Posted: November 27, 2012 at 1:40 pm

Hacked Off has never proposed a model of regulation. We started by campaigning for a public inquiry and when it came along we took the view that it was up to the inquiry to make a suggestion, once it had heard all the evidence. We believe strongly, however, that Britain needs effective regulation that is independent of both the government and the press industry. Here are six kinds of regulation that figure in the current debate.

This is what we have had in various forms since 1953. Despite successive failures which prompted successive inquiries and recommendations for tougher regulation, the press has always been allowed to go on acting as judge and jury in its own courtroom. They write the rules and they decide when to enforce them and when to look the other way. The Press Complaints Commission was toothless and had no way of making the industry learn lessons from its mistakes. Self-regulation has failed.

In this model the press is answerable to a body it doesn’t control, staffed and led by people who are appointed without industry involvement. Such a body might seek to act in the interests of the public rather than the press, but would it have teeth? How would it get the big newspaper organisations to participate, and how could it make them pay fines when those were incurred?

This is the ‘Irish model‘ of regulation. The Republic of Ireland has an ombudsman and a press council, and this arrangement is recognised in their Defamation Act, which also gives certain legal advantages to members. It works in Ireland but would it work in Britain? The Irish system doesn’t have any fines and it is overseen by their minister for justice, and neither of those would be acceptable in Britain. There is also the matter of clout. The British newspaper groups are very big and powerful, and they will surely need a powerful body to oversee them.

This could have various forms, but one idea is that a law would be passed creating a regulator, giving it a remit and making it clearly independent of government and of the industry, with independent appointments arrangements. The law might also say who had to be members and it might provide the authority to levy fines. Members would either fund it or help fund it through a levy. In a different version, the regulator could be a self-regulator, but it would be subject to inspection by a body created under statute which would ensure it met standards set down in the law.

This term describes a body functioning entirely under statute, probably funded by the state and generally answerable to parliament or to a minister. This might describe the BBC, which is answerable to parliament and funded by the state-endorsed licence fee. No one has proposed this kind of regulation for the British press.

The direct management of the press by the government, enabling full pre-publication censorship – as practised in Zimbabwe and North Korea.

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  1. Bob Downing

    Various forms of “self-regulation” have been tried elsewhere, of course. The most obvious and infamous is still with us, in the financial heartland, and despite all the “Codes of Conduct” banks etc sign up to, the need for ever firmer regulation is demonstrated by scandal after scandal. All the banking misbehaviour has had profound negative impacts on those not at the top; each time another one is fined, small investors’ lose out – in exactly the same way that victims of newspaper misbehaviour lose out. But those who permit, or actually encourage, deviations from what they know perfectly well to be either written rules or what the majority of people regard as morally right and wrong, are never significantly affected. There’s a financial cushion between them and the rest of us (most topically Rebecca Brooks’ £10.8m pay-off!). Yesterday’s news may be of scant interest to who wrote it; the after-effects on the innocent often last a lifetime.

    Self-regulation and big business have been shown to be mutually exclusive time and again. We know we cannot trust politicians. That leaves truly independent regulation. If it turns out to need a large body, then the large expense can mostly be funded by the numerous fines it has to levy. If the industry cleans itself up, then we’ll only need a small body.

    One obvious function of a press regulator should be to take up the points made above – the less rich cannot afford the existing legal system – and fund cases started by litigants seeking compensation in civil courts where their investigations show there is a reasonable case to be answered (just as the CPS does in criminal cases).

  2. Kineton

    The problem with the press, is that their bottom line is selling newspapers. They don’t exist merely to make society a better place; though to their credit they often do that! It’s not good enough just to regulate for behaviour that is criminal. Is it criminal to to swoop around any human target, like vultures looking for carrion, invading their lives, like they hounded Diana Princess of Wales? And any celebrity that can be used to sell papers. Where is the morality in that? Do newspapers even have a moral code?

