Press self-regulation beats laws forced on broadcasters

Elliott: BSC deliberations slower

A member of the statutory Broadcasting Standards Commission has compared its workings unfavourably with self-regulation of the press.

Geoff Elliott, head of the department of journalism of the University of Central Lancashire, has written to the parliamentary select committee investigating media intrusion into privacy to give his unique view of both systems of regulation.

Elliott, who has also sat on the Press Complaints Commission, said there was no escaping statutory regulation in broadcasting. “As a result, the processes of regulation are laden with legal representation and fears of judicial review.

“No matter how hard the BSC tries, its deliberations are slower than the PCC’s . Its average fairness and privacy case without a hearing takes five months and, with a hearing, eight months. There is no conciliation service, only entertainment of a complaint or its dismissal. Consequently, one side or the other leaves the process inevitably dissatisfied; the commission is perceived to have got it wrong, and they were right all along.”

In contrast, the PCC offers swift redress. Its average time to resolve complaints by retraction, correction or apology is 32 days and, of the relatively few that go forward for adjudication, most are completed in three months.

The greater difficulty for broadcasters, Elliott perceives, is that they have no ownership of what happens.

“The regulation is not theirs, but is imposed on them. They co-operate because they have to. While newspaper editors give themselves seven days to respond to complaints represented to them by the PCC, broadcasters often frustrate any attempt to speed the process along,” he claims. “They probably do not do so wilfully, but because the questions are being asked by a body they see as an adversary.”

Self-regulation of the press is successful, he argues. Editors and journalists have bought into the Code of Practice, which Elliott helped to write, and frown on those recklessly breaching its tenets.

“For all that their critics might like to think otherwise, newspapers take themselves and their standards seriously,” he said, adding that editors are pushing for greater ethics training on journalists’ courses: “They want new journalists to be aware of the pitfalls from the very beginning of their careers.”

Elliott also believes that the media itself has provided most of the nation’s “privacy casebook” by upholding its codes and creating a common law of its own.

By Jean Morgan

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