Friday, 13 May 2011

On Truth in Publishing

The media has always been tremendously successful in steering the narrative away from discussing their own domain; how we get our information, and our analysis. This is natural and inevitable, in the US even fox news which is perhaps as brazen as any western media platform could be, has proven remarkably unassailable. Even so, this week there has been an unusual amount of attention to the way the media operates, which for me, culminated in the BBC's This Week.

The issue raised by TW was that of truth in publishing and although privacy law has gotten far more attention recently truth in publishing is far more important as an issue. As a result I wanted to write about an old thought of mine on establishing an ombudsman for honest journalism. The basic idea is as follows:

There would be established by statute a media ombudsman, which would be empowered to pursue public complaints concerning media dishonesty. There would be several stages: First, there would have to be complaints, as the body would merely serve to act on behalf of the public. Second, it would have to consider whether there was a reasonable case. Thirdly, if there was a reasonable case it would be required to sue the media outlet in question. The courts would be required to decide on whether or not they had knowingly deceived the public, and if so a retraction of equal prominence to the original publication would be mandated, and costs given.

The ombudsman would have standing to sue, by representing the public at large given sufficient complaint, or by request from an individual directly involved in the story being published. It would of course be subject to judicial review.

Ideally most cases would either be settled out of court, or would not arise at all due to a deterrant effect. Additional safeguards could be put in place if deemed necessary. Obviously, this would not apply to things  clearly labelled as editorial in character.

There should also be a further strengthening of safeguards during election campaigns. The difficulties experienced during the AV referendum were extremely unhealthy for our democracy, leaving in their wake a great deal of acrimony and distrust.

Not that I much expect any of this to happen anytime soon, but they are I hope, laudable goals. As to why such measures should be necessary, I hope that is readily apparent. 

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