Thursday, 30 June 2011

Fixing the World: Press Complaints Commission

In this, dare I say it, SERIES of writings, I will outline my proposals for fixing the world (A brief outline, clearly). Today's topic is the Press Complaints Commission, the body for ensuring British Newspapers follow the editorial code of conduct.

First off, the PCC advertises itself as an independent body. Interesting use of independent, given that 7 of the 17 (41%) members of the board are editors of the newspapers that they are independently judging. Perhaps this sort of logic will allow me to stand as a juror in my own trial, with 4 of my work colleagues standing alongside me. Of course, they only have to enforce the rules laid out in the "Editors' Code of Conduct", written by, um, editors. So I get to be on the jury at a trial of laws I decide? Brilliant.

Well, given that we've got the independent body, what punishments can they throw at editorial infractions? Ceremonially smashing a golden pen over their head? No. They have to print an apology. Usually in small font, somewhere in the middle of the paper. The power the PCC feels must be dizzying. Put simply, the PCC is so weak compared to other independent bodies, it's like a 78 year old woman accidentally walking in on the Olympic men's weightlifting and having a go.

So the independent, powerful body has total control over the press, right? Oh, it's voluntary? But, like, everyone does it, though, right? Oh. Richard Desmond's papers all pulled out, so they have no regulation at all other than themselves. So, in the court of the PCC, if the jury of me and my workmates decide I am guilty of laws I helped write too often, I can just declare myself outside of their jurisdiction? God, the PCC must be getting nosebleeds at their awesome power. They're like the Greek gods, in that they basically don't exist.

Self-Regulation they call it. This system is, of course, known to never fail. IT traditionally keeps everything under control and curbs the worst excesses of any industry. The financial industry was largely self-regulated, but that global economic disaster could hardly be blamed on that!

But what could be done to fix this demonstrably impeccable force, which we have shown is independent, feared and in total control? Well, publishers pay a levy to be a member, which makes it self-funding. Perhaps if the publishers gave the money to a government body, set up to deal with this, which would be mandatory for publishers of newspapers to sign up to (Consider it a news tax) so that it continues to not burden the taxpayer, and that government body had the ability to say, impose realistic punishments (such as fines, or actually printing an apology in the same place as the offending story) and there were no editors serving on the panel of judges, then there would be less noticeable bias and lies in the British media.

The press would surely say that this impinges on their rights to free press, but I could equally argue that the laws impinge on my right to punch them in the face. Government regulation for the good of society as a whole happens frequently. I see no valid reasons why it shouldn't also include the press. Perhaps, with the additional oversight of an external regulator for the press, they could be trusted with stories which currently receive super-injunctions, as a win-win for both parties.

Problem solved. Next time, fixing the House of Lords.

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