Press Regulation in the United States of America, Britain and Ireland

Due to major technological advancements as well as the increasing connectivity of the world’s markets, the ability of the media to reach large amounts of people has increased significantly (Gupta, 2019). However, many consumers are concerned with the lack of diversity caused by the setup of monopolistic media outlets (Gupta, 2019). The control of mass media and ensuring of the freedom of speech is a fundamental issue in democratic societies. 

There are a variety of regulatory bodies globally, either based on legal broadcasting controls or voluntary self-regulation (White, 2015, p. iv). Some claim that these regulative systems were created for a past media landscape and on this point of date are out of date (White, 2015, p. iv). 

The principle of ‘press freedom’ is often linked to debates on media regulation, however, phrase is more and more used to defend the self-interest of the press rather than to describe a specific right (Tambini, 2012, p.3). According to Reporters without borders, the US currently rank on place 48, Britain on place 33 and Ireland on place 15 of 180 in relation to the level of freedom available to journalists1 (RSF, 2019). 

This essay examines the different approaches to press regulation in the USA, Britain and Ireland. 

The US

In the United States, press freedom has been a founding principle with a ban against state regulation as well as censorship rooted in the constitution itself. The first amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” It is not necessary to obtain a permission from the government or a journalism degree to publish a news story or report of any medium. Press regulation is therefore largely self-executed by media outlets. 

Most of the self-regulating mechanisms are focused on ethics as well as accuracy (Orme, 2015) through codes of ethics and practice. Said are either published by organisations such as the Society of Professional Journalists or unique to individual news organisations. With the rise of online Journalism, more online outlets have adopted codes of conduct as well (Orme, 2015). The Online News Association for example, highlights the importance of editorial integrity and independence for news publishers online (ASNE, 2019). 

However, broadcast journalism provides an important exception to the non-regulation of US media. Based on the Communications Act of 1934, the United States regulate the vertical integration to control broadcasting as well as cable industry to a certain extent. (Gupta, 2019).  

The authority which is responsible for the regulation of national and international broadcasting by radio and television is the Federal Communications Commission. The independent agency is overseen by the Congress with a chairperson, elected by the president, setting the agenda. The policy goals of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission are to provide a variety of sources, competition as well as the promotion of localism (Scherer, 2016, p.1). Rules enforced by the FCC regulating broadcasting concern Television Duopoly, Local Radio Ownership, Radio/Television Cross-Ownership and Newspaper/Broadcast Cross-Ownership. They allow an individual or a corporation to own multiple stations but limits the overall audience it can be source for. Additionally, they prohibit the merging of major networks to guarantee diversity (Scherer, 2016, p.8-20). Through this, it is aimed to prevent a concentration of media ownership and guarantee competition. 

Important to note, however, is that the government itself has some influence through the checks and balances by the Congress which again is indirectly influenced by the public’s interest. Also, a central reason for the regular news programs of most radio and television stations today, is the initial requirement imposed by the government to provide audiences with public service content (Orme, 2015). 

A variety of media outlets and organisations including Reporters without borders (RFS, 2019c) claim that press freedom is in the decline during President Trumps office. The by President Trump proposed setup of a government television network (Darcy, 2019) could pose a future issue regarding regulation in the US. Due to the provision by a station like this, audiences could be biased and limit the diversification in the public opinion without directly violating the FCC rules and regulation. 

The UK

While in the USA, there is no Press Council to regulate the Media, the UK had a long-established regulative authority. Said was replaced however, after 2014. In 2011, after it was found out that the News of the World and other Murdoch owned Newspapers had hacked phones of thousands of people, then Prime Minister David Cameron set up the Leveson Inquiry, an investigation into ethics and practices of the press (BBC, 2016). The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) which until 2014 was the self-regulatory mechanism for print media in the UK, was found to be unsatisfactory by Justice Leveson (Dunne, 2017, p.1). The recommendations in the final report of Justice Leveson were based to an extent on Ireland regulation system (Smyth, 2012) While keeping the self-regulatory practices of the press, the creation of a new administrative body was recommended. The government drafted a royal charter, setting the criteria for governmental recognition of a future regulator whose independence and the voluntary membership in said were core features (Fielden, 2013). However, non-members could be faced with significant damages in legal battles.  

The initiative was rejected by most national newspapers. The Guardian for example “opposes any attempts to force it to join Impress and believes the proposed amendment on section 40, introducing punitive legal costs for those who don’t sign up to the officially sanctioned regulator, would erode press freedom and have a chilling effect on its own public interest investigative journalism.” (Waterson, 2018). This resulted in the funding of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) in 2014 and later IMPRESS in 2016, recognised by the Press Recognition Panel (PRP) (Barnett, 2016). IMPRESS was said to provide an alternative to IPSO which would be run by individuals obliged to operate in the public interest by law (Barnett, 2016).  

Broadcasting in the UK is independently regulated by the Office of Communications (Ofcom) which was established in 2002. 

Ireland

Press regulation in Ireland is unique not only in comparison to the UK but to the US as well, as it is recognized by legislation without being a statutory regulator (Greenslate, 2013). In 2003, after the government revealed plans to introduce statutory regulation, the Irish press lobbied to introduce an independent press council. In addition to the appointed of Professor John Horgan to Ombudsman, the Press Council of Ireland (PCI) was established in 2008.  Newspapers are free to sign up to the PCI, however all national and nearly all rural newspapers are members. According to its Code of Practice the freedom of the press is crucial to ensure the ability of news media to inform the public without fear or favour (PCI, 2019). 

The Broadcasting Act of 2009 outlines the regulation for the broadcasting sector. The three regulating bodies or guardians for Ireland are the Department of Communications, in charge of providing quality broadcasting, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, ensuring broadcasting services to serve the needs of the people and comreg2, the government agency responsible for distributing licences. Therefore, influence by the government over broadcast media is solely influenced by legislation and distribution of licences. 

