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Stronger regulation is absolutely necessary to hold the press to account

Stronger regulation is absolutely necessary to hold the press to account

Categories: Latest News

Wednesday May 09 2018

Parliament is set to vote today, 9 May 2018, on the introduction of effective press regulation measures and the revival of Leveson Part Two as an attempt to investigate and curb the unethical practices of mainstream newspapers and hate rhetoric on social media platforms.

The Government, opposed to the introduction of new measures, are predicted to be defeated as MPs, campaigners and victims of press misconduct urge all parliamentarians to vote in favour.

The measures are part of a series of amendments introduced into the Data Protection Bill that is set to be debated today.

One amendment deals with the revival of part two of the Leveson Enquiry which was recently scrapped by the Secretary of State Matt Hancock who claimed that “significant progress” had been made by the press since part one of the enquiry. He added that part two would be an inappropriate use of public money and time.

However, critics of Mr Hancock have argued his stance is “a disgusting and cowardly betrayal of the victims of media harassment” and reminded him that the enquiry was always meant to be a two part enquiry and as such the full scale of press misconduct and police corruption was never investigated.

The amendment, tabled by a cross-party group of MPs including Labour MP Ed Miliband and Conservative MP Ken Clarke, will force the Government to commit to a Leveson Part Two enquiry which will also take into account the role of social media companies in spreading false information; something that was not part of the enquiry’s original mandate.

A further amendment deals with the introduction of measures that will encourage publishers to sign up to a Leveson-compliant regulator, such as IMPRESS, and is aimed to provide “access to justice for ordinary citizens while offering protection to journalists and newspapers”. The measures introduced will mean that publishers will be exempt from paying the legal costs of their opponents’ win or lose, if they are members of a Leveson-compliant regulator. If they are not members of such a regulator then they will have to carry the legal costs of their opponents win or lose.

The Editor of the Evening Standard, former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne has responded by stating that: “It can hardly be sensible to replace press self-regulation with a state-endorsed press regulator…”

The Society of Editors have also “condemned” the amendments claiming it was a “brazen assault on free speech”.

Prime Minister Theresa May has claimed that the amendments would undermine the free press and that it was “very important” for the MPs to vote against it.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesperson has stated: “We have set out the importance of these votes and of the Government resisting those amendments and we would hope that when MPs come to consider these amendments, they will look at the strength of the case we’ve put forward”.

The Guardian reports that Downing Street was bracing for a potential defeat with one source saying that “It’s going to be really difficult” with questions being raised on how the Democratic Unionist Party will vote and the significance of several Tory MPs abstaining.

Whilst the likelihood of MPs voting for the introduction of press regulative measures is uncertain, the importance of it is undisputed. Indeed, to ensure that our media is effectively regulated and it can be held to account, it is imperative that such measures are introduced.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), the largest newspaper regulator in the country which is not Leveson-compliant has been called ineffective, incompetent and inadequate in tackling the unethical practices of publishers and the growing problem of hate rhetoric being spewed against minorities in newspapers.

An example illustrating this was IPSO’s inaction over the comments made by Trevor Kavanagh, then a board member of IPSO, in a number of inflammatory articles including one on the “Muslim Problem”.

There have been over the last few years a number of articles being published by major newspapers that have sought to demonise and defame the British Muslim community which have been significantly inaccurate if not entirely false. Indeed, the Daily Express editor, Gary Jones, recently acknowledged the paper’s role in creating Islamophobic sentiment. Ironically, the editor of the Sun, Paul Clarkson, refused to even acknowledge that there was a problem of Islamophobia.

The problem is that under the current regulator, IPSO, publishers are able to push such stories without fearing significant repercussions. Only by introducing appropriate disincentives, such as those tabled in the Data Protection bill, will the public be in a position where they can hold the press to account for the clear derogatory rhetoric currently being utilised.

MEND encourages all to take part in campaigns urging parliamentarians to vote favourably.

One such campaign is that by HackedOff, a group committed to holding the press to account, you can find more information by visiting the website here.

 

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