Newspapers worried about new UK media regulation

Last Updated: Tue, Mar 19, 2013 11:30 hrs

Britain's politicians have finally struck a deal to regulate their country's press. Whether the press will allow itself to be regulated is another question.

Across Britain, newspaper front pages voiced disquiet at the establishment of an independent watchdog that would have the power to order prominent apologies and take complaints into arbitration.

"UNFREE SPEECH," was the headline of London's business-oriented free sheet City A.M. The Sun, Britain's top-selling tabloid, compared the new body to the infamous Ministry of Truth from George Orwell's "1984," while The Independent displayed the words "HOLD THE FRONT PAGE!" written in supersize font.

Many in Britain acknowledge the need for reform of the country's press following a damaging scandal over phone hacking, bribery, and other media misdeeds. And partisans on all sides of the argument are loudly proclaiming their loyalty to a free press and free speech.

But newspaper groups are concerned that the new body agreed to by politicians will become a burdensome regulator, bogging down newspaper groups with endless and expensive complaints about coverage.

Concerns have also bubbled up in the British blogosphere. Political writer Paul Staines warned that citizen journalists who joined the regulatory regime would find every little online grievance being magnified into a formal complaint, while those who refused to submit to the regulator would become "media outlaws."

But Des Freedman, who teaches media and communications at Goldsmiths, University of London, said independent regulation was overdue.

He described an entrenched corruption in newsrooms that he said had pressured British journalists into breaking the rules.

"There was a tendency to take any shortcut that was necessary to get to a story, whether it was bullying, bribery, as well as hacking," he said. "The hope is that these reforms will empower ordinary journalists to do the job that they want to do."

He acknowledged that there was little clarity as to whether bloggers would have to submit to the new watchdog regime.

Prime Minister David Cameron said Tuesday that he was convinced of the new watchdog's merits.

"I'm confident that we've set up a system that is practical, that is workable," he said. "It protects the freedom of the press, but it's a good, strong self-regulatory system for victims, and I'm convinced it will work and it will endure."



Raphael Satter can be reached at:

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