Press Regulation in the UK


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History of Newspapers:

On 5 July 2011 The Guardian revealed that in 2002 the News of the World had hacked into the mobile phone voicemail of the missing school girl Milly Dowler. It also alleged that messages were then deleted; leading friends and relatives of Milly to think, wrongly, that she might be alive. This revelation came amid mounting evidence that journalists at the News of the World had hacked into the phones of hundreds of individuals, including politicians and celebrities.

State licensing of the press was discontinued in England and Wales after 1694, and the traditional narrative of press history recounts its complex but positive contribution to freedom of expression and the public good thereafter. The principle that underpinned subsequent developments was expressed in the eighteenth century by Lord Blackstone.

These concerns were the backdrop to the first post-war Royal Commission on the Press, which reported in 1949. Its terms of reference combined the idea that the press should be ‘free’ with a desire to foster responsibility: ‘to safeguard the freedom of the press; to encourage the growth of a sense of public responsibility and public service amongst all engaged in the profession of journalism’.

The debates around Right of Reply and the Privacy Bills in the 1980s and 1990s pre-figure almost all those that have circulated around the Leveson inquiry, and have surfaced with depressing regularity since the 1947-9 Royal Commission. They always list the failings of the press and self-regulation and put the case for more effective, often statutory, regulation of standards. These concerns were always countered by assertions that statutory reform would be the ‘thin end of the wedge’, leading to state censorship of content; portraying the press as threatened by the monster of state control, waiting for its moment to pounce and devour hard won freedoms. In the end politicians have always supported the continuance of self-regulation, as they did in 1993.

The various incarnations of self-regulation – the GCP, the Press Council and the PCC – have failed because they lacked powers to impose effective sanctions on newspapers which flout industry-wide codes. They have lacked these powers because the proprietors, who have funded self-regulation, do not want their room for commercial manoeuvre limited by the effective regulation of standards, particularly at a time when circulation figures are tumbling. However the current debate is characterised by a degree of forgetfulness about recent history, one which implies that self-regulation has not been given a fair chance.

Lord Justice Leveson reported in November 2012, calling for the creation of an independent, self-regulatory body, governed by an independent board, without any influence from either industry or Government. He suggested the body be industry-funded, but that the majority of its members should be independent of it. It would set up a code to balance press freedom and the public interest, deal with complaints from individuals and groups, and have the power to direct the nature and placing of apologies. Serious breaches of the code could be punished by fines of up to 1 per cent of turnover, to a maximum of £1million.

PCC and The IPSO:

What does PCC stand for? Press Complaints Comission

Briefly explain what it was – The (PCC) was a voluntary regulatory body for British printed newspapers and magazines, consisting of representatives of the major publishers. The PCC closed on Monday 8 September 2014, and was replaced by the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), chaired by Sir Alan Moses.

What were the ‘codes of practice’? :

  • Accuracy
  • Opertunity to reply
  • Comment
  • Privacy
  • Listening devices
  • Hosppitals
  • Misenturpritation
  • Harassment
  • Payment for articles
  • Inrusions into grief or shock
  • Innocent relatives and friends
  • Interviewing or Photographing children
  • Children in sex cases
  • Victims of crime
  • Discrimiation
  • Financial Journalism
  • Comfidential sources

When did it act?

What things did it do?

Choose a real life case from the archives and briefly explain what happened and what the PCC did.

How effective do you think the PCC was at regulation?

Why was it closed down?

What is the IPSO?

What can it do?

Hard News vs Soft News

Hard News – London Terror Attacks.

Soft News – Jennifer Lopez changes her hair.


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