Taking offence

I got pulled up in the comments earlier (actually, I got pulled up twice, but one thing at a time):

Great post, but I have a slight issue with this though…

“Won’t regulate itself or answer to its public”

I see what you mean in relation to Express/Dunblane, but that line sounds a lot like the same charges that are levied at stuff like Chris Morris. Agree the regulators are fail, but working out who gets to decide what’s okay and what’s not is quite the shit sandwich to chomp on.

As I might have mentioned on this blog, I’m quite keen on explicit and potentially offensive material, and consequently pretty anti most censorship. But then, if the Press Complaints Commission was able to regulate anything, I don’t think censorship would be an issue: it should be possible to deal with journalistic process without touching on questions of taste. And as well as liking the big swears and dirty bits, I’m pretty hot for people being able to complain when they don’t what they see.

Unlike the PCC, Ofcom is an institution that does a decent job of making complaints heard. Tim mentioned Chris Morris: I’d have been almost disappointed if nobody complained about Paedoggedon. I don’t think any of the complaints Ofcom investigated were justified, but the programme covered a delicate subject and people found that distressing. The actual judgement itself is an elegant thing, combining an understanding of satire with consideration for the complainers. Even Mediawatch armchair reactionaries deserve that much sometimes. Even when they’re utterly, miserably wrong.

The PCC don’t offer anything close to that level of engagement. Even though newspaper editors frantically stress the importance of the press in scrutinising public life, their self-regulatory body is massively reluctant to consider reporting in the context of any sort of lofty civic purpose. Even when addressing a case where the press had obviously and callously infringed justice and privacy, like the reporting of the McCanns, the PCC only reflects on its ability to wring apologies out of malefactors and doesn’t touch on the problem with a press that produced that sort of journalism in the first place. And that narrowness of scope is compounded by the minutely constrained range of complaints they’re willing to examine in the first case. So, even though the press claims many of its freedoms on the basis that it’s serving a public interest, the PCC won’t follow up on complaints from the actual public.

The willingness of the PCC to cut the Northern And Shell titles (the Express, Star and OK) loose becaue “rogue proprietor” Desmond won’t pay his subs shows how intensely useless self-regulation can be. It works for the rest of the press to be able to declare these papers outcasts – but for the people who are harassed, slandered or misrepresented by Desmond’s titles, the only alternative to the PCC is court. And while the Press Gazette notes that this will mean “additional costs” for the papers, it doesn’t mention that this will also mean prohibitive expense for complainants, fewer complaints and less restitution. Brilliant!

Anyway, while I’m doing Chris Morris, Northern And Shell, criticism of the press and failed journalistic responses, here’s a treasure from history: the Star condemns Brass Eye and splashes on a teenager’s tits.