Guardian’s grudging mea (not quite) culpa highlights the need for media regulation reform in the UK.

As reported earlier in the day, our friends at Honest Reporting today issued a press release announcing a major achievement on the subject of the Guardian’s bizarre ‘style guide’ assertion that Tel Aviv is the capital of Israel. As a direct result of Honest Reporting’s persistence, the Guardian today printed a correction

However, whilst the Guardian will, according to its own clarification, no longer refer to Tel Aviv as the capital city of Israel, it apparently still believes itself justified in denying that Jerusalem holds that title. The Guardian’s ‘reasoning’ is based upon UN SC resolution 478 (1980), which in turn rests upon resolution 476 (1980) – initiated by 39 Islamic States of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.  

Obviously the absurdity of the OIC being able to promote resolutions at the UN which seek to keep Jerusalem divided, especially when those resolutions open with the words “acquisition of territory by force is inadmissible” only 32 years after an Arab nation conquered and divided the city by force in a belligerent war, is as lost on Guardian editors as it is on the United Nations itself. 

The significance of Honest Reporting’s achievement is not limited to the Guardian – it also pertains to the increasingly redundant Press Complaints Commission which (once again) made a mockery of itself by initially upholding the Guardian’s case. 

Despite its impressive-sounding name, the Press Complaints Commission is actually just an arm of the self-regulating British newspaper industry which consists of representatives of the major publishers who join on a voluntary basis and pay an annual fee to fund the commission’s activities. It has no legal powers whatsoever and time after time its performance suggests more than a smattering of an ‘old school tie’ type mentality.  

The leaders of all three major political parties in the UK severely criticized the PCC a year ago in the wake of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, with David Cameron stating that it is “ineffective and lacking in rigour” and calling for “a new system entirely” and the Labour leader calling it a “toothless poodle”. 

This particular case – in which the Guardian was cleared of charges of inaccuracy by the PCC even after having decided of its own accord to designate a new capital to a foreign country – illustrates just how urgent the need is for a new regulatory body in the UK. The PCC’s impotency is highlighted even further by the fact that only after Honest Reporting launched legal proceedings was change brought about.

The need for a new regulatory system in the UK is, however, not limited to the printed press. The BBC is also self-regulatory to a very considerable extent, which is especially troubling in light of that organisation’s legal obligations to accuracy and impartiality. 

At present, British media consumers have no one effective and truly independent body not inhabited by interchanging past and present members of the media industry to which they can turn for answers to their concerns and complaints. OFCOM, the PCC and the BBC Trust are all compromised by the fact that – despite a semblance of independence – they actually represent the media overseeing the media. 

Although one only has to look at the state of too much of the British media through the prism of the Israel canary in the mine to understand that this system is not working, it is perhaps more realistic to hope that it will be domestic issues such as the phone-hacking scandal which will eventually render the British government unable to ignore the pressing need for a comprehensive reform which will benefit both consumers and the increasingly tattered reputation of the UK media itself.  

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