Friday, 9 March 2012

The right of reply

is essential in the conduct of conversation. Unless there is a right of reply then conversation does not exist. It is surprising how many people forget this.
The media needs to converse as well as communicate. It is one reason why most newspapers have a "Letters to the Editor" section. It is why Members of Parliament are sometimes allowed to take up space there rather than elsewhere - perhaps as a press release.  People read the Letters to the Editor. They seem to like to know what other people are thinking - even if it just so they can disagree with them.
If you write such letters then you have to expect that at least one person is likely to disagree with you. Their letter may also make it onto the letters page. It is, in a sense, the "right of reply" although further conversation may well be curtailed by whichever member of staff is editing the letters on that day. After all, letters to a newspaper also need to be topical.
The Finkelstein report does not suggest that the practice of writing letters to the editor of a newspaper should be curtailed but I can see that changes would need to be made. They would need to be made because Finkelstein proposes quite extraordinary powers for his News Media Council. His complaints procedure amounts to a denial of natural justice.  Complaints should not be directed first to the media outlet in question but to the Council. His argument is that to go directly to the media outlet would take time and people would be at a disadvantage. The Council could refer the complaint to the media outlet.
This means the Council would have the power to stop a complaint or a story in its tracks. The Council would, if the recommendations were enacted, ultimately have the power to require a withdrawal of the story from the electronic media and they would have the power to direct a right of reply in the print media. They could also direct when, where and how this would be done as well as what was actually said. At the same time should someone as small and insignificant as me make any sort of complaint they could just pass the buck.
A further recommendation is made that the Council should not be required to make the reasons for their decisions known - although it is suggested it normally would. There would be no recourse to appeal.
This is all of great interest to me because I have been known to contribute to the pages of more than one newspaper. I have made comments critical of all sides of politics. I have sometimes deliberately tried to stir up debate on an important issue. My "strike rate" of publication hovers around 90% - higher if you count the occasions on which the letter has been used as part of an editorial.
I am not however nearly as prolific as some letter writers. Some are good. Some are bad. Some are predictable. There are letters from children, from centenarians and every age in between. There are letters from every occupation imaginable as well as the unemployed and the "retired". Letters are an important part of the newspaper culture, just as comments are on media websites.
Finkelstein's recommendations would drastically change all that - and I do not believe it would be for the better.
Oh, and yes - you do have the right to reply to this.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Surely they won't come at these recommendations? Madness! Glad I no longer live there. Bob C-S