Bob CalverBy Bob Calver, Senior Lecturer in Broadcast Journalism, Birmingham City University

Three headlines on a single page of a national newspaper last week neatly summed up the issues of press regulation. One was about charges being brought against ‘Coulson and Brooks’. The next about a court upholding  journalists’ right to leaked e-mail and the third read, ‘Pointless to fetter press in Twitter age’.

Together they highlight the narrow line that exists between the need to curb the worst behaviour of some journalists and the importance of having a press which can expose wrongdoing and hypocrisy.

This week, Lord Leveson will publish his report  into the culture, practice and ethics of the press and we will know which side of that line he prefers. Newspaper proprietors resist  any notion of statutory regulation while people like the ‘Hacked Off’ campaigners are equally clear that allowing newspapers to regulate themselves cannot continue.

During the Leveson inquiry witness after witness described how they had been ‘victims’ of unwarranted intrusion by reporters. We could not help but sympathise with the likes of the McCanns or the parents of Millie Dowler who found themselves in the media spotlight in the most distressing of circumstances.

Now, though, we need to set aside emotions and look at the activities that led to the inquiry and in the context of what kind of news media we want. Telephone hacking, paying policemen and other officials for information, intercepting e-mails and the rest are illegal activities. They can be dealt with by the law now. We do not need new draconian regulation to bring to book any editors or reporters who adopt any of these methods to get a story. That’s what the first of those headlines was about – the courts will decide whether Andy Coulson, Rebekha Brooks and others are guilty of any offence.

That second headline refers to a judge’s ruling that a newspaper was right to publish e-mails it had been handed in which a company controlling Lord (Seb) Coe’s image rights apparently admitted wasting £400,000 of his money. That’s the kind of story reporters should be pursuing and we cannot allow any new, tough regulatory regime to make it harder (or worse still, impossible) for them to do. Just look at how regulation of the French press allowed Dominique Strauss-Kahn to prey on a succession of women safe in the knowledge that reporters who were aware of his behaviour could not expose him.

The recent false allegations against Lord MacAlpine underline how social media can mean information,  speculation, rumour and lies can be spread in seconds by anyone with a mobile ‘phone.  One MP asked ‘Why should the mainstream press have its hands tied when everyone can say what they like on Twitter and the internet?’

Why indeed?  It’s the mainstream press , after all, that has a good track record of holding politicians, big business and errant celebrities to account and long may that continue.

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Bob Calver

Bob Calver

Senior Lecturer in Broadcast Journalism, Birmingham City University.