However, despite the voluntary membership of most newspapers in the PCI there is a considerable threat to press freedom in Ireland. With the Independent News and Media group controlling the majority of daily newspapers and broadcasting being dominated by RTE the high concentration in media ownership in Ireland is significant (RSF, 2019b). The system is criticised for lacking the power to punish newspapers and Journalists that differ from the code of practice. Additionally, the body is not able to launch investigations without a public complaint (Smyth, 2012). 

There has been a significant change in how the public consume information and the need for competent, trustworthy journalism is rising (White, 2015). The approaches to Press regulation are divergent globally. The USA does not have a press council and regulation is mostly self-executed, based on the founding principle against state regulation and censorship in the first amendment. The UK was subject to significant changes in the last decade. The long-established Press Council was replaced by not only one but two bodies aiming to regulate the press independently and in interest of the public. Ireland in comparison has a unique system, recognized by law despite its self-regulating characteristics. The question remains which system is the most effective and reliable to support diversity in the media and provide the ground for reliable journalism as public service.  

References

ASNE (2019). Online News Association Values Statement. [Online] American Society of News Editors. Available at: https://members.newsleaders.org/resources-ethics-ona [Accessed 7 Dec. 2019]. 

Barnett, S. (2016). Press regulation in Britain: a step forward – and a step back. [online] The Conversation UK. Available at: http://theconversation.com/press-regulation-in-britain-a-step-forward-and-a-step-back-67582 [Accessed 7 Dec. 2019]. 

BBC. (2016). Press regulation: What you need to know [online] BBC. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-36034956 [Accessed 8 Dec. 2019]. 

Dunne, S. (2017). Policing the Press: The Institutionalisation of Independent Press Regulation in a Liberal/North Atlantic Media System. School of Communications. Dublin City University, pp. 1-10. Available at: http://doras.dcu.ie/21957/1/Stephen_Dunne_PhD.pdf#%5B%7B%22num%22%3A160%2C%22gen%22%3A0%7D%2C%7B%22name%22%3A%22XYZ%22%7D%2C97%2C237%2C0%5D [Accessed 7 Dec. 2019]. 

Fielden, L. (2013). A Royal Charter for the Press: How does it measure up to regulation overseas?. [online] The Foundation of Law, Justice and Society, p. 1. Available at: https://www.fljs.org/sites/www.fljs.org/files/publications/Fielden_Royal-Charter.pdf [Accessed 7 Dec. 2019]. 

Greenslade, R. (2013). After Leveson: how Ireland’s ‘underpinned’ press regulation works. [online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2013/mar/21/press-regulation-ireland [Accessed 8 Dec. 2019]. 

Gupta, A. (2019). Media Regulation in the United States. Medium Magazine. Available at: https://www.mediummagazine.nl/media-regulation-in-the-united-states/ [Accessed 7 Dec. 2019]. 

Orme, B. (2015). United States: Media self-regulation: A questionable case of 
American exceptionalism?. In: THE TRUST FACTOR: An EJN Review of Journalism and Self-regulation. Edited by Aidan White. London: Ethical Journalism Network, pp. 59-64. Available at: https://ethicaljournalismnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/truth-factor-full.pdf [Accessed 7 Dec. 2019]. 

PCI (2019). Code of Practice. Press Council of Ireland. Available at: https://www.presscouncil.ie/code-of-practice [Accessed 7 Dec. 2019]. 

RSF. (2019a). 2019 World Press Freedom Index. [online] Reporters without borders. Available at: https://rsf.org/en/ranking [Accessed 7 Dec. 2019]. 

RSF. (2019b). Unhealthy concentration. [online] Reporters without borders. Available at: https://rsf.org/en/ireland [Accessed 7 Dec. 2019]. 

RSF. (2019c). Unprecedented violence targets journalists. [online] Reporters without borders. Available at: https://rsf.org/en/united-states [Accessed 7 Dec. 2019].  

Darcy, O. (2019). Frustrated with news coverage, Trump suggests launching own network. [online] CNN. Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/2019/10/03/media/trump-tv-network/ [Accessed 8 Dec. 2019]. 

Scherer, A. (2016). The FCC’s Rules and Policies Regarding Media Ownership, Attribution, and Ownership Diversity. [online] Congressional Research Service, pp. 1-20. Available at: https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R43936.pdf [Accessed 7 Dec. 2019]. 

Smyth, J. (2012). Ireland’s model for press regulation. Financial Times. Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/bdaef18e-3a13-11e2-a00d-00144feabdc0 [Accessed 09 Dec. 2019]. 

Tambini, D. (2012). The End of Press Freedom. [online] The Foundation of Law, Justice and Society, p. 3. Available at: https://www.fljs.org/files/publications/Tambini.pdf [Accessed 7 Dec. 2019]. 

Waterson, J. (2018). Why is UK press regulation back in the headlines?. [online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2018/may/08/why-is-uk-press-regulation-back-in-the-headlines [Accessed 7 Dec. 2019]. 

White, A., et.al (2015). THE TRUST FACTOR: An EJN Review of Journalism and Self-regulation. London: Ethical Journalism Network, pp. Iv-64. Available at: https://ethicaljournalismnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/truth-factor-full.pdf [Accessed 7 Dec. 2019]. 

Notes:  

1 The document ‘THE TRUST FACTOR’ consists of different articles by a variety of authors, compiled and edited in one document by A. White for the Ethical Journalism Network. References in this essay name B. Orme, author of ‘United States: Media self-regulation: A questionable case of American exceptionalism?’ as well as A. White. 

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