Policy brief provides Leveson with a lesson on the 'elephant in the room'

03 July 2012
The Foundation for Law, Justice and Society is pleased to announce the publication today of a policy brief by media expert Lara Fielden, proposing a radical new framework for press regulation, which she will put to the Leveson Inquiry later today to address what Lord Justice Leveson has described as the 'elephant in the room': regulation of online media.

Fielden draws on her experience at Ofcom and the BBC to argue that, as broadcast, newspaper, video-on-demand, and other online content become increasingly indistinguishable, debate over the future of press regulation must encompass online media -€“ a point that the Leveson Inquiry has so far failed to satisfactorily confront.

Rather than persisting with the outdated two-tier system of statutory regulation for broadcasting and self-regulation for the press, the policy brief, entitled Press Regulation: Taking account of media convergence, proposes a cross-media, three-tier regulatory structure. This approach, Fielden argues, will:

  1. account for all content in the public space, across media platforms;
  2. overcome the so-called "Desmond Problem"€™ of regulatory non-compliance by incentivizing voluntary adherence through privileges and kite-marked ethical standards; and
  3. empower citizens to make informed decisions about the content they engage with.

Fielden, a visiting fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, observes, "Consumers, particularly younger consumers, are engaging with a range of broadcast, print, self-scheduled, and wider online content. Yet the standards (if any) applied to these services increasingly lack consistency and fail to enable citizens to make informed, democratic choices across media platforms."

Assessing the range of approaches to press regulation adopted in various countries, from voluntary self-regulation to statutory compulsion, Fielden demonstrates the benefits of an incentivized middle-way. This would accord privileges to journalists, such as the defamation defence used in Ireland, and provide recognition of adherence to ethical standards through a kite-mark system visible to consumers. In so doing, publishers will be encouraged to comply with regulation by exploiting the commercial benefits of differentiating their content from unregulated material, while greater transparency will be provided for citizens.

As Fielden argues, "This approach takes as its starting point the objective of enabling, rather than protecting, the public; in addition, it incentivizes providers to see regulation as a selling point -€” a way of differentiating their offering in an increasingly competitive, global market - rather than as a burdensome constraint."

This policy brief is the first to display the new designs of FLJS publications, and is published following a panel discussion held at Wolfson College entitled "Redirecting Fleet Street: Media Regulation and the Role of Law"€™, at which the author and fellow panellists presented their recommendations for media reform, podcasts from which are available from the podcast section. Further policy briefs from the event will be published on the FLJS publications pages over the coming weeks.  

Fielden will appear as a witness before Leveson this afternoon to present the lessons from overseas gleaned from her comparative study of international press councils, and to develop her argument for a new tiered framework for cross-media regulation. A live video webcast is available from the Leveson Hearings webpage.


Press Regulation: Taking account of media convergence
Lara Fielden, Visiting Fellow, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Oxford