    It seems to me, that some newspapers have a policy of “Print and be damned”. Whatever censure comes later can be laughed off – but not by the victim!.

    There are freedoms which we all should have – such as ‘Free speech’. But where are these freedoms enshrined in statute? We have no freedoms stated in any ‘Bill of Rights’, yet newspapers and this government seem to want them to have such freedoms. What about our individual right to freedom of speech?

    Besides criminal law – which still didn’t stop such activity taking place – newspapers should be answerable like the BBC are. Without some body set up by parliament, overseeing the press (Safeguarding press freedom too) and the public, self regulation will be a joke and it will continue to be the mess it has been for many a year.

    What we need in this supposed democracy, is a set of principles enshrined in statute, that forever give all individuals state protection. At present, only those rich enough can afford it through the courts. If this is a Democracy, lets see it defined as such!.

  3. Dave Tomlinson

    The press do not seem to understand that freedom comes with responsibilities. If they publish the truth, information obtained without breaking the law, genuinely important for the public to know, they should feel safe. If they get it wrong then they should expect to go to the wall with
    draconian punishments for a first offence and imprisonment for subsequent offences, If they use expensive lawyers to defend themselves then they should be giving the plaintiff the same funds. Any journal, newspaper, magazine or website offending for a third time in, say, 2 years should expect to be required to close for a month. If that bankrupts them then tough.

  4. Cathy

    I’m in agreement with Dafydd here. Surely the cases investigated during the enquiry are underpinned by law. How is it that the people affected by phone hacking etc, libel, are finding it so difficult to prove that the law has been broken? Oh yeah- Silly me- I forgot- they’re all in it together.

  5. Gordon Smith

    With all this talk about freedom of the press, can we instead consider the freedom of the individual, in particular the victims. We cannot have total freedom as this always curtails someone else’s freedom. Clearly, therefore, it follows that the press must start to work with others in mind, and since they have proved they cannot do this, the legislative back up is essential.

    • Robert Reynolds

      Six kinds of regulation: missing is genuine ‘self-regulation’, in democracy.

      In equal partnership all would be free to act ‘in conscience’, for all.

      Savings on bureaucracy would be colossal, with respect to the elaborate, costly and vain industries of ‘mission statement’, ‘notional compliance’, ‘mock enforcement’, in the press and of every other sphere subject to inefficiency and corruption.

      All of us should be free, ‘front-line’ for good, able to go toward ‘the loudest sounds of battle’, rather than be pulled aside by the clink sly cash or the threat of dismissal and poverty.

      For the moment, here in England, relative to others, we still have the cushion of wealth, and still lingering hopes of more political progress. ‘Enough of us’ are enabled to feel safe, and so to afford patience in our still primitive parliament, pardoned for want of ‘criminal evidence’.

      How fragile the condition of press, police and politics here, is apparent from the state of those lands to which, tragically, we send our ambassadors and soldiers to campaign, for a ‘democracy’ believed and taken to be ‘mature’.

      For trust to be deserved, anywhere, in the outcome of any ‘constitutional’ negotiation, on the press or more widely, the essence of the outcome should already be known. Freedoms should be protected as for – or as if for – equal partners in our shared future and in its democratic direction. Fall-out can be expected: rightly, representations that, of the able, all should be fully employed, and that, of the young, frail and old, male and female of course, all will be equally respected.

      In short, for democratic self-regulation, we would need secure income-share equality, to guarantee equal freedom of speech – and means – for all.

      Press freedom and democracy are inseparable ideals dependent on agreed equality: the role of ‘the 99%’ in a democracy cannot be simply to vote between more or less remote factions of a hopelessly unrepresentative 1%.

  6. carole harwood

    hate to sound like old fashioned 18th &19th century british radical BUT, much as i think the gutter press is exactly that, i am very nervous of any infringement of the right to free speech. i think this is one petition i am unable to sign; not a fan of political slippery slopes!

