Media organizations that destroy the public trust undermine not only their own credibility, but that of their brethren, as well.
That’s but one of many reasons why the newspaper phone-hacking scandal that enveloped Britain in recent years was so troubling. It was a scandal in every sense of the word.
Yet, this week the British government overstepped its bounds by promoting a new press code that, in effect, puts that nation’s newspapers under the jurisdiction of an independent watchdog that can order corrections and impose fines.
This may be London’s sincere attempt to prevent another phone hacking-style episode, but it clearly (a.) undermines the press’ ability to monitor the government and (b.) is a knee-jerk overreaction to a deplorable example of modern journalism.
The news business — online, in print, over the air — is based on credibility and believability. That is the ultimate regulator. Media that abuse ethical standards or continually create error-filled news reports are their own worst enemies; consumers lose faith and, ultimately, stop being consumers.
In other words, news organizations and their consumers regulate themselves. The perfect example is the Rupert Murdoch-employed editors in Britain whose phone-hacking schemes irreparably soiled their reputations and the newspaper’s.
The public trust is lost.
Britains’ editors are attacking these new press codes, as they should. Britain deserves a healthy, ethical press free from government-established watchdogs upset over Murdoch’s sins.