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Matter away from the courts

"One of the main deficiencies of the print media is its inability to control the publication of materials likely to be damaging to members of the public. Indeed, the absence of any strong regulatory and punitive measures is a clear indication that the print media have a licence to print what they want" A member of the public may have a valid complaint against the press; however such a complaint may come without redress from the law.

Alternatively, the individual may have certain protection under the law, however this may prove to be too expensive and therefore court action would be an unsuitable form of seeking redress. For a while, there has been a need for regulatory bodies that 'overlook' and regulate the actions of the press, without the need for government to intervene, a body that can act as a mediator between the disputing parties. This would provide a cheaper and quicker form of settling a dispute whilst keeping the matter away from the courts.

However, this has not come easy, a self-regulatory bodies has been scrutinised over the years by the general public and the government. There are constant threats to the introduction of statutory measures in order to overcome the bodies incompetence in resolving matters and protecting the public from the 'intruding press' and other unacceptable activities. There was a need for press complaints regulatory as a result of the misbehaviour of the press. Once, every ten years, there have been attempts to regulate the press complaint procedures, in order to tighten up the activities of the industry.

The first self-regulatory body of the press came in 1949. However, the press disliked the idea, its effectiveness was questioned and so they introduced a private members bill in 1953, which would impose control from outside the press. The press subsequently acted swiftly in response to this and set up the General Council of Press. However, the General Council had not reached the standards set out by the Royal Commission to 'Administer the Code of Conduct in Accordance with the highest professional standards'.

This generally came about as a result of a lack of funding into the Council, the absence of lay membership and a general lack of relief and enthusiasm in the system. In 1962 an independent chairman was appointed with additional funding and a twenty per cent membership after serious criticism in the system. However, this was not good enough and in 1977 the Royal Commission criticised the Press Council and subsequently made recommendations to the fact that the Council was in desperate need for more lay persons and better funding.

Declarations were also laid down on principles concerning privacy and payments, and defined the limits of the press behaviour. Nevertheless, in 1988-89, two Member Bills were introduced into Parliament to address the issue of privacy and the right to reply. The press finally admitted that a complaints commission was needed. A committee was set up to: "... consider what measures (whether legislative or otherwise) are needed to give further protection to individual privacy from activities of the press and improve recourse for the individual citizen.

" The press was subsequently given, as a result of the report, one more chance to ensure that a complaints procedure effectively dealt the right to privacy and general complaints. If this was not satisfied within twelve months, then the press would most certainly face legislative controls. The Calcutta Recommendations recommended that the Press Council should be disbanded and the Press Complaints Committee be set up to: All complaints are dealt with under the Code of Practice. The procedure will go no further if there is no cause of complaint under this code.

The objective is to achieve a fast and effective resolution to the matter, thus complaints will only be usually dealt with if they have been lodged within one month of the publication. The complaint must be lodged with the aggrieved and not a third party to the matter. However, those involved in the article may be called upon to comment on the complaint raised. A complaint will not be dealt with if it is currently in the process of litigation. The press has a certain Code of Practice and Code of Conduct to adhere to.

Therefore, editors are responsible for the actions of their journalists employed by their publications. Editors are also expected to co-operate with the PCC as swiftly as possible. Accuracy: Newspapers should take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted material; whenever it is recognised that a significant inaccuracy has occurred it should be corrected promptly; an apology should be published whenever appropriate; a newspaper periodical should report accurately the outcome of any action of defamation it is party to.

Opportunity to reply: A fair opportunity to reply to inaccuracies should be given when reasonably called for. Comment, Conjecture and Fact: Although newspapers should be free to be partisan, it should clearly identify what is a comment, fact or conjecture. Privacy: Intrusion and enquiries into an individual's life without consent, whilst they are on private property is not generally acceptable unless it is in the public interest. Private property is defined as any private residence, garden, hospital, hotels etc...

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