Ethics and Murdoch

30th July, 2011

England, UK .3.5.1986. London . Wapping. Press photographer Andrew Moore carried away unconscious after being truncheoned by police during clashes with pickets outside Rupert Murdoch's News International plant. © Andrew Wiard

The shaming of Murdoch is a great opportunity for those who want to raise press standards. That’s us. But it also presents us  with a dangerous threat. Yet again we face the seemingly unanswerable question – how to bury the ethics of Wapping while still preserving the freedom of the press? If there’s one thing worse than a toothless Press Complaints Commission, it would be a replacement with draconian powers. So who will cut through this gordian knot? Not us. But we should at least do what we can to protect both the ethics, and the rights, of press photographers.

It is essential that regulation and regulators remain independent. And preferably with those in the business, if not national newspaper editors, keeping things so. However, the kind of  “independent” body being suggested as a PCC replacement will almost certainly be appointed by the government. And it is already clear just how dangerous that could be. Take the following from the Guardian, the one paper we should trust, the paper that reached the parts of Murdoch’s empire that the PCC could never reach. Here, on their Media pages, is a modest proposal for:

” An independent licensed body……..Organisations or individuals would need to abide by its rulings to get a kitemark, or government advertising, or a press card.”

Or a press card? Has that got your attention? Good. Enter stage left the wolf in sheep’s clothing – the licensing of the press.

The road to hell was always paved with good intentions. Hands off the press card. Our press card. The National Press Card, that is, one of our greatest achievements. No government body, not the home office, nor the police, has the power to issue or withdraw our press cards. Nor does the PCC. Nor should any replacement for the PCC.

The body which does have those powers is the UK Press Cards Authority. This is a truly independent industry body, one that is untainted by redtop morals. Nor is it dominated by redtop editors. Answerable to us all through the “gatekeepers”, newspapers, broadcasters, media organisations and yes trade unions, which run it. If anyone is to have the power to grant or withhold the press card it has to be us. Through the UKPCA, on behalf of all of us. Here is press self-regulation that actually works. It really does. Best we’ve got. So let’s keep it, and defend it.

But if it is to survive what’s coming, it’s got to change fast. The card should not be issued without more rigorous scrutiny of applicants. Nor should it be withdrawn from anyone without a proper appeals procedure. And, in answer to those who think they should have these powers instead, it’s time we had our own code of conduct for card holders. Time which is now running out. Time to put our own house in order and fast, before “they” do it for us. Time to get our retaliation in first.

Andrew Wiard

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