At a glance:  Lord Hunt, appointed a year ago to set up a new body to replace the UK Press Complaints Commission in the wake of the News of the World phone hacking scandal, spoke on press regulation and reported to the conference that he had received media industry support for a new legally enforceable system through binding contracts, one that would have powers to impose fines and investigate wrongdoing. “It will be the most stringent body in the free word,” he said.  As a strong opponent of the Royal Charter on Self-regulation of the Press that the British government has been pushing, he said that state interference should be completely unnecessary in a free world.  “I will fight the Royal Charter with every last breath I have. It undermines press freedom” he told the conference. Other speakers spoke on the legal environments in their countries as they related to privacy, press councils, public complaints about the press, ethics, standards, and responsible journalism.

Panel C: Privacy, Leveson, Regulation/Self-Regulation of the Media (75 min; 15 min Q&A)
Moderator: Cliff Buddle (Editor for Special Projects, South China Morning Post)
Speakers: Lord Hunt of Wirral (UK Press Complaints Commission)
Peter Bartlett (Partner, Minter Ellison, Australia)
Prof. Joseph Chan (Chair, Hong Kong Press Council)
Prof. Ursula Cheer (Canterbury University, NZ)
Christiana Chelsia Chan (Working Group on Law and Regulation, Press Council of Indonesia)

Participants for Panel C addressed the debates and varying approaches to privacy and press regulation.  The panel was moderated by Cliff BuddleLord Hunt of Wirral, appointed a year ago as the chair of the UK Press Complaints Commission in the wake of the News of the World phone hacking scandal, spoke on the history and future of press regulation in the UK.  He said the media industry supported a new legally enforceable system through binding contracts, one that would have powers to impose fines and investigate wrongdoing.  As a strong opponent of the Royal Charter on Self-regulation of the Press that the UK government has been putting forward, he said that state interference should be completely unnecessary in a free society.

Official transcripts of the speeches in the Leveson Inquiry can be found here.  An analysis of the final draft of the Royal Charter and its implications for press freedom and the freedom of expression can be read here.

Other panelists spoke on the legal environments in their countries relating to privacy, press councils, public complaints about the press, ethics, standards, and responsible journalism.  Peter Bartlett highlighted various proposals for changes to Australia’s regulation of the media, including the Finkelstein Report and the Convergence Review.  Bartlett said the future of media regulation in Australia should be self-regulation as the preferred option and not statutory intervention.  He also argued against the introduction of any statutory torts, which could open the floodgates to litigation.

Professor Joseph Chan reflected on the phenomenon that while the media continues to serve important functions in society, the media landscape is also plagued by problems of privacy intrusion, sensationalism and fabrication of news stories.  He introduced the role of the Hong Kong Press Council in promoting ethical standards of the press, while noting limitations of the Council as a toothless tiger, since it could only take action upon receiving a complaint and lacks the ability to impose substantive penalties on the media.  He referred to cases where the Council has issued public reprimands to newspapers where they had intruded in the privacy of individuals.  Despite the limitations of the Council in imposing effective sanctions, it remains an important ethical force in keeping the press in line given the reputational harm suffered by delinquent press, as well as the increasing public recognition of the Press Council as an avenue to voice their grievances against press behaviour.  He also mentioned that Hong Kong still subscribes to the idea of self-regulation of the press, which is fundamental to autonomy and independence of the profession of journalism.”

In a comment, Lord Lester suggested that an effective regulatory body should periodically review the operation and ethical standards of the press in a systematic manner, rather than on an ad hoc basis as a response to complaints.  Professor Chan pointed out that while the Press Council lacks the capacity to monitor and review standards on a general basis, there are exceptional areas of reporting standards where the Council would conduct lengthy consultations and recommendations, such as suicide reporting.

Professor Ursula Cheer explained her country’s  relatively decentralized regulatory framework of self-regulation of the press.  Oversight of the press falls to three bodies including the Broadcasting Standards Authority, the New Zealand Press Council, which has begun to resolve complaints through mediation, and the newly established Online Media Standards Authority.  Professor Cheer also noted the potential of developing a public interest defence in the area of privacy torts, namely the tort of invasion of privacy by publication of personal information and the tort of intrusion into seclusion.

With regard to press regulation in Indonesia, Christina Chelsia Chan (Working Group on Law and Regulation, Press Council of Indonesia) pointed out that a key function of the Press Council, in addition to handling complaints, has been to educate the judiciary on the importance of press freedom.  In the same vein, Weisenhaus also remarked that press law and press councils in Southeast Asia often play the dual role of keeping the press in line, as well as acting as a vital buffer against state intervention and the reach of relatively harsh criminal laws.

In a similar vein, Weisenhaus also remarked that press law and press councils in Southeast Asia often play the dual role of keeping the press in line, as well as acting as a vital buffer against state intervention and the reach of relatively harsh criminal laws.

Presentation by Prof. Ursula Cheer

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