The challenge of effective press regulation – the case of Cyprus.
Dr. David Horner
This research aims at media regulation and addresses the challenge of self-regulation as a mode of governance in press industry. In particular, it seeks to understand the role of regulatory strategies in press industry, such as self-regulation and co-regulation, as implemented in contemporary circumstances, while at the same time principles such as freedom of expression, press freedom and the public interest ask for further enhancement.
The principal research question is the following:
R.Q.1. How far does the code of conduct serve as accurate and adequate instrumental guide of behavioral practice?
This central research question is followed by two sub-questions:
I. To what extent does press self-regulation – as the traditional regulatory mode of the press – balance the rights and the interests of the press industry against its duties and responsibilities?
II. Does the current code of conduct ask for further or alternative legal establishment so it is used more appropriately?
The aims of the thesis are:
To investigate the degree of effectiveness of the self-regulation technique as enforced in the press industry.
To examine whether the code of conduct in its current form and structure serves as an adequate regulatory tool in the governance of the press.
To challenge the enforcement of self-regulation mechanism and the operation of self-regulatory agencies in their current form and structure and to pose further challenges and concerns to be taken into consideration in the emergence and development of alternative and more reflexive regulatory structures.
To examine whether press regulation (self-regulation) meet the public interest.
The objectives of the thesis are the following:
To analyse news reporting of two different social incidents; namely, of a human interest story and a political issue.
To evaluate news coverage in the light of the principles and the norms of self-regulation. These principles consider pluralism and balanced news coverage in the case of election coverage while as regards the human interest story they refer to the respect of privacy, human life and dignity.
To research whether existing practices and the culture of the activities of the press industry are in accordance with the normative expectations of the operation of the sector.
To appraise the role of regulatory strategies in rectifying possible failure in the practices adopted by the press and to refine existing typologies as regards the role of self-regulation and the potential role of alternative regulatory techniques in order to avoid future regulatory failure.
To contribute to new knowledge in terms of providing empirical data and to constitute a basis for possible further research and to illustrate relative prospects in media regulation.
The literature review considers classical arguments expressed by John Stuart Mill, Thomas Jefferson and John Milton with respect to principles of freedom of expression and press freedom and discusses the issue of potential restrictions on these liberal values. Liberal theory seems to be an appropriate analytical framework in which media industry and especially the press sector could be located for analysis. Liberalism dominates in western political and social culture and thinking. Classical readings on liberal theories of freedom of expression and press freedom were evaluated and considered significant as they constitute the theoretical foundation on which debate about liberty is based. They provide normative and principled arguments which validate and underpin freedom of expression.
John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty (1859) discusses the value of individual liberty emphasizing the significance of freedom of expression so that all opinions are expressed. Correspondingly, Milton argues that free circulation of ideas is essential prerequisite to moral and intellectual development (Areopagitica, 1644). Despite Mill’s argument in favour of catholic implication of freedom of expression, he recognizes that in particular situations and under specific conditions, limitations and restrictions on freedom are justified. This happens when individuals are about to
harm and damage other individuals. John Milton in Areopagitica (1644) disapproves pre-publication censorship as enemy of freedom of the speech and freedom of expression and explicitly declares his faith to liberty; “give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties”, leading to the construction of the “open marketplace of ideas”.
The work of J.S. Mill and J. Milton contributes to conceptually frame the research as his arguments illustrate the significance and the necessity of existence of freedom of expression, whereas he also points that restrictions on this principle might be imposed. To this perspective, when press industry exceeds the limits and does not fulfill its normative role in society limitations on press freedom could be imposed so that individual human rights are protected.
Freedom of expression and press freedom are identified as main rationale for media policy in liberal democratic states. In this political environment freedom of expression is thought as an inalienable human right; where it flourishes it brings social justice. Both, the European Declaration of Human Rights (article 19) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (article 19) safeguard freedom of expression, underling its significance and its prominence in individual and social realm of human life, while the possibility of imposing restrictions under particular circumstances is endorsed. Therefore, contemporary literature is also considered in the literature review in order the theoretical framework to be more complete and representative of the current environment in which press industry is required to operate.
In terms of contemporary literature the review focuses on McQuails’ work on press theories, his analysis on press freedom and the interpretation of the concept. Arguments in social responsibility theory as expressed by Hutchins Commission (1947) and developed by Siebert et al. and by Hallin and Mancini are used to elucidate the social responsibilities and the duties the press are charged with. According to Nerone (1995:6) “the press had responsibilities; the public had rights”.
Particular attention is paid to the conceptualization of the public interest as the ideal, which the press is expected to serve and also as a rationale behind imposing or removing barriers in press
operation; it is thus a justification of enforcement of regulatory measures. Current debate as regards the interpretation of the public interest emphasizes the intricacy about a concrete definition of the concept, as its perception is influenced by current technological, economic and social realities (Tambini, Leonardi and Marsden, 2008:32). Despite its significance, disagreement continues to exist as regards its definition and consensus is hardly achieved. Lunt and Livingstone (2012:36) point out “it seems unlikely that a single definition of the public interest will suffice”, while they state that in democratic societies the concept serves as a foundation of regulation; in their words “we consider a normative rationale for the public interest as a basis for regulation” (Lunt and Livingstone, 2012:37).
Additionally, the literature review considers issues of regulation, as a mode of governance of professional practices (Baldwin et al., 1998), or as a method which refers to various forms of social control (Tambini et al. 2008; Baldwin et al., 2010). The review proceeds with analyzing potential rationale for regulatory intervention. Discussion develops around the concept of self-regulation as a mode of governance and self-management, while it also pays attention to the dynamics of state involvement and investigates the potential implication of co-regulation mechanisms as this method of regulation has already been introduced in EU Directives.
Self-regulation has traditionally been the preferred method of regulation and control of press industry, while in democratic societies libel law has restricted application (Malley and Solley, 2000). Nevertheless, there are concerns as regards the efficiency of self regulation as the most appropriate regulatory method since recent examples of media practice revealed its deficiencies and regulatory failure has been observed. Such examples are not restricted in specific geographical boundaries. Current paradigms such as the News International phone-hacking scandal in the U.K., which resulted to the closure of the News of the World newspaper, the setting up of the Leveson inquiry and the launch of three police investigations, the coverage of the Helios Airlines air-crash on August 14th 2005 by Cypriot newspapers) and the arbitrary mode of mass media operation – the press included – during and after the 2004 referendum in Cyprus, the extent of media dependence on the executive power and the absence of any competent independent institution, which could effectively protect public opinion from misinformation, while it would simultaneously respect and protect freedom of expression illustrate this hypothesis.
Co-regulation is academically worthwhile to be examined as a potential regulatory strategy that could contribute to strengthening fulfilment of the normative role of the press, in terms of the press to serve the public interest, conceptualised either as citizen interest or as consumer interest (Lunt and Livingstone, 2012) and to accomplish its social responsibilities in the public sphere.
Political economy of communication is used in order to construct the theoretical framework of the research, indicating the key variables that are expected to influence press regulation and
The methodology used for the case study is frame analysis, whereas content analysis was the particular research methodology tool used in the analysis of press content.
The thesis is expected to contribute to knowledge in terms of empirical data and analysis and to provide enhanced in-depth understanding of the dynamics of decentralised regulation, such as self- and co-regulation in press industry. It is estimated to indicate the actual and precise environment and the particular circumstances under which press self regulation is enforced and whether these conditions enable or impede compliance. It additionally anticipates providing a fruitful discussion on potential limitations and restrictions imposed on press freedom if this will contribute to improvement of press operation in the public sphere, in terms of promoting political, social and economic welfare