"Media Ethics and Media Regulation in Britain"


Dr Laurence RAW

24 February 1998, The British Council, ANKARA
















There is no special law regarding the regulation of the press. An independent body, the Press Complaints Commission, exists to deal with issues such as inaccuracy, privacy, misrepresentation and harassment. The possibility of new laws being passed to control the press has been an important issue in the 1990s. A report, issued by the government's Committee on Privacy in June 1990, was strongly critical of the press, but recommended giving the tabloids one last chance to regulate themselves. Within three years, however, the same committee reported that the Press Complaints Commission was neither effective nor independent. Another House of Commons committee recommended that the Commission should be replaced by a Press Commission, designed to uphold press freedom; a Press Ombudsman to protect the individual, with power to impose fines and order apologies; and a Protection of Privacy Bill, making it an offence to infringe individual privacy by outlawing practices such as taking photos on private property without consent, intercepting phone calls and using surveillance devices on private property. The Press attacked the report, saying it would restrict press freedom. The government's response, in July 1993, was to recommend giving the public a right in civil law for damages up to £10,000 for invasion of privacy. 'Spying, prying, watching and besetting' would be considered invasions of privacy. Some defences would be allowed, including one of public interest. This proposal would go some way towards giving British people a right to privacy as set out in the European Convention on Human Rights. The idea of a Press Ombudsman was rejected. Since then, several proposals have been put forward, but currently the laws on press freedom remain the same. In the wake of Princess Diana's death, however, the laws may be changed, with the unveiling of a new Code of practice for the Press in December 1997. In extreme circumstances, the Press may be liable to prosecution under the Official Secrets Act, should they publish types of information considered 'classified'.

You can also read the essay titled"Freedom of Expression and Publication" by Peter PORTER":


The Press Complaints Commission is an independent organisation set up in 1991 to ensure that British newspapers and magazines follow the letter and spirit of an ethical Code of Practice dealing with issues such as inaccuracy, privacy, misrepresentation and harassment. The Commission resolves complaints about possible breaches of the Code and gives general guidance to editors on related ethical issues. If editors choose to ignore such recommendations, and publish information considered as 'classified', they may be liable to prosecution under the Official Secrets Act.

Code of Practice

All members of the press have a duty to maintain the highest professional and ethical standards. This code sets the benchmarks for those standards. It both protects the rights of the individual and upholds the public's right to know. The code is the cornerstone of the system of self-regulation to which the industry has made a binding commitment. Editors and publishers must ensure that the code is observed rigorously not only by their staff but also by anyone who contributes to their publications. It is essential to the workings of an agreed code that it be honoured not only to the letter but in the full spirit. The code should not be interpreted so narrowly as to compromise its commitment to respect the rights of the individual, nor so broadly that it prevents publication in the public interest. It is the responsibility of editors to co-operate with the PCC as swiftly as possible in the resolution of complaints. Any publication which is criticised by the PCC under one of the following clauses [of the code of practice for the Press] must print the adjudication which follows in full and with due prominence:


2.Opportunity to reply



5.Intrusion into grief or shock


7.Children in sex cases

8.Listening Devices


10.Innocent relatives and friends


12.Victims of sexual assault


14.Financial journalism

15.Confidential sources

16.Payment for articles



Since 1986 there have been major changes to the structure, ownership and regulation of the media. Concentration of media ownership, both within and across different media, has increased considerably. Statutory regulations and restrictions on concentration have kept only a minimal check on the creation of huge media conglomerates. The opportunities for large companies to move across from media to print to broadcasting to telecommunications have expanded. Companies like Pearson, (publishers of the Financial Times), News International (publishers of The Sun), the Mirror Group (publishers of The Mirror), Carlton Communications, and Associated Newspapers (publishers of the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday) have all taken advantage of these new regulations. One of the most recent examples of this was the merger in February 1996 of Lord Hollick's MAI (the Anglia and Meridian ITV franchises are part of the group) with Lord Stevens' United News and Media (owners of The Express, The Express on Sunday, and a string of over 100 provincial papers) In an attempt to safeguard plurality of ownership, diversity of opinipn and the public interest, while permitting greater consolidation and cross-media ownership, the government introduced the following changes in cross-media ownership rules in the 1996 Broadcasting Act: -

1) A public interest test. Many cross-ownership arrangements between newspaper and television or radio interests will involve a public interest test; i.e. whether the holding of the interests together is in the public interest. The Independent Television Commission (ITC) or the Radio Authority must, in such circumstances, consider: (i) the desirability of promoting plurality of ownership and diversity in the sources of information available to the public and in the opinion expressed; (ii) any economic benefits that may result from the holding of the licence by a newspaper proprietor that would not exist if it were held by a non-newspaper proprietor; and (iii) the effect on the operation of the market within the broadcasting and newspaper industries or any section of them.

