The last few days has seen an interesting standoff developing between the British press regulatory body, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), and the bloggers it may be seeking to regulate.
The PCC is a self-regulatory body set up and funded by a number of major newspapers and magazines published in the UK. Simply put, its purpose is to investigate complaints made against member publications on a number of grounds including accuracy, privacy, intrusion, portrayal of children, discrimination, financial journalism and the confidentiality of sources. (Read Wikipedia’s PCC entry)
On Monday, a report in the Independent newspaper suggested that the PCC’s chairman, Baroness Buscombe, would like to regulate blogs in the same way as traditional media.
In an interview with Ian Burrell, she said that “Some of the bloggers are now creating their own ecosystems which are quite sophisticated”, suggesting that the public may assume that blogs are official news sources, with the blogosphere being “the new newspapers”.
It’s wrth noting that these are very early days, but nevertheless she does seem interested in having some kind of public consultation, which would involve members of mainstream press, bloggers and the general public.
As you might imagine, the mere sniff of bloggers being regulated by a body that is widely seen as biased, toothless and extremely slow to act, has not gone down well with many.
The Guardian has reported on blogger Sunny Hundal’s letter, which he is inviting other bloggers to undersign, that sets out why any official regulation is incompatible with standard blogging practice.
The full letter can be read here, but the gist is that the PCC needs to get its own house in order — with particular reference to the practices of a number of tabloid newspapers — before attempting to regulate bloggers.
To give but one recent example of bad practice, of the many that bloggers have documented in over the last few years, an article published by the Tabloid Watch blog in October, documented, in some considerable detail, the tortuous process that one of its readers had to go through in order to get the News of the World to retract a manifestly untrue and inflammatory statement by one of its regular columnists, Carole Malone.
What we find most striking about the process documented by Tabloid Watch is the extent to which the PCC actively sought to facilitate the News of the World’s efforts to avoid undertaking practices that we, as bloggers, take for granted as being standard practice in our corner of the internet: i.e. the prominent publication of an honest and open correction of a factual error on the original article in which the error, itself, was made.
Instead, as we invariably find to be standard practice amongst, particularly, tabloid newspapers; the correction and cursory apology when it was grudgingly issued after what Tabloid Watch described as ‘two months of wrangling’ – appeared in a location other than that of Malone’s column in the newspaper’s print edition and on its website on a page utterly divorced from the article to which it relates, which was removed its entirety, and in such a way that only someone searching specifically for the retraction would ever be likely to find it.
To all intents and purposes, the retraction might as well not have been issued, for all that it would be apparent to visitors to the News of World’s website that it had ever been made.
This is but one clear example of a practice that would be unacceptable amongst established bloggers and one of many that bloggers who specialise in monitoring the national press for accuracy have documented in recent years.
For a blogger to engage in such practices, which include ‘stealth editing’ of articles, after publication, to avoid owning up to factual errors and removing and/or refusing to publish critical comments from readers, especially those that highlight and correct factual errors.
For an established blogger to adopt such practices would do incalculable damage to their public reputation; this being, after all, all that we have to trade on.
It’s not the first time an organisation has called for a blogging code of conduct, and it surely won’t be the last. What I find interesting, though, is the localised nature of these attempts and the apparent refusal to believe that self-regulation is possible.
We know that the blogosphere can be quite a volatile place, but the fact is that most well-known, high-profile bloggers (and a lot of out-of-the-limelight bloggers, too) do adhere to their own ethical standards, and indeed they often seem higher than those adopted by established media.
Any attempt at regulation of blogs on a country-by-country basis is going to be very difficult to enforce. Blogs, far more so than printed publications, are international, and as such are difficult to govern under any one national law.
Until such a time as governments collaborate and pass international laws that restrict what bloggers can write, any oversight from the likes of the PCC will be totally voluntary. Even then, what organisation in its right mind is going to monitor millions of blogs to ensure they meet some kind of self-imposed journalistic standards?
Bloggers generally know how to take care of their own affairs without the need for external pressures (except from their readers, of course, which is how it should be).
I’m all for open, honest, ethical blogging, but I do tend to believe the best of most bloggers and think they can sort their own standards out.
What do you think?