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  1. Media Law
January 23, 2013

EU report suggests European system of press councils after UK self-regulation allowed ‘gross abuses’

By Dominic Ponsford


  • Report suggests EU network of press regulators should be established
  • Politician resistance to Leveson recommendations ‘not very reassuring’
  • Legally-imposed right of reply is needed
  • Report shows extent that UK hacking scandal has weakened self regulation of press at an international level

The European Union has stepped into the debate over the future of press regulation issuing a report suggesting that all EC countries should have media councils following a set of Europe-wide criteria to enforce standards.

The High Level Group on Media Freedom and Pluralism was set up by  Dutch politician Neelie Kroes, a vice president of the European Commission, and comprises three European professors plus UK technology journalist Ben Hammersley.

Among its recommendations, the report says: “All EU countries should have independent media councils with a politically and culturally balanced and socially diverse membership. Nominations to them should be transparent, with built-in checks and balances.

“Such bodies would  have competences to  investigate complaints, much like a media ombudsman, but would also check that media  organisations have published a code of conduct and have revealed ownership details,  declarations of conflicts of interest, etc. Media councils should have real enforcement powers, such as the imposition of fines, orders for printed or broadcast apologies, or removal of journalistic status.

“The national media councils should follow a set of European-wide standards and be monitored by the Commission to ensure that they comply with European values.”

While the report it is critical of self regulation of the press in the UK, it is not clear whether it seeks to supercede the process set in train by the Leveson Inquiry and report. It does however make clear the extent to which the hacking scandal has undermined the concept of press self-regulation at a national level.

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It says: “The recently released Leveson report in  Great Britain, however, has offered overwhelming evidence as to the multiple ways in which this  ‘self-regulation’ has not just been interpreted as ‘no regulation’, but has led to gross abuses of journalistic privileges, the breaking of elementary ethical standards, and even activities subject to  the criminal code. 

“That this should have happened in a country with such long democratic  traditions, and one that had been often cited as exemplary with regard to freedom of the press, is clearly a blow to the prestige of media owners and to that of the journalistic  rofession.

“The gross abuses revealed in the Leveson enquiry have led its author to propose much more  stringent institutional supervision, where the media would be much more closely monitored,  become far more accountable to the public and be subject to heavy fines in the case of infractions.

“That judge Leveson’s recommendations should have been rejected out of hand by some politicians  in high office, is not very reassuring. If nothing else, this resistance by itself underscores the urgent  need for supervisory bodies that can and do act, instead of being supervisory in name only.”

The report also suggests that there should be a “legally-imposed right of reply” and adds “it should become accepted as responsible practice among news  media to also publish retractions and corrections of wrong and unverified information on the simple request of citizens providing justifications to the contrary”.

“Any such retractions and  corrections should be published with the same relevance as the original coverage when the  correction of the potential harm done by such false information so justifies. Any public funding  should be conditional on the inclusion of such provisions in the code of conduct of the media  organisation.”

The report also suggests that “in order to effectively protect the rights of journalists, but also to regulate and define their  corresponding duties and responsibilities, it is essential to have some means of identifying them”.

While falling short of pinning down how this would be done, the report suggests that possible approaches could “include a process of accreditation or certification”.

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