2) Cross-ownership between television and newspapers. The restrictions on controlling interests in both newspapers and licensed television services have also been relaxed. National newspapers with less than 20% of national circulation figures will be permitted to apply to control television licences, subject to satisfying the public interest test. However, national newspapers with a national market share of 20% or more will continue to be prohibited from holding a licence to provide a regional or national service: they are restricted to a maximum 20% interest in these services. They may however hold licences to provide other television services such as domestic and non-domestic satellite services and digital multiplex and programme services. In practice this means that, at present, only the Mirror Group and News International will be subject to the stricter rules.

3) Cross-ownership between radio and newspapers. The rules restricting some participants to a maximum 20% shareholding in national and local radio licences have been abolished, except in the case of national newspapers having 20% or more of national circulation. Local newspapers with between 20% and 50% of local circulation in the relevant area will be allowed to control one AM and one FM licence, subject to satisfying the public interest test. Those having 50% or more of circulation will be allowed to control one local radio licence, provided that there is at least one other commercial local radio licence serving the same area and subject to the public interest test.

It can be expected that the cross-media ownership rules will be further liberalised under the new Labour Government, although this will be unlikely to form an early part of the legislation programme.



Some of the major conglomerates owning newspapers include:-

a) News Corporation (owners of The Sun, The Times, The Sunday Times and The Times)

b) Pearson Plc (an international media group focusing on three key markets worldwide: information, education and entertainment, selling print-based materials but also developing products for the faster-growth screen-based markets. Pearson also manages visitor attractions worldwide, owns the independent television company Thames Television and the Financial Times. It also has a stake in the BBC's international channels, as part of an agreement signed in March 1994 with BBC Worldwide.)

c) Mirror Group (the second largest newspaper group in the UK, publishing six national titles. In addition the Mirror Group has a stake in the Independent Television company Scottish Television and operates a national cable channel, Live TV. It has recently signed a deal with AOL, the world's leading online service provider which has officially launched in the UK, adding online to the group's growing portfolio of new media opportunities.

d) Associated Newspapers (publishers of the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday. It also has its own Channel One, and has had interests in the PeopleBank on-line recruitment agency, which claims to save employers 90% of the costs associated with finding new staff) ,

e) Hollinger International (a leading publisher of English-language newspapers in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Israel. Included among the 162 paid daily newspapers which the Company owns, controls or intends to acquire, are the Chicago Sun-Times, The Daily Telegraph, and The Ottawa Citizen. These 162 newspapers have a world-wide daily combined circulation of approximately 4,500,000.

As in the past, with the changes in the press between 1855 and 1945, recent changes in the media have become a contentious issue. In March 1996 the biggest names in commercial television in Europe (Havas, Canal Plus, Berrelsmann, News International, BSkyB and TV Film Europe, UDA), launched a £300m venture to develop a new 100-channel digital television service. In mid-June BSkyB withdrew from the alliance, amidst suggestions that they were about to enter another alliance with the German group Kirch).

BSkyB is also poised to introduce a UK-based digital satellite system, which could provide up to 200 channels directly to UK-based homes. This move will free up the BSkyB Astra satellite service, based in Luxembourg, to use for continental pay-TV operations.

The response from the Government has been to introduce a series of restrictions on cross-ownership by conglomerates, as written in the 1996 Broadcasting Act.

You can also read the essay titled"Freedom of Expression and Publication" by Peter PORTER":


Founded in 1979, the Campaign (CPBF) is a pressure-group, who works for a diverse, democratic and accountable media with positive public service obligations. They aim to raise public awareness of these issues by publishing leaflets on media freedom, broadcasting monopolies, freedom of expression, censorship, and media and democracy.

