Post-Leveson: A game of rock-paper-scissors

Upon graduating from my old university I received a congratulations card off a former sports editor of a UK national. Inside the card there was a quote attributed to Edmund Burke from a parliamentary debate in 1787.

Burke said that there were three Estates in Parliament, but he pointed up to the Reporters Gallery yonder, and told Parliament that there sat a fourth Estate more important far than they all.

The press was a tool that allowed democratic values to be upheld, an industry that embodied public’s trust and kept its politicians accountable.

The card also read, “You are entering a noble institution.”

And here is where we come to a quandary. The free press is there to hold the government to account, and you could argue the police are too. And if media self-regulation doesn’t work, as politicians seem to be suggesting, who regulates the regulators?

We seem to have been left with a regulatory game of rock-paper-scissors where no one wins.

After reading the post-Leveson proposals the press will have to abide by, the first thing I felt was confusion. The charter, if passed, will cover news publishers such as newspapers, magazines or websites containing news-related material.

This could potentially mean websites such as this and blogs by just about anyone in the UK to fall under the wrath of the new regulations.

This was quickly clarified, however, and it was stated that student not-for-profit publications, scientific journals, blogs and periodicals and book publishers would not fall under the exemplary damages and costs measures.

But the damage was done. How ironic that regulations to manage the press could have been worded so horrifically and left open for interpretation.

The confusion didn’t stop there either, as at the same time the Prime Minister was stating that the new royal charter allows the continuation of the 300-year-old free press without any statutory regulations, the Labour party was celebrating the new regulatory system that is “under-pinned by statue”.

Confused? Me too.

Perhaps Finland could provide us with the best example on how to proceed. For the third year running, Finland was once again named as having the world’s freest press by Reporters Without Borders in their Press Freedom Index of 2013.

The reason the Finnish press enjoys so much freedom is that it works in tandem with the government to provide transparency and information to all its citizens. By making the government so open they have very little to hide and works hard to inform its people of the running of the country.

Maybe the British government could learn a thing or two off both their Finnish counterparts and Burke and instead of berating and trying to subvert the press, look inwards at themselves and think how they can improve transparency and work with the press to promote an industry that protects the democratic rights of its people.

I wouldn’t hold your breath.

Chris Scott


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