As the runaway train that is Phonehackgate rolls on, impervious to any attempt to gain control of it, one significant side issue is being discussed, but not enough, and not realistically or seriously, and that is the future of press regulation in the UK. We know that the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) is discredited and toothless, but what would serve in its place?
One key requirement of any new or revised system of press regulation is that it should not only work, but be seen to work, and that this consideration should come before any thought of whether regulation is run by the press, or run in the same way as Ofcom polices the broadcast media. That is to say, there should not be any ideological element in the process for the sake of it.
But in order to be seen to work, any form of regulation must include all newspapers: there will be no option for the likes of Richard Desmond to walk away and please himself. It really must be, for ordinary folk, “fast, free and fair”, which the PCC sadly is not. And it should not have to intrude into areas of civil and criminal law: those wanting to drag titles through the courts would be free so to do, and phone hacking would be treatable as it is now.
Quite simply, there needs to be an end to the situation as described by Nick Davies in Flat Earth News, where papers – all too often led by the Mail – publish something untrue and/or defamatory, and those on the wrong end of it only have recourse through the courts if they have enough money.
The PCC routinely excuses, and sides with, the press. And even those rich enough to take matters to law find they only get redress at the door of the court. That has to stop. Also, the “Gately Get Out”, the idea that only those directly affected by articles, can complain, must also stop.
Nor should there be any more hiding behind the “Littlejohn Defence”: the idea that certain pieces are only opinion, and so do not have to be factually correct. Hacks that cannot bother to check their copy, or who deliberately tell whoppers, don’t deserve to be hacks. End of.
And the process should mean that apologies and corrections appear within a matter of days – not months – that they are prominently displayed, and displayed on the same page as the inaccurate original. Papers, though, should be sufficiently trusted not to need prior approval of copy.
I fear that self regulation will not be able to deliver this, but if it can, fine. But we need something that the PCC does not bring us, and that is a solution that works.