What with the Leveson report coming out this week the phrase “self regulation” has been bandied around rather a lot lately. I have read the executive summary of Leveson which runs to 48 pages. It is a bit more manageable than the 2000 pages of the full report and I really can’t see anything in it to justify some of the hysterical nonsense that we have heard from people who claim to be protecting free speech. I think that whether or not there is a legal framework to back up press standards is, in the end, less important than what those standards are. Those which are mentioned in the report are basically Ok by me. I was especially glad to see the following.
The code must take into account the importance of freedom of speech, the interests of the public (including the public interest in detecting or exposing crime or serous impropriety, protecting public health and safety and preventing the public from being seriously misled) and the rights of individuals.
But that’s not really what I want to talk about. When people hear the phrase self regualtion they think about tribunals, apologies, and other stuff that happens after publication, but self-regulation also happens before publication.
There must have been a point when the journalist(s) who wrote, with no real evidence, that the mCcann’s had killed their own daughter and hidden the body, sat and thought “should I file this story?” This is what I call self-regulation. The journalist should have said no. Not because he might end up in court or at a tribunal but because it was a vicious, hurtful, story which did not serve the “public interest” and was almost certainly untrue. They should have self-regulated – but they didn’t.
The problem with this idea of self-regulation is that it is easily mistaken for something else, something which is the exact opposite, self censorship.
There must have been a point when the editor(s) at the BBC looked at the proposed drama documentary “The London Bombers” which appeared well researched, and was on an undeniably important subject. The reporters had secured the co-operation of the families of three of the four bombers, who had apparently agreed that the portrayal of their sons was accurate. The BBC however decided to drop the program. Officially the explanation was that the script was not up to scratch. The conclusions of the reporters however that the bombers were, as they themselves claimed, inspired by violent Islamism. This did not fit the PC narrative of the time. The reporters claim they were told the drama was dropped because it was “Islamophobic”. They shouldn’t have self-censored – but they did.
There have been hours of discussion lately about how the future of freedom of speech is threatened by regulation, self or otherwise. I’m not saying this isn’t important, it is, very very important. But so is the gradual undermining of freedom of speech by self-censorship and it seems not to be discussed at all.