Policy and Public Affairs Officer Sophie Malleson on the recent annual conference of the Alliance of Independent Press Councils of Europe (AIPCE).
AIPCE is a loose association of independent content regulators who discuss topical issues, exchange ideas and offer and receive advice from one another. Their annual meeting is a chance to talk about achievements, challenges and threats to the free press and ethical journalism and is hosted by a different press council in a different European country each year.
This year’s conference took place in Helsinki to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the Finnish Press Council. And much like the Eurovision Song Contest, not all AIPCE attendees are actually from Europe, so and as well European press councils, representatives from New Zealand and Canada were also in attendance.
There is huge variety in the way that different countries carry out press regulation and monitor press standards and ethics, and this is reflected in the make-up of the institutions which carry out this role, although they all share a commitment to operating free from government interference. These differences stem from a number of factors: cultural norms and ideas around what should or should not be reported in the press; traditions and cultures around free speech; as well as more modern legislation and case law.
One of the things I found really interesting was learning about the different approaches the press in other parts of Europe take to crime and court reporting. Consumers of news in the UK will be familiar with articles documenting criminal trials, often accompanied by the full name and photograph of a defendant, or an offender if convicted. Court reporting is, generally, considered an important aspect of freedom of the press in the UK and the public’s right to know. So much so, that HM’s Courts and Tribunals Service have just published on their website new media guidance for all court staff in order to facilitate better access for journalists to courts.
Other countries in Europe take a different approach. Just to give one example, a Finnish journalist explained that it would be rare for an offender to be identified in a newspaper unless they were sentenced to a lengthy term in prison. (By contrast, of course, the US press – which was not represented at the conference – reports much more freely on court proceedings than is customary, or even legal, in the UK.)
There are many further differences across our various countries’ press and the institutions that oversee them. Certainly the size of each press council and the number of press complaints varies dramatically from country to country. But what underlined the AIPCE conference for me was the fundamental similarities between us.
Each press regulator and press council hold the belief that regulation of editorial content in the media should be fully independent of government oversight and control.
We also have in common the many shared risks and benefits of emerging cutting edge technology: the increasing use of news-generating algorithms; new tools to assist journalists with low-level news-gathering; plus the wider debate around online platform vs. publisher regulatory responsibilities.
Which brings us to some of the more concerning aspects of the conference. Several European states have recently introduced (or seek to introduce) legislation which may threaten aspects of the free press through increased government encroachment. It is a reminder that all European states must be vigilant, including us here in the UK.
Find out more about AIPCE here.