Time to regulate?
Posted on 22nd March 2013 by Man Bites Dog
“Hacked Off in the room as the talks unfold,
Westminster’s about to make the media’s blood run cold
now they slappin’ backs and clappin’
it’s a tad bit late
Clegg, Miliband and Letwin had to regulate…”
Well, it’s been a big week for Warren G. Who would have thought his gangsta-funk rap genius would have inspired so many headlines? I personally can’t wait for the David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Hugh Grant and Ian Hislop Youtube mash-up.
Aside from Warren G’s triumphant week however, the prospect of the government brandishing a ‘watchdog with teeth’ at the press has certainly ruffled a few feathers. And so it should.
After warning that we should be ‘wary of any legislation that has the potential to infringe free speech’, Cameron has agreed to introduce a new press regulator backed by royal charter. Despite suggesting that such a measure would become ‘a vehicle for politicians’, the new regulator will be underpinned by statute and have the power to dole out million pound fines, demand prominent apologies, corrections and retractions, and threaten exemplary damages in civil cases for newspapers, magazines and in fact any ‘relevant publishers’ who don’t sign up.
Not only does this tar an entire industry with the same brush as the minority of unscrupulous journalists who took part in illegal phone-hacking, but bloggers could also unwittingly find themselves threatened with exemplary damages from a regulator that was never intended for them.
Breaching privacy and libel laws remains just as illegal as it was before the phone hacking scandal, so if the threat of criminal punishment was not an effective deterrent back then, how will the new regulator prevent such crimes from happening in the future? And why should bloggers and the rest of the law-abiding media be punished for the crimes of others?
At a time when internet access is the only requirement to become a ‘relevant publisher’, the lack of clarity around who will be regulated and how suggests the announcement was somewhat rushed. I can’t think of many decisions I have made at 2.30 in the morning that I’ve been particularly proud of the following day, but at least none of mine have attracted the attention of the OSCE, an international organisation set up to police human rights.
There’s always something slightly unnerving about the three parties reaching unanimous agreement, but it seems that this time it is their common enemy, the press, that has united them. As Fraser Nelson pointed out, ‘H.L. Mencken said journalist is to politician as dog is to lamppost. This week has been about the revenge of the lamppost.’
We may have to wait for several weeks for further details of the new regulator to emerge, but judging by the reaction of the press this week one thing is clear: the dog will bite back.