BY ADEYEMI OSHUNRINADE
If you have ever picked one of those news magazines especially the ones on entertainment news, you wonder how they get information that are so secret and private that only those in the inner circle or close family members of the subject could know. Many celebrities-actors and actresses have found themselves face-to-face with Paparazzi in what was meant to be a private getaway, they have had their lonely moments ruined as a result of nosey journalism and some have had their career plans altered due to intimate photos and stories revealed by the media.
These days, it is hard to find objective media, the traditional notion of independent journalism, has been replaced by subjective news. In the era where it is all about who gets the story out first, some media outlets continue to feed the public’s taste for breaking news with cooked-up stories and information got through hacking and invasion of the target’s privacy. The media have been completely monetized, the urge for financial gains and control of the way we get information, has made some in the industry to engage in criminal acts.
This week, Lord Justice Leveson in his report indicated that the press had “wreaked havoc in the lives of innocent people” for many years. The purpose of the inquiry was the allegation that in 2002, the voice mail of a 13-year-old victim Milly Dowler, was hacked by an investigator working for the News of the World Newspaper before she was later found murdered. Based on evidence that was later dismissed by the police, the messages were deleted by him from Milly’s mail box, giving her parents the impression that she was still alive.
The story led to the most comprehensive inquiry and scrutiny of the media, that forced the closure of the decades old News of the World, owned by News International. The closure did not bring an end to the story of abuse but triggered appetite of the British government to reach the bottom of what would later turn out to be stories of press misconduct, abuse of power and bad journalism. The actions of staffers at News Corp and News international came under review in which the owner Rupert Murdoch was summoned for questioning. Others questioned by the Committee of inquiry were Rebekah Brooks, Former Chief Executive of News International and onetime editor of The Sun and News of the World, and Andy Culson another former editor of News of the World.
In his final report delivered on November 29, 2012, Lord Justice Leveson, proposed that the British media be regulated by an independent group supported by law and with the power to fine. If properly interpreted, Lord Leveson wants a monitoring regime to oversee media overreach and violation of journalistic ethics. However, he did not recommend that the British Parliament set up a press regulator, which to some would be a state intrusion on free press and the right to freedom of expression. Instead, Lord Leveson wants the media industry to create its own regulator to be backed by legislation in order to satisfy the standards for independence and effectiveness.
It is incontestable that the report by Lord Leveson if properly implemented, would serve as a check on media misconduct and abuse of power. My only concern with his proposal is the idea that the monitoring regime be made of those in the press business. To make it simple, this section of the report if properly understood calls for a peer review by the media itself which in my opinion, may be abused or become less independent, even in the face of legislation designed to ensure fair results. An industry that oversees itself is likely to seize on unseen loopholes to reach unfair judgment.
Peer review backed by the law has long been used in medicine to deal with medical malpractice cases. However, in most situations, an individual Physician not a group is summoned before a committee to answer malpractice or misconduct allegations, which makes it more likely for such a committee to be independent. Also, in the United States the law favors trial by jury in which laypersons are randomly selected to sit as jurors to reach a decision on a case based on testimony and evidence. Though, nothing in the books says one with a legal background should not serve as a juror, it is not uncommon for an attorney to be turned down after being selected for jury duty.
The reason may be to guard against bias, as attorneys are well versed in the law and may see the case differently or interpret the law in a way a layman would not. I was once called for jury duty but later to be let go. Though, my legal background was never specified as a reason, there is no doubt it had a lot to do with it as others on the case with legal backgrounds were relieved of their duties.
While it is clear Lord Leveson had no intention or desire to jeopardize the freedom of the press, his proposed regime should have called for a committee of laypersons. The public backed by law, should be asked to judge the media that serves it. Those victimized in the British case were not just celebrities but also ordinary members of the public, caught up in events that can only be described as outrageous. Who can better determine ethics violation by the media other than the victims of such atrocities? Lord Leveson’s recommendations are no doubt helpful but allowing the media to regulate itself would make such a verification regime less independent.
Dr. Adeyemi Oshunrinade [E. JD] is the author of ‘Wills Law and Contests,’ ‘Constitutional Law-First Amendment,’ ‘Murder of Diplomacy’ and ‘SAVING LOVE’ a fiction. Follow on Twitter @san0670.
Categories: Foreign Affairs