Its manifesto states that 'debates about media policy ... have been firmly directed and influenced by a range of media corporations and lobbying groups whose primary focus has been to ensure their commercial success and growth.'

They claim to put forward the views of 'ordinary viewers and listeners' who 'care about the possiblilty for truly democratic and diverse media', in opposition to 'the big players in the media industry' such as newspaper proprietors.


The 1996 Broadcasting Act established the Broadcasting Standards Commission. Its role is similar to that of the Press Complaints Commission, in that it functions as a forum for public concerns relating to the portrayal of sex and violence and matters of taste and decency in television and radio programmes, as well as unjust and unfair treatment and unwarranted infringement of privacy by broadcasters.

The BSC is to draw up, publish and, from time to time, review codes giving guidance on: principles and practices relating to the avoidance of unjust and unfair treatment in programmes and unwarranted infringement of privacy, in or in connection with, the obtaining of material included in such programmes; and practices to be followed in connection with the portrayal of violence and sexual conduct in programmes and standards of taste and decency for programmes generally.

The BSC will adjudicate on broadcasting complaints, made by anyone:The Act divides complaints into two categories: standards complaints and fairness complaints. Standards complaints concern the portrayal of violence or sexual conduct in programmes or failures on the part of programmes to attain standards of taste and decency. Fairness complaints concern unjust and unfair treatment in programmes or unwarranted infringement of privacy in connection with the obtaining of material included in programmes.


The 1996 Broadcasting Act received the Royal Assent on 24 July 1996. The Act sets out the licensing and regulatory framework for the development of digital broadcasting and liberalises the rules on cross-ownership. The Act sets up a new Broadcasting Standards Commission.

The Act also looks at digital programme and additional service licences. Broadcasters wishing to launch a programme service will require a digital programme licence from the Independent Television Commission (ITC). They will be available to any applicant who is a "fit and proper" person and who is not disqualified by the media ownership rules. Such licences will be subject to various conditions and will continue in force until surrendered. Licence holders will be bound by the existing ITC codes on political impartiality; the showing of violence; taste and decency; advertising and sponsorship of programmes.

The Act also calls for a review of digital terrestrial television broadcasting. The Labour Party has suggested that it is likely to commit to a timescale for the closure of analogue services.


Some of the main ideas of the new code of practice for the press, introduced in December 1997 after the death of Princess Diana, include:

1. Accuracy

i) Newspapers and periodicals should take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted material including pictures.

ii) Whenever it is recognised that a significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distorted report has been published, it should be corrected promptly and with due prominence.

iii) An apology must be published whenever appropriate.

iv) Newspapers, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact

v) A newspaper or periodical must report fairly and accurately the outcome of an action for defamation to which it has been a party.

2. Opportunity to reply

i) A fair opportunity for reply to inaccuracies must be given to individuals or organisations when reasonably called for.

3. Privacy

i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence. A publication will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent

ii) The use of long lens photography to take pictures of people in private places without their consent is unacceptable.

Note - Private places are public or private property where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

4. Harassment

i) Journalists and photographers must neither obtain nor seek to obtain information or pictures through intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit

ii) They must not photograph individuals in private places (as defined by the note to clause 3) without their consent; must not persist in telephoning, questioning, pursuing or photographing individuals after having been asked to desist; must not remain on their property after having been asked to leave and must not follow them.

iii) Editors must ensure that those working for them comply with these requirements and must not publish material from other sources which does not meet these requirements.

5. Intrusion into grief or shock In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries should be carried out and approaches made with sympathy and discretion. Publication must be handled sensitively at such times but this should not be interpreted as restricting the right to report judicial proceedings.



Any newspaper or any broadcasting station can be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act, if it publishes or disseminates information classified as 'official', which is thought to endanger national security. The Act was originally issued in 1911, and reformed in 1989, and reads as follows:

"An Act to replace section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911 by provisions protecting more limited classes of official information."

The classes of information covered by the Act include:

Security and intelligence.


International relations.

Crime and special investigation powers.

Information resulting from unauthorised disclosures or entrusted in confidence.

Information entrusted in confidence to other States or international organisations.



On 25 January 1986 Rupert Murdoch moved his editorial and production centres from around Fleet Street in London to a new, purpose-built print factory, complete with new technology at Wapping in East London.

