John Horgan - Irish Press Ombudsman

Nobody knows what the media landscape will look like in a generation, but this should not be a reason to postpone planning for it. While it is inescapable that the electronic media, particularly web-based, will fill an even larger part of this space than they do at the moment, and while it is probable that the surviving print media profile will reflect a trend towards higher value and lower volumes, key issues relating to professional standards and behaviour will not go away.

Press councils and other voluntary media regulatory structures in this new era should, I think, continually refi ne both their structures and their practices with three key objectives in mind. The first will be to reinforce their independence of the media in a way that underlines their function as public service organisations working in the private sector. Without this, credibility - and effectiveness - will be an inevitable casualty of a fragmented and largely unregulated media world. The second will be to extend their remit to other media wherever possible, by agreement and through proactive policies, and on the basis of shared values and standards. The third will be to identify and secure the widest possible measure of agreement on the core values of journalism, enhanced by credibility and accountability, which will provide an authentic gold standard for the essential service that a free media provides in all democratic societies.

In attempting this task, they will recognise that the freedom of the press can never be taken for granted, and that the responsibility that is the all-important concomitant of that freedom is, continually, a work in progress. They will recognise, too, that media - whether electronic or print - which play to their traditional strengths will, in the long run (and perhaps even earlier than that), benefi t in every way from their maintenance and defence of a range of professional standards that have stood the test of time.

The Press Complaints Commission, not least because of the advice it has offered to younger press regulatory systems (including our own), and because of its significant role in the Alliance of Independent Press Councils of Europe, can be expected to play a central role in these ongoing processes.

It is occasionally imagined that the Press Complaints Commission is a British anomaly - a system that was established without precedent or reason. This is actually very far from the case. There are equivalent self-regulatory bodies in most European countries and in numerous other places around the world. In fact, many of those would regard the PCC as anomalous only in that it is not genuine 'self'-regulation because its board comprises a strong majority of public members (unlike most of its counterparts).

The PCC seeks to share ideas and experiences with similar organisations to improve its own practices and to further the successful development of press councils elsewhere. Much of this work is conducted through the forum of the Alliance of Independent Press Councils of Europe.

‒ Press Complaints Commission