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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Report calls for the press to be regulated

A 2,000-page report ordered by UK Prime Minister Cameron calls for an agency to be established to regulate the British press. 

In the report, Appeal Court judge Lord Justice Leveson said the press must create a new and tough regulator but it had to be backed by legislation to ensure it was effective.  The report was motivated by the revelations that some British newspapers were hacking into telephone calls in violation of law, including privacy laws.   The report contains interviews from 800 people who were wrongly damaged by the press.

The British have two major camps of the press, the broad sheet press such as the London Times, and the tabloid press, which is like the supermarket tabloids here in America.  However, the British press has found a large market for gossip of a nature that violates privacy and relies on defamatory content to sell.

Detailed accounts of the report are in the New York Times and on the BBC website.  

The legacy media in America does not have the problems of publishing scurrilous and libelous information, but what is published by the tabloids and on the Internet, especially in some blogs, approaches the problem.  Although the U.S. is generally more rigorous in its law enforcement regarding hacking into telephone calls and other communications, the dangers lurk at the government level.   Law enforcement agencies must get court warrants to tap telephone calls and e-mails, but they can obtain telephone call records without such warrants and can obtain e-mails over 10 years without warrants.

Historically, the U.S. legal system has provided protections against the unwarranted publishing of defamatory information.  Until the advent of the Internet, any pubished statement about a person that was false and exposed a person to public disapproval was considered damaged and could be awarded the payment of damages in a lawsuit.  With the advent of the Internet and other electronic media over the last 30 years, the case law has changed.  Now a false and libelous statement must be proven to hurt a person in the pursuit of an occupation or profession.  This relaxing of the conditions for a lawsuit has removed a built-in restraint in the media, particularly on blogs.  Journalism critics point out that the publishing of scurrilous and unverified material in the blogosphere has compromised all of journalism.  

In addition, traditional news media in allowing itself to be "interactive" in its attempts to salvage flagging advertising dollars and a declining audience have adopted much lower standards of information for what it permits to be published under the guise of commentary.

While the report on the British press does not deal with the American practices, it has implications for those who see the American Internet and social media has demonstrating the same problems. 

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States