  7. azzario

    perhaps if civil courts were to start fining those found guilty of libel, tresspassing etc. a percentage of their profits and /or sending editors and publishers to prison there would be immediate change.

  8. alan davies

    Is,nt it strange that since the “hacked off” campaign started, and the success became apparent, the change of views on the T v channels has changed, i hardly believed i was watching Murdochs SkY yesterday, and if it is “too difficult” for Cameron, perhaps he should be long gone.

  9. millgate

    This term describes a body functioning entirely under statute, probably funded by the state and generally answerable to parliament or to a minister. This might describe the BBC, which is answerable to parliament and funded by the state-endorsed licence fee. No one has proposed this kind of regulation for the British press.

    Sounds like the germ of a good idea to me …

    ‘Like the BBC’ … I’d venture that most of us would still say we like the BBC … despite the recent hiatus over the DG.

    ‘Funded by the licence fee’ … How about a Press Review Board with no members of the Press on it – and funded by a levy on the sales revenues made by licensed members from the Press, national and Local – and backed up by new Law to ensure that the Press took no liberties.

  10. gkent

    I see no discussion of the level of penalties to be attached to each kind of wrongdoing.
    To kick off the discussion, I propose:
    Where inappropriate reporting leads to a trial collapsing, the reporter, the editor and the proprietor should all be treated as co-criminals (e.g. as murderers in a murder case) and sentenced accordingly.
    Where the result of reporting is to impede police or security work fines on reporter, editor and proprietor all pay up to a maximum of 10% of their respective total wealth.
    Where a report uses information gathered illegally or where it has resulted in distress to innocent people or where it is untrue then fines on reporter, editor and proprietor all pay fines up to a maximum of 21% of their respective total wealth.

    • Paul Browne

      You’re not going to get many people going into journalism if they get tried as murderers for “inappropriate reporting”! Lol!!
      Where do you get “21% of their respective total wealth” from?
      Couldn’t you make this a bit more complicated?

  11. Robert Reynolds

    Missing here is the ultimate, ‘self-regulation in democracy’.

    In equal partnership all would be free to act ‘in conscience’, for all.

    We would dispense with the elaborate, costly and vain industries of ‘mission statement’, ‘compliance’, (mock) ‘enforcement’ (against the caught poorer), in matters of not just the press but of every sphere subject to bureacracy, inefficiency and corruption, all of us becoming ‘front-line’ for good, forward toward ‘the loudest sounds of battle’ rather than the clink of sly cash.

    Here in England, it is from the cushion of wealth – and from hopes of more political progress – that ‘enough of us’ are enabled to feel safe, and to afford patience in our still primitive parliament.

    It is tragic that we send our ambassadors and soldiers across the world to speak, kill and die for a ‘democracy’ that is believed and taken to be ‘mature’. Our own ‘cushion’ is collapsing, and ‘cushions for all’ will depend on global co-operation.

    For trust to be deserved, anywhere, in the outcome of any constitutional negotiation, the essence of the outcome must be already known: that all will be equal partners in the shared future and in its democratic direction; that of the able all will be fully employed; that the young, frail and old – male and female of course – will be equally respected.

    In short secure income-share equality must guarantee equal freedom of speech, and means, for all.

    The role of ‘the 99%’ in a democracy cannot be simply to vote between more or less remote factions of a hopelessly unrepresentative 1%.

    On the role of religion, in politics and law, all should ask themselves: “If the choice came from God, to accept Heaven on Earth, or to soldier-on with the promises of ambiguous scripture, warring interpreters, and the lords of social exclusion, would you not choose Heavenly Love over the vision of any prophet?”

    Praise be to whom the prophets would direct our love, to “God & Man, our Neighbours”, with forgiveness for those of goodwill, in frailty the originators and compounders of error.

  12. John Miller

    In how many countries I wonder does the Press operate under each of the six degrees of regulation? If the majority of countries are regulated what is special about our press that they cannot abide regulation?

