press self-regulation on our model will be worrying. Is a freedom so toiled after and fought for something that can be tossed away? Watch this space: and fear the void."

Jeff Jarvis suggests in the Guardian that in an internet age the general public could regulate the press:

"How do we scale fact-checking? My thought is that we should see every news organisation place a box next to all its reports inviting fact-checking: readers flagging dubious assertions, and journalists and readers picking up the challenge to investigate. The Washington Post and the Torrington (Connecticut) Register Citizen have them. "That small addition raises the standards and expectations for journalists' work and, more importantly, opens the process of journalism to the public, inviting them to act as both watchers and collaborators."

Jarvis also suggests that any new regulation would have to consider including bloggers like Paul Staines who writes the political Guido Fawkes' blog. But Staines suggests in his blog that consumer power has already proven itself as a way to regulate the press:

"In the end Murdoch closed the News of the World because he feared an advertiser and consumer boycott (plus to try take the heat off the Sky takeover). If you disapprove of a newspaper don't buy and read it. That is simply the most powerful restraint you have on newspaper proprietors in a free democracy. Even Rupert Murdoch fears his customers."

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