Monday, 22 October 2012

Media Law, Lecture 4, Year Three - Law and Regulation for TV News

Our fourth lecture with Ian Anderson focused on TV regulation and the powers of particular bodies such as the PCC and OFCOM. We looked at a number of issues surrounding these groups including their ability to control broadcasters and investigate other matters.

Also on the agenda was the Leveson Inquiry. The Leveson Enquiry is changing the way the law works and we discussed in detail the effect the inquiry will have in shaping future codes of conduct. As the investigation continues, this area of the law remains in transition.

For more information on the Leveson Inquiry, visit the link below:

Picture: Courtesy of
Firstly, we looked at the PCC (Press Complains Commission). The PCC code of conduct regulates British newspapers and magazines. Among the topics it discusses in its code are: Accuracy, opportunity to reply, privacy, harassment, intrusion into grief or shock, children, children in sex cases, hospitals, reporting of crime, misrepresentation, victims of sexual assault, discrimination, financial journalism, confidential sources, witness payments in criminal trials and payment to criminals.

Compared to OFCOM, the PCC is fairly weak when it comes to disciplinary power. As was said in the lecture, "[The PCC] has no real bite". A key flaw associated with the group concerns self regulation. The PCC's ability to investigate without itself is similar to the police force investigating itself. It'll claim it's independently minded, but it's perhaps too close to the people its trying to investigate.

Next, we'll take a look at OFCOM. This code of conduct deals mainly with commercial TV (e.g. Sky, ITV) and also discusses the 'watershed', which starts at 9PM in the UK. The watershed continues until the early morning, and programmes shown within this time are rated 15+. 

The OFCOM broadcasters code, which can be found below, details OFCOM's policies over a number of factors including crime, religion, fairness and privacy. It's clear that OFCOM has far more power than the PCC when it comes to dealing with those who break the code. Corrections or findings must always be broadcast, however.

OFCOM has the power to issue fines to broadcasters that break the code. In 2008, OFCOM famously issued a fine involving Russell Brand and Jonathon Ross after two episodes of the Russell Brand radio show breached the Broadcasting Code. 

OFCOM has the power to take a show off the air entirely, something that the PCC can't do. More on the fine itself can be found here:

The final code of conduct we discussed during the lecture was the NUJ code of conduct. I've written about this code in a past blog post, so here's a rundown of what the code says:

Rule 1 sets a precedent for what follows, stating that "a journalist has a duty to maintain the highest professional and ethical standards".

Rule 2 discusses the importance of avoiding 'distortion', essentially highlighting the need to avoid misrepresenting stories and facts which would lead to confusion amongst the public. It states: " A journalist shall at all times defend the principle of the freedom of the Press and other media in relation to the collection of information and the expression of comment and criticism. He/she shall strive to eliminate distortion, news suppression and censorship."

Rule 3 says that any information released must be true and accurate, which basically repeats the idea behind the rule before it. It also says that it's important a Journalist does not pass off comment as fact. Clearly, this would go against the 'professional' and 'ethical' standards discussed at the start of the code. Rule 3 says: "A journalist shall strive to ensure that the information he/she disseminates is fair and accurate, avoid the expression of comment and conjecture as established fact and falsification by distortion, selection or misrepresentation."

Rule 4 explains the need to rectify any harmful inaccuracies. It states: "A journalist shall rectify promptly any harmful inaccuracies, ensure that correction and apologies receive due prominence and afford the right of reply to persons criticised when the issue is of sufficient importance." If you explore the web, it's fairly easy to find a story about how a newspaper has been forced to apologise following a blunder. This one HERE describes how the Sunday World (an Irish paper) had to apologise to Christy Burke, Dublin City councillor following a story they published which stated he knew convicted rapist Christy Griffin.

Rule 5 says that a journalist must only obtain information by straightforward means. For example, don't steal pictures from the family of the individual you are writing about. If you wish to publish a photograph identifying the individual that you are discussing, you must get permission. The code states: "A journalist shall obtain information, photographs and illustrations only by straightforward means. The use of other means can be justified only by over-riding considerations of the public interest. The journalist is entitled to exercise a personal conscientious objection to the use of such means."

Rule 6 tells Journalists to steer away from intruding on a story that may cause grief to family. You must be particularly weary of taking pictures at a funeral, for example. Again, this requires permission. The code states: "Subject to the justification by over-riding considerations of the public interest, a journalist shall do nothing which entails intrusion into private grief and distress."

Rule 7 emphasises the importance of protecting confidential sources of information.

Rule 8 discusses the danger of accepting bribes. Doing such a thing would lower a Journalists reputation, and would certainly go against the 'ethical standards' mentioned in the first rule. Rule 8 states: " A journalist shall not accept bribes nor shall he/she allow other inducements to influence the performance of his/her professional duties."

Rule 9 says that a Journalist must not distort the truth because of advertising considerations. For example, reviewing a product particularly well because it was somehow related to one of your sponsors would be considered bias, and therefore a distortion of truth. The code states: " A journalist shall not lend himself/herself to the distortion or suppression of the truth because of advertising or other considerations."

Rule 10 says that personal information, such as gender / age / race must only be discussed if it is relevant to the story. In some instances, mentioning an individuals race or religious background when it's clearly not needed could be considered gratuitous, which would look bad for both the paper and the writer. The code states: "A journalist shall only mention a person's age, race, colour, creed, illegitimacy, marital status (or lack of it), gender or sexual orientation if this information is strictly relevant. A journalist shall neither originate nor process material which encourages discrimination, ridicule, prejudice or hatred on any of the above-mentioned grounds."

Rule 11 warns of the dangers of photographing children without consent from the parents. " A journalist shall not interview or photograph children in connection with stories concerning their welfare without the permission of a parent or other adult responsible for their welfare."

Rule 12 describes that editing a picture to frame it in a particular way can often be deceptive to audiences. However, if the paper states that the picture has been edited it may be placed within the paper. The code states: "No journalist shall knowingly cause or allow the publication or broadcast of a photograph that has been manipulated unless that photograph is clearly labelled as such. Manipulation does not include normal dodging, burning, colour balancing, spotting, contrast adjustment, cropping and obvious masking for legal or safety reasons."

Rule 13 says that information a Journalist gathers privately through their work must not be abused. It states: "A journalist shall not take private advantage of information gained in the course of his/her duties, before the information is public knowledge."

Rule 14 is concerned with advertising. It essentially says that a writer can't 'plug' a product unless it's particularly relevant to what it is they are writing about. The code states: " A journalist shall not by way of statement, voice or appearance endorse by advertisement any commercial produce or service save for the promotion of his/her own work or of the medium by which he/she is employed."

So why are codes so important?

Ultimately, codes occupy the space between what the law says and what 'the right thing to do' is. The temptation to 'dress up' a news story is dangerous. During the lecture, Ian used an example to highlight his point. Filming a story about littering and then throwing litter across the street and filming it, for example, means dressing up the story to the point where it becomes a lie. This is a clear breach of the code of conduct.

Codes also give journalists the opportunity to develop trust with readers / viewers. Reputation is extremely important in the industry as nobody's going to read a collection of blatant lies. If we, as journalists, abide by the codes of conduct, our audiences trust in our ability to provide true stories remains strong. Interviewees are also likely to co-operate with a paper or journalist who they know is trustworthy.

The recent Jimmy Saville case, for example, has proved damaging for the BBC. It hurt the bond between the company and its viewers, and this is something that undoubtedly, the BBC aims to fix.


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