Press regulation under fire - Media Standards Trusts says PCC is failing

In its report 'A more accountable press' published today, the Media Standards Trustsays that the public thinks more needs to be done to tackle the inaccuracies and intrusion regularly practiced by the media. To back this up, the Media Standards Trust commissioned and is citing research by YouGov that claims (based on an extrapolation of their sample) over 75% of the public believe that the media publish stories they know are inaccurate.

Put bluntly, the claim is that the majority of the public think the media lie or make up stories and that the self-regularoty system that exists in the form of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) is inadequate in dealing with the problem.

The key findings of the report (as extracted from the report)include:

Changes in the way that news is gathered, edited, packaged, published, marketed, delivered and consumed raise fundamental questions about news content regulation which the Press Complaints Commission has not yet sought to address

Given the increased technical challenges and financial pressures that news organisations face, combined with the explosion of user-generated-content, there is an increased risk of inaccuracy that self-regulation is not structured to deal with

There is evidence to suggest that the press’s need to capture public attention and maintain circulation is leading to greater levels of intrusion and invasion of privacy

70% of the public believe there are ‘far too many instances of people’s privacy being invaded’

Trust in journalists is low and may be declining further. 70% of people think newspaper editors cannot be trusted to ensure their journalists act in the public interest

The current system of self-regulation lacks transparency and accountability, has conflicting interests and is not equipped to meet the regulatory challenges now facing the press

Lack of confidence in self-regulation is encouraging some people to go to the courts, creating a precedent-based privacy law which threatens to marginalise self-regulation and has the potential to constrain press freedom

As reported on MediaGuardian PCC Chairman Sir Christopher Meyer has hit back against the Media Standards Trust claims. He says the report is selective, based on emotive 'sound bites' and is not representative.

So here we have a clash between the arguably self appointed press watchdog and the self-appointed monitor of standards. The debate today's report has and will generate is to be welcomed but as Mediabeak will argue, neither side is right or has the moral or legal argument here.

The PCC has been much maligned in recent years and been called 'ineffective' or a 'toothless' regulator. Its impotency lies in the fact that it is not legally constituted and has no legal power to sanction the press for breaching its code. Its historical make-up is that of an organisation created by the press for the press. It is therefore seen as partisan. Mediabeak, who has conducted much research into the decisions of the PCC concludes that the problem the PCC has - and consequently the lack of faith that may be seen among the public in relation to the PCC - derives from the fact that it cannot fine or seriously sanction wrongdoing. This causes a problem in that whether it is an aggrieved party or shocked public, both expect to see some form of sanction or punishment. The PCC does not have the tools for a 'grandstanding' censure of a publication.

In defence of the PCC Mediabeak would argue that within the terms of its remit it has sought to flex its muscle and profile as much as possible. The numerous cases that are resolved or proactively dealt with 'under the radar' by - or brokered through - the PCC largely go unnoticed and do play a large part in the work it does. So to turn to the deficiencies and challenge laid out by the Media Standards Trust report what is the answer?

Mediabeak is clear on this. What we need is a proper study into what the public want from their media and press. Times and technology have significantly moved on from when such rules as exists were put togther. The PCC is doing what it can within its remit but - as the Media Standards Trust (YouGov) research shows - the public are not convinced by what is being done. What we need is not a knee-jerk reaction to one report but a considered review of the dramatically changed and changing landscape in relation to how the media operate, its interaction with its audience and changes in the laws of defamation and privacy.

To achieve the standards that are acceptable to the public, the puclic first needs to be engaged and made part of the process that shapes the standards by which their media should operate. Mediabeak's view is that to the extent the PCC is ineffectual, it has not been given the proper authority, status and tools to make it so. Its failure to clamp down on media abuse and prosecute excess is down to its remit and powers rather than willingness to exercise them. Given greater power the PCC would gain credibility among the press and - in exercising such power - would gain the respect and trust of the public.

There are two options. Either equip the PCC with the tools it needs to do its job or get rid of it and come up with some othr form of regulation. Mediabeak suggests that the PCC has the infrastructure to do what it should - all it needs is an injection of potent remedy to make its views and decision count.

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