Clark: The messy press business overseas

Dec. 04, 2012 @ 11:42 AM

It is a line that, once you cross it, there is really no going back.

Last week, a senior judge in the United Kingdom, suggested that Britain needed an independent media regulator to eliminate “a subculture of unethical behavior that infected segments of the country’s press.”

This is response to illegal wiretapping performed by some British journalists that was called “at times ... be described as outrageous.”

The ethics inquiry was triggered by tabloid journalists hacking phones and expanded to include senior political officials, law enforcement and the media empire of Rupert Murdoch.

I looked over the report and subsequent media response and one question came to mind: what happens if this kind of thing is called for here in the United States?

Now, while the report indicated that politicians and the government should not play a part in the regulation of the media, there was a call for legislation to prop up the independent regulatory system.

This is a very dangerous line to cross.

British Prime Minister David Cameron referred to setting up the commission as “crossing the Rubicon” citing Roman lore.

But, the statement does bear merit.

Ultimately, the new body, according to The Associated Press, would be comprised of former journalists and academics and have the power to levy fines of up to $1 million pounds and demand corrections in newspapers.

Now, the actions of News of the World in their phone hacking of celebrities, politicians and others is beyond deplorable and definitely crosses an journalistic ethical boundary.

And, ethically, we as journalists are bound to do no harm. That is a primary principle within the ethics we are governed by.

However, the thought of creating an “independent” tribunal can have more negative impact than positive.

Ultimately, we would be leaving the governance of the press to law makers and it is those very law makers we are tasked with making accountable.

There are several media outlets that make their dollars on the sensationalizing of news events, which can violate the very journalistic principle I have listed above to do no harm.

We have a responsibility to report the news, without bias or interjection of personal thought. Essentially, we have to keep our personal bias at home.

Now, I do agree that something should be done to hold those in the United Kingdom accountable for their actions, and I agree that the status quo in the UK is certainly not acceptable, but we cannot overlook or responsibilities as the press and that can certainly not be regulated.


Matthew Clark is the Editor of The Daily Courier. He can be reached at 828-202-2927 or emailed at Follow him on Twitter @UMass_MClark