Media Regulation

Another day, another conference. Today, the School of Law, Trinity College Dublin hosted a conference on the government’s reform plans relating to the defamation, privacy and broadcasting. I think that it was an important contribution to a crucial debate. Personal highlights included my colleage Eoin Carolan‘s superb conceptual discussion of press freedom in this context (on his birthday, I think; and if I’m right: happy birthday, Eoin!), Dearbhail McDonald’s insights into practical journalism, and Paul Drury’s combative speech that the regulation of the press is a bad idea and won’t work anyway.

I talked about the proposed Press Council from the 2003 Report of the Legal Advisory Group on Defamation (pdf) to the 2006 Bill. The 2006 Bill provides that the government can recognise as the Press Council a body established by the press industry. It is a clever proposal, seemingly the result of discussions between the government and the press industry since the publication of the 2003 Report. I argued that the 2006 proposals were a case neither of state regulation (as the 2003 proposals were (mis)characterised) nor of self-regulation but of co-regulation. Any successful model will have to avoid both the “piper problem” (that the tune of the Council is called by its paymaster, whether the government or the press industry) and the the “placeman problem” (that the membership of the Council is made up of government or press industry apparatchiks). The 2006 model has the capacity to do that. If it gains credibility with the public, as well with the government and the press, then it has the potential to be a very important development indeed.