Compulsory Arbitration Will Restore Faith In The Press

Anyone who has worked on any newspaper in any country will know that in the rush to both hit a deadline and have a story sufficiently attention-grabbing to win readers, the facts in each story are not always right.

I have always argued that this means the UK press needs is not another Leveson enquiry but rather a very simple arbitration system. The press knows what the rules are on accuracy and an organisation or member of the public knows when they feel something was not quite right in the reporting. I completely agree with Press Gazette today that usually the remedy is to put things right through a correction rather than a huge fine. People, from my experience, generally want the record to be put straight and are not asking for a massive libel payout.

The trouble is that there has traditionally not been a quick route to put the record straight other than a long-drawn-out and very expensive route of employing lawyers and taking a media baron and his title to court. This huge barrier has meant that a lot of letters come in asking for corrections, but few lead to anything other than a polite reply that the editor stands by the story. No record is set straight. The paper avoids a confrontation and a reader or interviewee is left fuming.

What has clearly been needed is a fair system of arbitration -- and this was in the code of the press regulator, IPSO, but it was always voluntary. Now, however, it has become compulsory. Any complainant who chooses to enter into arbitration rather than go through the courts has the right to put a case to an arbitration panel, and the newspaper must show up and take part. 

Ultimately, it has to be a win-win situation. Newspapers and a complainant might be spared the enormous cost of going to court and the facts of a case can be dealt with quickly. I am a firm believer in the phrase "justice delayed is justice denied," and so someone who feels a paper has a case to answer should be able to have access to a third party to hear their concerns as soon as possible. 

The cynic in me would also suggest that if newspapers know arbitration is within easy reach of everyone they talk to and all parties involved in any story, accuracy may well take a leap in the right direction. I have been involved in discussions where a story was quite clearly sensationalist, but a paper has backed up its journalists because it knows an everyday member of the public will not take them to court.

If the cost of redress is just a mere GBP100, that barrier to entry comes down significantly and newspapers will know they cannot rely on people not having the resources to have a third party to judge the veracity of a story.

Ultimately, this has to be good for building a better trust between newspapers and their readers, doesn't it? The cost of legal fact-checking has plummeted, and so the proverbial legal playing field has been entirely levelled. Sure, there will be some spurious claims but the likelihood is that the vast majority will be people saying they have been misquoted or misrepresented in some way and putting the record straight has to be for the best all round, surely?

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