As more phone-hacking incidents come to light, the UK media is bearing the brunt of the mounting number of lawsuits.
News24 reported that as of 20 April, the cases brought against News of the World has now amounted to a staggering 100.
Another UK organisation, British broadcaster Sky News, has admitted to hacking emails, but justifies this decision as ‘public interest’. Sky News is a part of BSkyB – of which 39% is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.
Across the globe, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data in Hong Kong has cracked down on the magazines Face and Sudden Weekly. The publications are in trouble for taking invasive photographs of celebrities last year.
Their excuse: it was in the public interest to prove that two couples were living together when they had denied it.
These breaches of privacy do not benefit the public, but instead serve to boost business for the media companies.
Whether or not you’re tired of hearing about it, media accountability and censorship are crucial factors to consider in any real democracy. If citizens cannot rely on journalists anymore, it’s all going downhill for society.
On the flipside, censoring the press is not the solution to trust issues.
Control vs. self-control
The SA Protection of Information Bill leaves a dark mark in media history. This is a problem for the real watchdogs, who are open to attack if they reveal state secrets that the public actually needs to know.
Being 42nd on the 2011/2012 Press Freedom Index, South Africa needs to up its game in the democracy field. Instead of state regulation, some suggest self-regulation.
The Press Freedom Commission (PFC), initiated by the Print Media SA and SANEF in 2011, is an investigation of the self-regulation of SA print media.
The PFC defines self-regulation as “a peer review system operating within a set of self-imposed rules by the media”. Using a Journalistic Code of Ethics, media representatives pass judgement on “complicated matters of journalistic reporting”, while referring to established norms and standards of the industry.
The PFC is presenting its report in a public launch on Wednesday, 25 April in Johannesburg.
In the meantime, government still exerts its control. Next on the ANC’s media death list is a tribunal, which entails registering newspapers and probably journalists too.
But what about the power of new media; how on earth does an Information Bill or media tribunal apply to the digital sphere?
In a submission to the Leveson Inquiry (an ongoing public enquiry into the practices and ethics of the British press), Ofcom examines press regulation and pays particular attention to the changing digital media environment.
The paper makes the following analysis:
- A new regulatory body for the press has to address the changing media landscape, where traditional models of distribution, such as print and broadcast, are used alongside distribution through digital media.
- Digital media mean providers are not exclusively committed to either print, audio, or visual. It also removes traditional barriers to mass communication, which leads to alternative news providers such as bloggers or online newspapers.
- A regulatory body needs to adapt to the developing landscape of digital media. A single cross media regulator is not effective; various regulatory bodies should unite to ensure that common and consistent principles are applied across digital media. The aim is to simplify where possible.
Again, self-regulation is the best regulation. Instead of external ‘regulatory bodies’ controlling content, it would be worthwhile to self-censor, especially on the Internet.
If the media industry could adhere to independent, standard procedures, then nobody would have to wait around for the government to impose more restrictions on media freedom.