Friday, November 30, 2012

My thoughts on the press and regulation

I am not a journalist, just to make it clear that I am not writing as someone with a vested interest in the "Where next?" debate about press regulation, but I am concerned. I find myself caught between questions about privacy and wondering how far we should go down a road that could make it easier for stories that should be told to suppressed.

Without trying to stir up some sort of hornets nest, recent revelations and allegations about abuse by high profile political and other figures highlights the issues. Some stories were made up and should never have been told, others were true and were not told. Or go back a few years to the infamous Iraq dossier scandal. How would any proposed regulation have affected that story? Would we have found out about the inaccuracies and inconsistencies? MP's expenses, drug taking in sport, corruption and cover ups by multinational companies, are just a few examples of stories that need to be told. On the other hand, I'm not sure that I need to know about the sordid affairs of so-called celebrities.

What bothers me about statutory regulation is the thought that powerful people will find a way to manipulate it to their benefit, and those editors and journalists who break the law to get a story, any story, surely won't be overly worried about another layer of regulation.

Maybe, more than regulation, we need to find a way to stop feeding the animal of curiosity and gossip that has dragged both our press and our society towards the gutter. Perhaps we have the press we've created.

There are always going to be times when someone's privacy has to be invaded (I use that term cautiously) in order for the truth to be discovered and revealed. The choice is about what truth is in the public interest and how best do we protect both the rights of the individual to privacy and the rights of good journalism to investigate. Not easy.

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