Belfast Telegraph

Reader's Editor: Legal regulation is a step closer thanks to Desmond

The UK’s unique system of press regulation, which this newspaper subscribes to, suffered a blow this week.

The decision to place all publications owned by the media baron Richard Desmond outside the system of self-regulation could have severe implications.

Desmond owns such titles as the Daily Express, Daily Star and recently acquired Channel 5 (whose programmes these papers now faithfully ‘plug’).

A whole swathe of magazines, including celebrity-driven OK!, in Desmond’s Northern and Shell empire are also now outside the self-regulation system.

The reason why Desmond’s titles are now viewed as beyond the system is that Northern and Shell has withdrawn its subscription to the Press Standards Board of Finance (PressBof). It is monies paid by the industry to PressBof that finances the Press Complaints Commission. Readers who complain to the editors of the Express or the Star essentially have no remedy now should the editors ignore their complaints.

If they have been defamed, and are willing to take a gamble with the courts, they could sue.

But that’s it — no corrections, no apologies or any other of the traditional remedies should the editors refuse.

It is a regrettable decision that brings the regulation of the Press by legal statute a step closer.

Since the UK has some of the strictest libel laws in the democratic world, only the media’s fiercest critics wish for statutory regulation of newspapers and magazines. And what a contrast the UK would be with America and other countries, where freedom of the press is enshrined as constitutional right.

The PCC exists to ensure newspapers conform to sufficient editorial standards — and it has done an excellent job of forcing newspapers to adhere to nationwide standards. It is also free, which means folk do not have to play libel lottery with their cash.

With Desmond’s titles now effectively rogue newspapers, one high-profile incident with the Star, Express or OK! could be the spark that sets us down the thorny path of legal regulation of the press.

Finally, since part of the readers editor’s duty is to correct our own errors and howlers, a show of solidarity to my Tele colleagues.

A recent press release sent to the Belfast Telegraph from the Institute of Advanced Motorists was headlined: “Young drivers run over more than a third of pedestrians”. Yikes it must be carnage out there. Try and stay alive until next week.

BTreaderseditor@gmail.com

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