When looking at the issue of whether or not the control of the British press should be tightened or not, there are many different arguments, both for and against. In this essay, I will discuss issues for both sides of the argument and make a personal conclusion at the end. Some people believe that giving the press tighter control will restrict offences caused to individual people. If the press were to make up a story that was not 100% true, and print it in a paper, certain individuals may be upset and the paper/editor could get in trouble and accused of libel.
Libel is a published false statement damaging to a person’s reputation: a false and defamatory written statement. An example of a case where a certain individual got offended was when it was published that Elton John had been sexually intimate with an underage boy. These claims turned out to be untrue and Elton John sued the newspaper that printed this. This leads to the next argument, newspapers may write untrue statements and get away with it, thus leading to the public believing (technically) “lies”. This could be potentially dangerous as altering public opinions can lead to ‘Moral Panics’.
A Moral Panic is a widespread public concern, usually fuelled by sensational media coverage, that an event or group is threatening society. In 1987, Cohen argued that the reaction of the media created what he called a moral panic. A moral panic exists when ‘a condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests’. In this particular case, Cohen was referring to ‘Mods and Rockers’ who were later singled out as ‘Folk Devils’. Folk Devils are groups whose behaviour is seen as a threat to social order.
Moral Panics occur on a regular basis. Newspapers (especially tabloid newspapers) often play a key role in their creation. They sensationalise issues by using emotive headlines, language and pictures. They present groups as stereotypes. They associate these groups with stereotypical behaviour. Contrasts are drawn between a glowing image of the past and a decline in modern standards and morals. Finally, the media clamour for a clampdown on the group, and/or the behaviour identified as a threat. The classic case to examine here would be paedophilia in the UK.
Eight year-old Sarah Payne was abducted while playing near her grandparent’s house in West Sussex in 2000. When Sarah’s body was discovered, the News Of The World launched a campaign: How do you know if there’s a paedophile in your midst? The paper then published the names and photographs of 50 people it claimed had committed child sex offences, and promised: ‘we pledge we will pursue our campaign until we have named and shamed every paedophile in Britain. The paper produced figures suggesting 88% of British people thought that they should be told if a paedophile was living in their area.
It also provided a website on which parents could use an interactive map to find their local paedophiles. It asked readers to report any convicted child abusers living within their area. From Plymouth to Portsmouth, Manchester and London, wrongly identified men and known paedophiles found themselves being hounded by mobs of up to 300 people. The crowds, 40 of which were later charged with offences, smashed windows, torched cars and forced five families, wrongly accused of harbouring sex offenders, out of their homes. A suspected paedophile in Southampton shot himself dead because neighbours had confused ‘paediatrician’ with ‘paedophile’.
If there had been tighter control of the British Press this widespread moral panic would not have occurred, this can be seen as good or bad because during it, paedophiles were arrested. The third and final argument for the control of the British press to be tightened is in the interest of ‘self regulation’. Some people believe that the control should be tightened because of the un-just intrusion into people’s private lives. The model example of this would be the Gordon Brown case. The Independent printed pictures of him and his wife emerging from the hospital after she had just endured a miscarriage, on the front page.
This was clearly a very sad and delicate issue for the family and they were devastated to find it splashed across the front page. The editor of The Independent, Simon Kelner, wrote a personal apology for the upset that he had caused. This case caused uproar in public reaction. The next part of the essay will concentrate on the arguments against the control of the British press being tightened. Firstly, some people believe that the newspapers should be encouraged to print all information because it systematically stops the public from being shielded from the truth.
Some believe they are just as entitled to ‘know the score’ as anybody and would prefer information was printed for their benefit. However, this may not be taking into account the destructive effects that this could have e. g. Paedophiles and Asylum seekers. They believe that it is in their interest (the public interest) to be in the know. That leads on to another argument for the control to be left as it is and not tightened. Some people believe that public interest would not be served. The public interest includes -according to the Press Complaints Commission Code of Practice:
Detecting or exposing crime or a serious misdemeanour Protecting public health and safety Preventing the public from being misled by some statement or action of an individual or organisation Most members of the public are not aware of the above and feel that all information printed should be for the public interest. To conclude, after looking at the different arguments both for and against the control of the British press being tightened, I think that it should be tightened.
In my opinion, most of the cases that back up that the control should be tightened illustrate cases of sadness and intrusion into people’s private lives e. g. Gordon Brown. I also think that if the press get hold of a piece of information, they can build up the fear anger for something, so much that it causes more negative outcomes than positive e. g. paedophiles in Britain. I also think that the arguments for the control not to be tightened are a lot weaker than those for the tightening. I think more people would be sheltered from the mass media and there wouldn’t be as much intrusion into peoples lives. In my opinion I think this would be better.