Publish and be damned. Or not.
I have not yet read a single one that is not based on a fundamental misconception; that the freedom to publish what one chooses is tantamount to being free from responsibility for what one publishes. This isn’t true. I defend the Daily Mail’s right to splash whatever they want. This doesn’t mean it should be free from consequence.
“Publish and be damned” is still the principle, isn’t it? It certainly would be the case if similarly inflamatory statements were made about an individual. The Mail would probably expect a writ to land on their desk within hours. As a result, they think more carefully about what they say when it comes to people with the resources to sue them. They try to ensure that what they say is verifiably accurate. Why should it not be the same standard when talking about entire religious faiths, ethnic groups or classes of people?
Even if I accept that misrepresentation would be difficult to prove in this case, at least it would give the Mail pause for thought. The same pause for thought that they would afford a front page that concerned Peter Andre. Is it too much to ask that dead children and people who depend on benefits are afforded the same level of courtesy, rather than the “lob it in” approach?
The Standards Code has not, as few appear to understand, been drafted yet. The Leveson Report makes only three broad recommendations as to its content. One of them is that the Code must cover standards of “accuracy, and the need to avoid misrepresentation”.
It is vital to note that the principles proposed by the Leveson report have already been agreed – at least by the National press. The major point of contention was enforcement and whether it will be underpinned by statute or not.
So, to all those journalists saying “you couldn’t possibly make provisions for this sort of behaviour”, your editors have already agreed such provisions. The only question is whether we are serious as a industry about principles of “accuracy, and the need to avoid misrepresentation”. It seems such principles are too lofty and nebulous for some, especially if properly enforced. I find that very sad.