In March 1986, a new tabloid daily paper, Today, was launched, that would not only use all the latest computer technology and colour presses but would only employ the number of staff needed to operate them, rather than the traditional manning levels, which hitherto had been dictated by the trade unions. The newspaper itself failed to make much impact; it was sold in 1987 to Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, and closed in 1995. However, the appearance of the paper marked an important change in the newspaper industry, enabling new papers to be started, with computer technology.

A handful of newspapers did start up, The Independent, London Daily News (published by Robert Maxwell), Daily Post, Sunday Correspondent, Independent on Sunday, News on Sunday. By 1997, however, only The Independent and the Independent on Sunday survived.

The reality is that, despite the revolution in technology, the big media barons are as powerful as ever they were. The cost of entry to the national newspaper market may in theory have been reduced, but the fact is that the overall market is not growing and the difficulty of enticing readers away from papers they habitually buy has made it an uphill struggle for anyone to try and challenge their dominance.

The newspaper market had, in fact, been contracting. Between 1984 and 1994, the total average sales of newspapers decreased by 11.3%. This provoked a price war between The Sun and The Mirror, and The Times and The Daily Telegraph. In June 1994 the Telegraph's price dropped from 48p to 30p, so The Times sank to 20p. Later The Independent followed, going down to 30p.

The emphasis on competition has provoked intense debate about standards in the media. In May 1994, a correspondent for the German paper Die Zeit observed that consumer demand had now assumed more importance over principles like freedom of expression and journalistic standards. This issue was to resurface three years later, following the death of Princess Diana in a car accident, which led to the publishing of a new code of practice for the Press.


Television has now become an essential instrument used by politicians - especially at election times - to communicate their messages to the audience. Election broadcasts help to shape, influence and reflect the editorial agendas of the parties. They crystallise themes that parties are presenting across the range of electoral arenas that constitute the public sphere of a general election. They become the focus for comment generally in the Press and more particularly by the contesting parties.

However, television does not automatically reflect the views, either of the government or opposition parties. Television stations remain independent of government policy; and can thus be rendered liable to accusations of bias by certain ministers, especially as elections approach. In 1995, for instance, the governing Conservative party accused the BBC of bias, when one of its reporters, John Humphrys, mounted an attack on the Government for manipulating the media for political ends. Perhaps this is not entirely true: a recent survey showed that only 1 in 5 people believed that BBC1 was pro-Conservative, while 1 in 14 believed that ITV was also pro-Conservative. The survey also showed that 1 in 17 people believed that BBC1 was pro-Labour; and that 1 in 20 thought that ITV was pro-Labour.

The Press has always tended to be more partisan in its judgements. The Press in 1945 contained two papers which maintained formal links with the two main parties.

In the 1992 election, seven of the eleven daily papers were pro-Conservative, three Labour, and one neutral. In the 1997 election, most dailies except the Daily Mail and the The Express were either neutral, or supported the Labour Party.

Unlike the pre-Victorian press, the only ways that Governments have recently tried to regulate the Press or the media are through the Press Complaints Commission, and the Broadcasting Acts of 1990 and 1996.

Both conglomeration and internationalisation and cross-ownership are perceived as greater threats to press freedom than state regulation, as power becomes concentrated in the hands of a few newspaper proprietors. This has resulted in the growth of pressure-groups such as the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom.


The body responsible for licensing and regulating Independent Television, including ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, as well as a range of UK-based cable and satellite services.

Its duties include ensuring that a wide range of television services are available throughout the United Kingdom and that these services are of high quality and appeal to a variety of tastes and interests.

It also ensures that competition is fair in the provision of these services and that the licensees (each Independent television station) comply with the various codes relating to standards and content.

In each ITV region the ITC awards a licence for a fixed term to a broadcaster, who is then responsible for providing the ITV output for the area.

The ITC has no power to approve television schedules; however, it can withdraw a licence from a broadcaster if that broadcaster fails to meet the conditions on which that licence was awarded.


The body responsible for licensing and regulating the independent radio industry, following the 1990 Broadcasting Act.

The authority plans frequencies, awards licences, regulates programmes and radio advertising and plays an active role in the discussion and formulation of policies affecting the independent radio industry and its listeners.


Prof Bülent CAPLI, "The Media in Turkey"

Demet SATILMIS, "Talk Shows in Turkey"