Amidst the fallout of the phone hacking scandal, the debate about media regulation in the UK has gathered momentum and engulfed not only the media and its regulatory body the Press Complaints Commission, but also the police. Yesterday, the head of the National Union of Journalists, Michelle Stanistreet, appeared before the Leveson inquiry and denounced the PCC as "little more than a self-serving gentleman's club", according to Journalism.co.uk.
Stanistreet suggested that the PCC was ineffective due to its failure to represent the interest of anyone but the owners of media organisations and lacked the ability to enforce accountability thanks to its limited powers and the fact that publications were not even obliged to join the regulatory body.
If the PCC is an insufficient regulatory force, then what will do the job properly?
Andy Trotter, Media advisor to the Association of Chief Police Officers and chief constable of the British Transport Police, has proposed that not only do journalists need a new form of regulation, but the police service does too. In an interview with Journalism.co.uk at the Society of Editors Conference, Trotter suggested that journalists from the national media may need to alter their behaviour at the scenes of major incidents where there is a police presence to avoid "getting in the way of the investigation". He stressed that the complaints he received about journalists were mainly to do with the behaviour of the national press, "not the regionals, not the locals".
In order to rectify the situation, Trotter mooted the idea of a "code of conduct and ethics that everyone signs up to", journalists and police alike, so that dealing between he press and the police might be more transparent in future. He also suggested that if police were more cooperative with journalists and briefed them more thoroughly, there would be less of a need to seek out information by investigating themselves, which can sometimes run at cross purposes with a police investigation.
At the Leveson inquiry, Stanistreet made her own suggestions for improvements, declaring that there are "plenty of other models of regulation out there with teeth that provide more than a veneer of accountability", but which do not rely on state regulation, something that the NUJ strongly opposes. She cited the Press Council of Ireland as an example of how press regulation could operate more effectively.
The Press Council of Ireland has recently undergone a restructuring, their website defines the system as a "new independent regulatory body, and appoints the Press Ombudsman. The Office of the Press Ombudsman ensures that everybody in Ireland now has access to an independent press complaints mechanism that is quick, fair and free. The new structures are designed to ensure that the freedom of the press is never abused, and that the public interest is always served."
In the Irish system, the press council appoints the ombudsman who deals with complaints according to the guidelines set by the Press Council. If a problem is particularly complex it can then be directly referred to the Press Council.
As the Leveson inquiry progresses, more possible models for press regulation in the UK continue to emerge; but as for to how the regulatory system will look when the dust settles... the situation is still undoubtedly unclear.