Sunday, 14 November 2010

Free Press, not Free Pass

The United Kingdom has a tradition of 'free press' however journalists have few rights in UK law distinct from any other citizen.
Journalists are therefore required to act as 'the eyes and ears of the public' without much authority.

What facilitates journalism in our society is 'Freedom of Expression' .
There is no written constitution on the topic of freedom of expression however our rights are 'residual' -meaning you are allowed to exercise your freedom of expression without constraint as long as your activity is not in breach of the law.
The European Convention on Human Rights 2000, The Contempt of Court Act 1981 and The Human Rights Act 1998 all help in providing a rough code of how we should report fairly and accurately.

Freedom of Expression has depended traditionally on jury trial and the rule against prior restraint.

When acting as a practicing journalist it is essential that we acquire the ability to recognise risk.
Once a risk has been identified it is then necessary for the journalist to be able to indemnify him/herself.
Journalists who are guilty of 1) reporting/publishing errors 2) being careless 3) being neglectful are in breach of Media Law.

There are systems of regulation in place to help aid a 'fair press'.
Ofcom, the media regulator has a broadcasting code, if this is not adhered to, Ofcom has the power to fine or bring about sanctions against anyone in breach of their code of ethics.
There also exist the Press Complaints Commission which exists to adjudicate on complaints and comments regarding the press. The PCC's code of ethics also helps guide journalists in their work.

Law is a bore

I cannot leave the HCJ module behind without a small obituary.
Essentially the syllabus encouraged us to be more knowledgeable, well-read individuals; we covered history, philosophy and economics. We studied music, literature, and art.
We developed our interests and our intellectual habits. Horrie didn’t seem interested in producing a class of students able merely to regurgitate text books onto paper in exams, he wanted to invest something in us that would keep and grow, that seed he planted was curiosity.
These ceaselessly curious minds that Horrie cultivated have now to reign themselves in, away from Joyce, Marx and Wagner, take leave of art and return to what really makes a journalist, FACTS.

Facts, just like the law can be dry and unimaginative, but it’s with a journalist’s knowledge and curiosity that the facts come alive.

If a journalists mind is like a book, with knowledge imprinted on every page, then there should be a whole chapter on Media Law.
This chapter is a tool, an essential tool to help journalists report fairly and accurately.
This knowledge on law is what sets us apart from other members of the public who produce citizen journalism to varying degrees of success.

The senior law lord, Lord Bingham emphasises the importance of the press and the requirement for it to be informed and diligent ‘The proper functioning of a modern participatory democracy requires that the media be free, active, professional and enquiring’.

In order for the press to meet these requirements, aspiring journalists must be conscientious in reporting according to the law. This blog, from now on, will follow areas of the law vital to any budding reporter or broadcaster.