Sir Hayden Phillips to appoint new Press Regulator

The Press, a word we use for anyone who works with journalism online or in print. Despite this, being a journalist myself, I still don’t count myself as a member of the Press. I count myself as a young journalist and just enjoy writing. In the last few weeks, Sir Hayden Phillips, a retired British civil servant, has been given the job of appointing a board for the new press regulator. The Independent Press Standards Organisation is the replacement for the Independent Press Complaints Commission, however, the new body is partly of the government’s making and partly the press’s answer to the proposed new regulator, backed by Royal Charter, that the government were due to set up.

As much as I think that a new regulator is a step towards a freer press, I think that the argument that any regulator set up by the government would be controlling is a bit blown out of proportion. The fact is, we are not going to have it as bad as some countries in the Middle East, where everything has to be checked by a government body before going out.

Despite Maria Miller’s urge for an independent regulator, she also encourages the press to be put their own measures in place. Can she not make her mind up? It’s one or the other. On the other hand, it is fair to say that Sir Hayden Phillips has had plenty of experience in all areas, including being the Independent Reviewer for the Advertising Standards Authority and the Permanent Secretary to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport throughout his career.

For the last few years, in the wake of the Phone Hacking Scandal caused by illegal activities at News of The World (deceased), it has been a question hanging over the governments head on whether they were going to take action to regulate the press at all. It was beginning to look like the Leveson Inquiry was just going to be an excuse for “The Poke” to make a funny video and get lots of hits on YouTube. Now that would be a waste of tax payers’ money.

Aside from the argument that the new regulator could be influenced by the government, it is fully independent and I hope that this time, it will work. Please, I don’t want to be sat here in a few years time writing the same again. The good thing is, to make any changes; the government would need two thirds of parliament to vote for the changes to actually get them put in place. I would imagine that it would also have to go through “parliamentary Ping-Pong” to make any changes anyway.

Despite the changes being partially set up by the press itself, I am optimistic that it may work. The concern I have now is whether the regulator will be put in charge of regulating those independent journalists, such as myself, where there could be a lot to go through, especially with blogs included. I find that difficult to comprehend, given the scale of the blogosphere that is always expanding.

With a rise in Citizen Journalism sites such as this one, the new regulator is going to have some tough decisions to make. Firstly, given the number of people and organisations that count themselves as part of “the press” these days, will this include blogs and newsletters? Especially with the rise of the internet as a powerful media, does this include those blogs that just comment on random issues that are current or will it be more specific? These are questions left unanswered and are really important to let the talent of many young freelancers develop into something really special. Everyone has their own journalistic style, however, in my view, this could be crushed by a regulator that may over-react to such journalism.

Further down the line, the implications of a new regulator could become something of a nightmare for the press. I appreciate that there is a new regulator that will supposedly do its job, however, contrary to previous scandals, what happens if the IPSO abuse those powers and we start to go the way of Middle-Eastern Counties? As much as I want the press to be a group of people free from illegal activity, what I don’t want is for the regulator to start censoring entirely legitimate content that is really enjoyable to read. If this were to happen, surely we are back to square one. This remains to be seen and I hope that it doesn’t happen otherwise it’s Leveson 2.0 and we have to go through the whole process again.

This, for a start, would be a waste of taxpayers money and would be a bad thing for a free press of which the majority are starting to behave. What was that song? Oh yes, “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back” (and we don’t want to end up like that).

We asked for a tougher regulator but has the new regulator become something to mark the death of true citizen journalism for those who just enjoy writing? I hope not, for all of us and not just because it would mean that I wouldn’t be able to write for Shout Out UK. Citizen Journalism, to me, is an art that anyone can pick up like that and that’s what makes it precious. The fact that anyone can pick up a pen or open a blog and start writing is something I’m proud of and I don’t want to see that disappear.

Overall, I would like to see this work, however, it’s a big job and I can’t quite see what is there to stop newspapers or even regulators behaving badly again. I accept that this new regulator will keep a closer eye on activities of the press but that still doesn’t explain how they can prevent illegal activity such as phone hacking. Surely that’s an issue for the courts After all, prevention is better than a cure. I will wait to see, however, given that it usually covers newspapers that have “signed up”, I think we may start to see flaws in the system. On the other hand, I don’t want this to be the death of citizen journalism in a country where, compared to some, it has largely been welcomed.

The one good thing about having a new regulator is that, for me, I won’t get them mixed up with others for different industries with similar names. I’m pretty sure I won’t forget IPSO in any hurry.