The hacking of Milly Dowler's phone by the News of the World has turned a topic that was of interest to few into a moral panic that engages the public. The Prime Minister has responded by calling  time on the Press Complaints Commission, but what will replace it? Will politicians enforce statutory regulation? Is there a way to achieve independent regulation with teeth?  Many journalists fear that the crisis engulfing News International's newspapers - and who knows how many other newspapers may yet get sucked in to the vortex - could ultimately prove highly damaging to British journalism. Yesterday's Independent featured a couple of pieces featuring CfJ staff members expressing those fears. You can see my Media Studies commentary piece here - and Ian Burrell's piece quoting Ian Reeves here.



In reality the PCC was (to borrow a phrase) a "miserable little compromise" which was at the time described as the 'last chance saloon' for the press. Obviously they've blown that chance as it became apparent that the PCC was not fit for purpose and yet there was never any question of it being reformed to give it teeth.

A PCC that could have issued fines and other punishments and implemented the Editors' Code properly would probably have been a satisfactory solution but it seems it is too late for that now. Another problem was its handling of complaints (see the final chapter of Nick Davies' Flat Earth News for more detail on this).

It would be wrong for some form of Executive Agency or Quango to regulate the press however it will be difficult for there to be statutory regulation (which there seems to be a politcal will for) without creating a body of this type.

Kevin Marsh made the point at a conference last month that regulation of the broadcast media has never stopped him from pursuing a story, however he could not see it working in the press because the regulation (in his opinion) stemmed from the need to be impartial.

It will be interesting to see the form of these new rules/guidelines.

Can't it be done well? Obviously if it neglects the public interest and freedom of speech, or is interpreted by whoever in a manner inconsistent with free press principles, then it would be worse than the status quo. But there must surely be a balance between such freedoms and the freedom to have secure privacy in one's family, relationships and businesses. This has clearly not been the case for a great deal of public figures for years now, and isn't that the freedom we should be concerned with here, not freedom of the press?

It's not just those directly affected that suffer from such revelations, either - anyone who could conceivably have been targetted or is open to it in future is now insecure in the knowledge of their privacy. This is what Jonathan Wolff and Avner de-Shalit term 'capability security' in their recent book Disadvantage (I gather from Martha Nussbaum's Creating Capabilities - have had a self-imposed embargo on book-buying until I find employment of the gainful sort). It's not just having a freedom/capability that is important, it's knowing that it's secure over time. And I would extend that backwards, too, given that suddenly discovering that your privacy has not been secure is so disconcerting.

As with any statute, the key will be the perspicacity and sensitivity of the framers to these competing interests, and the interpretation and implementation of the resulting framework with attentiveness to them, and changing conditions on the ground. It's not impossible to get it right, I think. Just pretty hard.

Oh man, I forgot about the porridge! *runs off*

Regulating the Press