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Should the British newspaper industry be regulated by Downing Street ?

In light of the recent scandals surrounding some of the major newspapers in the country, some deep-rooted issues about how the media functions have surfaced. The phone-hacking affair and the year long Leveson inquiry into press ethics and practices has revealed that the press does need a iron grip over what it chooses to publish. Broadcasters are regulated by Ofcom, apart from the BBC which is regulated by BBC Trust, but the press has no statutory regulation of the sort. Since 1953 the British press has been regulated at first by the Press Council, and then the Press Complaints Commission, both industry-funded bodies unlike the state-funded Ofcom.

Controversies about how the newspaper industry works is an age-old tale. The Press Council was abandoned during Thatcher’s government (’80s) in the first instance, when its regulatory powers proved to be insufficient in maintaining ethical standards, giving way to the Press Complaints Commission. This also raises serious questions in how effective a non-government public body essentially is in regulating the press. An argument often cited in favour of less regulation would be a reporter’s right to necessary material for an important news item. There needs to be credibility in the actions of reporters though, even if there is a growing public interest in a particular story.

Politicians exercising control over matters of free speech does sound very Communist-like but it has worked in the past. During the General Strike of 1926, the British government introduced a newspaper The British Gazette. The Trade Union Congress (TUC) had called out workers of printing presses to join them in the strike which resulted in majority of newspapers being published in a concise form. The British Gazette then took over the newspaper industry by large, becoming the flagship newspaper of the government and a symbol of serious journalism. Printed on the presses of the traditional and right-wing newspaper The Morning Post, which later merged with The Daily Telegraph, and produced by the Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies, Winston Churchill, a former journalist and then Chancellor of the Exchequer acted as the editorial line’s chief advisor.

The newspaper exhibited thorough patriotism, quickly becoming a propaganda machine for Downing Street. The TUC had published its own newspaper in response, the British Worker  but the Gazette still remained popular. The Gazette did not publish any more editions after the General Strike was called off, however, and neither did the Worker. The primary aim of these two newspapers were to circulate information among the public, while at the same time maintaining both the workers’ and the government’s morale throughout difficult economic times. This is a fact which still holds true today in the principles of the British newspaper industry, so perhaps more thought should be given to the idea.



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