Lords debates media standards

26 October 2012

Members of the Lords examined the relationship between media standards and regulation yesterday (25 October)

Baroness O’Neill of Bengarve (Crossbench), tabled and opened the debate, she said: ‘I shall focus on two questions. The first is whether media regulation can be used to support media standards without risk of censorship? I think that that is a formulation of the fundamental issue. And, if it can, what sort of media regulation would be compatible with a free press?’

She went on to suggest: ‘If the media were required to be transparent in some of the ways in which they have insisted other organisations and professions should be transparent, we might add a great deal to media standards. I suggest three possible forms of transparency. One is openness about payments from others... Secondly, there should be openness about payments to others... Thirdly, there should be openness about interests. Owners, editors, programme makers and journalists, like many others, have interests.’

Lord Janvrin (Crossbench) followed by asking: ‘Why is effective press regulation so crucial in today's age?’ He went on to say: ‘In my view, the greatest threat to the best of our media in this country lies not in overregulation, but in the commercial pressures of the digital age. Fewer people are buying newspapers, local or national, because they can get their news elsewhere - online - and they can get their opinion elsewhere, from the blogosphere. But we are much more likely to be willing to continue to pay for news and opinion if we know that they are of the highest standards; in other words, if we trust the provider. This seems to be the best reason for effective press regulation.’

Lord Sugar (Labour) expressed his concerns about standards in the media by saying: ‘What we have seen in the past few years is the complete decay of decency and morals in the media. They do not seem to exist at all in the printed media and sometimes, I regret to say, in television. Desperation to get a story has led editors to stray from honesty and truthfulness to using unfair means of finding or creating devious angles on a story, or even tricking the subject of the story by illegal means. Of this, of course, your Lordships are fully aware in light of the recent inquiry carried out by Lord Leveson.’

He suggested that: ‘It is my opinion that journalists should be licensed. Moreover, editors should be made responsible for what is printed in their newspapers or broadcast on their TV channels and they, too, should be licensed. I do not see any room for self-regulation. There should be an authority which dishes out, for want of a better expression, yellow cards or ultimately red cards for those who continually abuse the system-or, to use our American cousins' terminology, "three strikes and you're out".’

Lord Inglewood (Conservative), Chairman of the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications, put forward his opinion that: ‘It all boils down to a lack of confidence and trust. Whatever the outcome of the current debate and the discontent through which we are going, no amount of changing the regulatory architecture will help by itself, nor will changes in the modus operandi of those engaged in the sector, unless that trust and confidence is restored.’

Viscount Younger of Leckie (Conservative), responded on behalf of the government, he looked at the issue of phone hacking, saying: ‘The government are determined to get to the bottom of all that journalists and their agents were doing in hacking into phone messages, what the police knew when, what they did about it, and how we might learn lessons for the future. But it is important to remember that phone-hacking is illegal; regulatory reform should not therefore be about creating a system that prevents illegal behaviour, as that remains a matter for the courts. What it must do, however, is tackle the culture and practices that provided the context in which that illegal behaviour became widespread.’

He continued ‘The outcome of any new system must be to give the public confidence that the press is operating responsibly and that all complaints will be transparently and fairly handled, while allowing the press to remain free to continue pursuing world-class journalism. The key question must be: what constitutes the most effective way of achieving these ends? They would be achieved by a system that is appropriately independent of the press, government and politicians, is accountable, has teeth and is capable of delivering access to fair, cheap, quick and reliable justice for victims, which is what everyone has called for during the Leveson inquiry.’

Other speakers included:

Further information

More news on: Culture, media and sport, Parliament, government and politics, Parliament, Media, Broadcasting, Press, House of Lords news, Lords news

Share this page