Tag Archives: press regulation

My Turn

We all know how cruel the press can be. In this age of social media, more information is available than ever before. The turnover of stories is high, and for a busy journalist, there is more temptation than ever before to cut corners.

Corners can be cut in all sorts of places. The research can be paid for with back-handers, rather than waiting for an official announcement. The facts can even be guessed at, if pressed for both time and money. Vague statements can be made, then posted to the internet with the tag: “Details to follow.”

You can cut corners by not checking your facts, by not checking your spelling, by not checking if it ever happened at all.

Stories are needed to fuel the media machine. Preferably, ones that can be summed up in 140 characters or fewer. Quality must be sacrificed in order to provide quantity.

Advertising revenue has its stranglehold on the media, too. If you’re not selling papers, you need to make money another way. So, making mistakes, or missing information the first time a story is published is actually beneficial. The reader must return to see the corrections.

All the time, Twitter dangles the key pieces of information just out of reach.

Your friendly local paper isn’t so friendly any more. It’s a monster, crushing all who stand in its path.

This week, that was me.

This week, a tragedy hit my family. I’m not ready to tell the internet what that was, because frankly it’s personal. However, not so personal that my local paper didn’t think it was absolutely delicious, and jump on the “story”.

My life, and my family’s lives are not stories. Our misfortune is not in the public interest. Still, it didn’t stop me finding out this particular piece of tragedy, not from the police, not from my family, but from Twitter.

A family tragedy. My family’s tragedy. 140 characters or fewer.

I was devastated. A quick glance confirmed that my mother, too, had been informed in the same way.

I can’t put words to that, yet. All kinds of metaphors spring to mind, from being sideswiped by a lorry to falling into a bottomless pit. There was no way I could have seen it coming.

After the shock subsided, what was left was fear. That there are people in this world so callous as to do that to me. This isn’t just someone else’s injustice any more. It’s mine.

So I wrote an email. I wrote to them to tell them exactly what they have done wrong, exactly how cruel they have been. I do not know what good it will be.

I am a mouse standing up to a lion, and I am terrified.

Anyone so cruel as to do that to my family once will have no qualms about doing worse to me. How dare I call them on their behaviour? I’m not a qualified journalist! I’m a tiny, pathetic mouse, and nobody will listen to me.

Please, friends, subscribers, strangers, whoever you may be: I didn’t wake up on Friday morning and think “Today I’ll have an unpleasant confrontation with the press.” It just happened. It could happen to any of us, without warning.

If we don’t stand up to this sort of lazy, callous news-gathering, we put ourselves at risk. If we argue in favour of free speech at the complete abandonment of the freedom to live in peace, we run the risk of finding ourselves a victim of the press.

Our lives are not stories.

Details to follow.

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Press Regulation: Dream or Reality?

Since I started this blog, I’ve seen some horrendous examples of bad journalism, ranging from the badly researched to the downright dangerous. I’ve read stories about people being hounded to suicide by irresponsible reporting. I’ve seen headline news later turn out to be pure fiction. I’ve read vitriolic rants that would make the BNP baulk.

So, despite wanting to go into journalism, press regulation does not seem like a bad idea to me.

I know that I am not alone in my thinking, but also know that there are many that would oppose me, and for various reasons.

The Leveson report stated that the press should regulate themselves. This is a different concept to simply doing as they please- media groups should agree in advance where the line stands, and what happens when they cross it.

While this seems like a soft option, it may be the only one available.

The Daily Mail and the Mirror have categorically stated that they will not accept any form of press regulation. They claim that it violates the Freedom of the Press.

I could draw any number of preposterous comparisons here, but the one thing I need to convey is that these media groups have stated their intention to break the law if one is made. This would make any sort of press regulation utterly unenforceable.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister, having exchanged text messages with rich baddie Rebekah Brooks, needs to make it look like we’re still all in this together. So he needs to press for regulation.

This is something that the red and yellow teams also want, but, as they aren’t actually in a position of genuine power, are free to say anything they want about it. So they want hanging for anyone caught with a dictaphone, full censorship and Piers Morgan’s head on a spike (for the lols).

The Ed Miller Band, who seemed like a serious politician until he started automatically gainsaying whatever Cameron said, apparently wanted the press regulation to be enshrined in law. While lovely for the Dowlers of this world, this would also unfortunately play into the hands of any corrupt politicians who wanted to keep things nice and quiet.

So, the Royal Charter solution is a token, a sticker on the chest of David Cameron saying that he did his best. It won’t make morally fragile investigative journalism any more fluffy, and, if the chilling responses from the nation’s press are anything to go by, it won’t make the tiniest bit of difference at all, ever, and it’s just been a massive waste of everyone’s time, money and attention span.

It was denounced, it must be said, by the usual suspects. The Mirror issued a monosyllabic response: “The cobbled together blanket law will blow up in Britain’s face. Next time a prime minister denounces the censorship of a Mugabe they’ll have a ready retort…Despots will take heart from Britain beating the press.”

I think my IQ just dropped by 70 points just reading that.

The Independent, Telegraph and (doubt it not) Sun were more level-headed, but the very worst strops came from the bloggers. Fleet Street Fox claimed that the government were trying to revoke freedom of speech- something I can’t even bring myself to argue with this time. If you want my take, go through my back catalogue. The Telegraph’s Peter Oborne threw his NUJ (National Union of Journalists) membership card in the bin in a paddy, for their sympathies toward press regulation.

If there’s something that highlights, it’s that baddie journalism is the preserve of the few, and not the many. So, perhaps once all those who like writing about minorities as if they’re freak shows, and stalking innocent people because it’s “in the public interest” have stomped off to the Mail, we might actually see a brighter future for journalism.

Fingers crossed, eh?