    • carole harwood

      . . er, it’s free?

  13. john o'connor

    we need regulation of the press to keep it free from party politics and independent of government and the abuse of the press barons

  14. Joseph Quinn

    Who are six degrees? In the interest of openness this would be useful. Thank you.

    • Angela Russell

      It means 6 levels of regulation, varying in levels of control over the press. The six are described under the six sub-headings….

  15. Dafydd Owens

    I don’t really understand the point of all this talk about regulation. Has everyone forgotten that there are already laws in place to stop people getting away with libel, defamation, harassment, hacking, etc? The problem here, as I see it, is that the breaches of these laws simply are not being properly investigated and charges are not being brought against those responsible and those who commit perjury to cover things up.

    A far simpler fix would surely be to have the police take these crimes, as reported by victims, more seriously and have charges (where criminal offences have been committed) brought against those in breach by the public courts. For civil offences, rather than having set fines for various things, use the organisations own bookkeeping against them and make the fine double the turnover (or profit if you want to be kind) of the issue containing the offending article or photograph.
    Not only would criminals then be punished as they should under existing laws, but the profit/loss imbalance would be removed along with any incentive for papers to publish these improperly investigated claims. Furthermore, it seems like in the majority of cases the press organisations in question are clearly guilty even if no individual journalists are getting punished, so levy the fines against the company rather than against individuals. At double the turnover or profit made, there should be more than enough money in the fine to pay for investigative and court costs and leave money to spare which could go to the victims and/or their families.
    In order to avoid paying the (would-be court imposed) fees in full the papers would have to fudge their own accounts and would thus be in breach of existing laws against fraud and tax evasion. In order to avoid any chance of these sizeable fees being imposed upon the organisation in the first place they would have to self regulate in a way that is actually effective, and any ‘bad apples’ would be cast aside immediately.

    If anyone sees a downside to this approach then please enlighten me, because it seems like it would work in favour of the victims in every instance. It also seems like it would involve far less delay, cost to the public, and general possibility for corruption than setting in place any form of specific press regulation committee or organisation, whether state backed or not.

    • Valerie

      Leaving it all to the criminal law means that the press would have to actually commit a crime. How about encouraging them not to commit it in the first place? After such a crime, before investigation, before a court case and verdict, ordinary people still have ruined lives.

    • Peter York

      Laws re defamation and libel do not address the issue of the weak and not rich being vilified or pilloried by the rich and powerful press, which is vengeful towards those who challenge it.

    • Paul Browne

      Your suggestion is basically what’s been in place for decades and has never worked, or have I missed something?

  16. Si morris

    Perhaps the remit of whatever body is designed to oversee the press should given powers designed to force the press to –

    A. report facts and not hype
    B. report morraly and have to justify morraly questionable stories and practices.

    With freedom comes resposibility. I am sure we all want a free press but operating honestly and morraly must be a given otherwise there is no point calling it news, as who would be able to believe it? Perhaps we are already at that point now.

  17. Alan Ralph

    The Irish press regulatory system was explored by Channel 4 News last Friday – well worth a watch and read, it covers both the pros and cons. It is perhaps ironic that the creation of that system stemmed in part from the arrival on Irish shores of various British tabloids. And perhaps doubly ironic that said tabloids have signed up to the Irish system for the Irish editions of their respective titles, albeit after some foot-dragging.

  18. Andrew Barker

    Isn’t it odd how much of the press has only ever talked about the first and last of the above options? It only now appears to be beginning to sink in that other options are available. Perhaps because they now realise that self-regulation is a busted-flush.

    • Alasdair Macdonald

      This is a good point. It was indicative that on the day of the publication of Lord Leveson’s report that the spokespeople for the press always used the phrase ‘statutory legislation’, with the explanatory rider, ‘state control’. And, with the exception of Channel 4 News, the broadcasters framed their questions with such terminology.