I was pleased to see that, despite last minute opposition by newspaper editors, the Privy Council granted its Royal Charter on press regulation during the week. As I understand it, the press will continue to regulate themselves but there will be new structures including a new watchdog that will comprise lawyers, financiers and members of the public but not members of the press. Editors will be free to opt out of signing up for regulation under this system but will then face much heavier penalties if things go wrong. Read about the three tier system in the BBC's report here
As I have always been a great supporter of the freedom of the press, I am very surprised to find myself approving these measures. However, having acquired personal experience of direct press attention, I now thoroughly support this move. I believe it will give a typically British balance between, on the one hand, freedom of the press to investigate and report what seems to be the truth and, on the other hand, freedom of the individual to find redress when investigative processes lead to serious misrepresentation by either a particular journalist or a number of publications that pick up on a story without running proper checks.
I recently came across a series of letters sent by John Cleese to the editor of the the Sun newspaper in 1982 see Letters of Note It seems that things have not changed a great deal since then, although I suspect that improper practices have become more widespread and complaints less gentlemanly. John Cleese's claim was that he was reported as having said something he did not say. In a very witty set of letters he suggests, among other things, that he might print his correspondence with the editor in the Monty Python book of the film (the incident happened on set.) Kenneth Donlan, the then managing editor of the Sun, replies, 'We do not wish this correspondence to be included in the Monty Python book of the film'. Cleese responds by pointing out that, although Mr Donlan's journalist's view has been printed in the paper, John Cleese's view has not and now the editor is objecting to the publication of Cleese's view. It seems there is one rule for journalists and another for everybody else.
Well amen to that and the very humourous way in which Cleese makes his point. In my own experience, words I had not at any time spoken and did not understand were put into my mouth whereas words that it appears had been spoken by others were reported and attributed to anonymous sources. Not only can you be misrepresented, it seems, but others can say all sorts of things without taking any responsibility for their views. Indeed they may be reported so as to give the impression they speak for whole groups or organisations they do not, in fact, represent. Sadly, I've also acquired direct experience of being on the receiving end of practices designed to intrude into personal space. It's not a comfortable feeling when journalists are able to tell you what you were doing at certain times in private space, especially when this information is used to imply something that is not true.
So all power to the elbow of the new watchdog!
See also http://socialhorizons.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/media-processes.html