Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, March 22, 2013

To whom do you complain?

When you think reporters get it wrong, to whom do you complain? A letter to the editor? Is there such a thing for broadcast media?

It's in some people's interest to describe the plan in the UK as "regulation" of journalism. It seems to me to be a government-run system to deal with complaints about journalism. I'm reminded of the debates about civilian review of police activity. Those almost always result in vociferous complaints from all sides.

And, for those of us in the home of the First Amendment and less-than-sensational journalism, we must remember that most of print journalism in the UK resembles tabloid journalism and TMZ broadcasting. Most British newspapers do not resemble The New York Times, the Washington Post, or the majority of other big city newspapers in the USA.

Newspapers worried about new UK media regulation
Britain’s politicians have finally struck a deal to regulate their country’s press. Whether the press will allow itself to be regulated is another question.

Across Britain, newspaper front pages voiced disquiet at the establishment of an independent watchdog that would have the power to order prominent apologies and take complaints into arbitration — a move one newspaper described as overturning centuries of press freedom…

Although many in Britain acknowledge the need for reform of the country’s press following a damaging scandal over phone hacking, bribery, and other media misdeeds, newspaper groups are concerned that the new body agreed to by politicians will become a burdensome regulator, bogging down newspaper groups with endless and expensive complaints about coverage…

The watchdog being set up would replace the widely discredited Press Complaints Commission, a self-regulatory body run by newspaper editors. Jean Seaton, who teaches media history at London’s University of Westminster, said the main difference was that the new body would have official recognition and be subject to periodic audits to make sure it was doing its job — and that it hadn’t been ‘‘captured’’ by the very editors it was meant to police…

Some British newspapers — the left-leaning Guardian and The Independent among them — have expressed guarded support for the watchdog. Others — including the Times and the Mail — have hinted at legal challenges. Britain’s Spectator Magazine has already announced plans to boycott the new regulator. If others could follow suit, the system could fall apart before it even begins…

Prime Minister David Cameron said Tuesday that he was convinced of the new watchdog’s merits.

‘‘I'm confident that we've set up a system that is practical, that is workable,’’ he said. ‘‘It protects the freedom of the press, but it’s a good, strong self-regulatory system for victims, and I'm convinced it will work and it will endure.’’
British Newspapers Challenge New Press Rules
A day after British lawmakers agreed to ground rules for a new press code, an array of newspapers protested on Tuesday against the attempt to impose stricter curbs on this country’s scoop-driven dailies following the phone hacking scandal that convulsed Rupert Murdoch’s media empire and much of British public life.
In a statement, the newspaper society representing 1,100 newspapers said provisions for fines of up to $1.5 million on errant newspapers would impose a “crippling burden” on cash-strapped publications...
Newspaper proprietors and editors have not so far signed on to the agreement announced on Monday and say they were excluded from late-night cross-party talks on the new code...

The agreement announced Monday creates a system under which erring newspapers will face big fines and come up against a tougher press regulator with new powers to investigate abuses and order prominent corrections in publications that breach standards...
[V]ictims of hacking, the Labour opposition and the Liberal Democrats — the junior partners in the coalition — pointed to the failures of existing self-regulation and pressed for a “statutory underpinning” to enshrine the changes in law. That was in line with a central recommendation of a voluminous report published last November after months of exhaustive testimony into the behavior and culture of the British press at an inquiry by Lord Justice Sir Brian Leveson...
[N]ews groups that opt out of the new regulatory system [will be] subject to higher fines for defamation. Britain’s existing legislation already includes some of the world’s most stringent defamation laws, along with rules governing what may be published on matters relating to national security and judicial procedures...

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