Royal Charter Or Self Regulation Is A Moot Point - But What About A Small Claims Court?

There is probably no more emotive an issue in the British media landscape at the moment than who should regulate the press. Today's news, that Hacked Off has launched a campaign supporting the Royal Charter, mostly serves to prove one thing, however. It has been a year since Parliament drew up the proposals for a Royal Charter to govern the press -- and in that year, precious little has changed.

In fact, so little has moved on that the accepted wisdom is that the government is almost certainly going to allow the press one last chance to regulate itself through the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO). The most powerful media companies are backing it -- Associated Newspapers, News UK and Telegraph Media Group -- and those who haven't aren't exactly queuing up to support the Royal Charter ether. 

A classic Mexican standoff has ensued, with both sides dug in and sniping at one another.

It might be time to pause and consider the facts. Hacked Off does have a very good cause for complaint. A small minority have let the journalism profession down very badly. Hacking mobile phone answering services is clearly an unacceptable breach of privacy. Where one might be able to make some counterpoints, however, is that the celebrities involved need at some point to draw a distinction to what they call press intrusion and their own attempts at self promotion. 

Blur frontman Damon Albarn summed it up nicely in an interview once that the problem with press intrusion is that you spend the first half of your career doing anything possible to get in the papers and the rest of it trying to keep yourself out. Harry from 1D may well have had good reason to get an injunction against a handful of overzealous photographers, but it is hard to believe that a guy who has very publicly courted celebrities on red carpets around the globe is a shy, retiring type who deserves to be freed from the yoke of an inquisitive press.

Hugh Grant, the poster boy for the Hacked Off campaign, can hardly be surprised that he has been in the media's gaze, considering he is one of the country's best-known actors with a past that has involved some very lewd behaviour in a car with a "lady" that was not exactly his equally famous girlfriend at the time.

Another line needs to be drawn here, of course, between those who have inadvertently become the centre of a media storm, usually through being the victims of a terrible criminal act. While nobody deserves illegal snooping activity, the last thing a desperate family would want is for the press to show no interest in catching the people behind a vicious act and bringing them to justice. Like everything, it's all about balance and the public doesn't get to see the 99% of the cases where this is achieved -- only the very rare exception.

A good point well worth remembering is that campaigners will point to ongoing court cases and perhaps miss the point that because there are court cases, action has been and is being taken. 

By and large, everything that has been complained about is illegal and is being dealt with in court. Most notably, those who hacked answering machine messages and those who are accused of allowing it to happen are in court -- and similarly, those who paid money to public office officials -- are being investigated and prosecuted.

So when the dust settles, we are clearly going to get a new press regulator. Neither side says there should be no press regulator.

The question is -- can a body set up by the press be trusted to be as independent and vigorous as they promise, or does the industry need to be regulated by Royal Charter for the first time ever?

It's a huge question, and one that the press will warn the public will rue if they allow parliament, under a Royal Charter, to regulate the people that are there to hold them to account. Do you really think MPs would have coughed up to their dodgy expense claims and tax dodging "flipping" of second homes if The Daily Telegraph had not rounded on them?

Like many conundrums, it is likely to be a moot point.

Next year is an election year, and no party will want to take on the press or appear to be going soft on them.

If I were a betting man, I'd put my shirt on the press being given one last chance to regulate itself with the stick of the Royal Charter waiting in the background should the industry slip up again.

If you are interested in my two penny's worth, I'd suggest a simple move.

Locks only normally keep out honest people and so whatever system you have, someone will always try to break the rules, the trick is in making it easier to identify and prosecute them.

That's why a small claims court specialising in media law should sit regularly, allowing the public to have their cases heard with minimal delay and without the need for teams of barristers and tens of thousands of pounds. Those cases can be left to the people who wined and dined the press and then got angry when their guests had outstayed their welcome, but refused to go home.
Next story loading loading..