Speaking to press watchdogs from across Europe in Edinburgh last night, Press Complaints Commission Chairman Sir Christopher Meyer insisted that self-regulation is the only way to regulate journalism in a multimedia world.
Meyer said: “If information is now an international commodity, then it will clearly be impossible for national governments in a free society to rin-fence their own jurisdiction and expect to be able to impose rules on what can be reported. Don’t just take my word for it: witness what is happening in France.
“There, decades of strict privacy laws are becoming obsolete – not because of successful legal challenges, but because the internet is rendering them useless both by breaking news and by forcing traditional media to adapt to the new online competition.
“Perhaps this is why we now detect a new mood among legislators and officials, both nationally here and also at the European level.
“Self-regulation is now widely seen as an example about how standards can be maintained in the new information world
“Its essential qualities of flexibility, common sense rules and the co-operation of news providers in putting things right quickly are attracting new plaudits.
“In the UK – as in most European countries – self-regulation has also been trusted to oversee standards for audio-visual material on newspaper and magazine websites.
“Such services could traditionally only have been broadcast on a regulated television channel. Now they are ubiquitous.”
He added: “It will be essential, in an environment where people are bombarded with information through countless different channels, for consumers to be able to distinguish between the products available – what is reliable, and what is rubbish.
“The industry’s own action in drawing up a set of agreed rules for journalists, and then tasking an outside body with enforcing them, is precisely the sort of corporate responsibility that should help maintain and enhance trust in the press. What bemuses me sometimes is when newspapers, magazines and their websites are shy about telling their readers about this virtue.
“When media generally are clamouring to demonstrate that they can be trusted, their subscription to an independent professional standards body should be the most important tool in the box.”
He added: “Our conference here in Edinburgh has brought together people from Ireland in the West to Azerbaijan in the East. The quality and range of our discussions on issues such as privacy, newsgathering, and the internet have demonstrated two key truths.
“First, that the business of press regulation is fluid and cannot conform to a uniform European standard. Rules vary according to cultural differences and public expectations. Pan-European regulations for journalists would be unworkable.
“Second, that self-regulation is in good hands across Europe. The challenges of the converged digital world are being anticipated and met. The privacy of the individual isbeing protected while the freedom of the press is maintained.”