What Media Self-Regulation?
What is regulation?
The first explanation is from Ogus (1994) who quotes Selznick (1985) as saying that “Regulation, is “sustained and focused control exercised by a public agency over activities that are valued by a community.” The definition gives the state or government all the power to do what they deem is best for the public at large. The second meaning of one of our key terms is from Black who offers an account of three descriptions of regulation often propounded in literature. She suggests that: “In the first, regulation is the promulgation of rules by government accompanied by mechanisms for monitoring and enforcement, usually assumed to be performed through a specialist public agency.” In the second, “it is any form of direct state intervention in the economy, whatever form that intervention might take.” “In the third, regulation is all mechanisms of social control or influence affecting all aspects of behaviour from whatever source, whether they are intentional or not.” (Black 2002: 18) The definitions from Black seem to suggest that the first two are the one which can be used in the media sector to explain what regulation is.
“Regulation is still manifested in practice as rules promulgated by the state and monitored and enforced by a government agency.” This again proves that this form of regulation is largely dependent on the state. Once the state becomes the centre of control, it will not work in a system where journalists are trying to steer clear from the interference of the government.
“Regulation is the sustained and focused attempt to alter the behaviour of others according to defined standards or purposes with the intention of producing a broadly identified outcome or outcomes, which may involve mechanisms of standard-setting, information-gathering and behaviour-modification. (Black 2002: 20) This definition has a broader spectrum allows one to interpret in any way that is possible. It is clear though that there doesn’t seem to be any hint at government interference as found in previous definitions. They seem dedicated to ensuring that the people who are the public are catered for. Regulation is broadly defined as imposition of rules by government, backed by the use of penalties that are intended specifically to modify the economic behaviour of individuals and firms in the private sector. Various regulatory instruments or targets exist. Khemani and D. M. Shapiro (1993) Regulation is state intervention in the private domain which is a product of our imperfect reality and human limitation. (Journal on Regulations.) It can also be defined as rule based on and meant to carry out a specific piece of legislation (such as for the protection of environment). Regulations are enforced usually by a regulatory agency formed or mandated to carry out the purpose or provisions of legislation. It is also called regulatory requirement. 2010 BusinessDictionary.com
What is media self-regulation?
Self- regulation has been widely perceived as a method of restriction on media freedom well-matched with democracy. “Doctors and lawyers have enforceable ethics the world over, unlike media workers.” Mhiripiri. N (2013.) Therefore it should only follow that the media also be governed by their own code of conduct (checks and balances) that will enable the media practitioners as they perform their daily duties. Campbell. A (1999) says self-regulation is, “a system in which the print industry takes the responsibility of regulating the press upon itself. It is a mechanism for press accountability. We do it ourselves; set up our own regulatory system, our own rules and we decide how these rules look like and how they are implemented.” An online source says it refers the capacity to control one’s impulses both to stop doing something if needed (even if one wants to continue doing it) and to start doing something, if needed even if one doesn’t want to do it. www.toolsofthemind.org.
Furthermore, the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ) states that media self-regulation refers to the democratic, professional and independent regulation of the media by practitioners, stakeholders and members of the public as represented by various sectors in order to promote ethical, fair, balanced and accountable reporting by journalist at media houses. www.vmcz.co.zw. This is whereby the media professionals set up the guidelines and follow them in a learning process open to the public. It is therefore clear that when mentions media self-regulation, they are referring to the process by which the journalists or media professionals take charge of their own industry. Self-regulation is a pledge by quality-conscious media professionals to maintain a dialogue with the public. A complaint mechanism is set up to deal with justified concerns in a rational and autonomous way. Miklós Haraszti () Furthermore, it is when an independent board from the government and enact a code of conduct or ethics that will keep an ‘eye out’ on the media practitioners. These professionals will fall directly under the board, which is there to ensure that the media is run in the most efficient way possible. In Zimbabwe we have the VMCZ; this board is independent and was established in 2007 by journalists, the Alpha Media Holdings (AMH) newspaper chain appointed an in-house office of the ombudsman in 2012 and the Zimbabwe Media Council (a statutory organ of the Zimbabwe Media Commission) was again set up in 2012; which was formed under statutory law and deals with the state owned newspapers that fall under the Zimbabwe Mass Media Trust (ZMMT). “While the VMCZ and AMH processes seem to complement each other, although they are distinct autonomous structures, the ZMC is perceived by those who subscribe to VMCZ and AMH as undemocratic, archaic and a serious threat to self-regulation and media freedom.” Mhiripiri N (2013).
Merits refer to the pros, advantages, strengths, benefits and value whilst demerits mean the exact opposite. A demerit is a disadvantage, weaknesses, cons, and flaws. The paper will outline the merits of the self-regulatory system first.
Advantages/merits of media self-regulation.
1. In a country where there is self-regulation, the journalists are expected to be able to operate freely, confidently as there should be no interference from government, those that are influential in society or from the business sector. “The most fundamental advantage, which has been stated often, is that it allows for journalistic and editorial independence and freedom of speech.” Julie Reid (2012)
2. The press stands the chance of surviving well, and flourishing under a self-regulatory body. It cannot be a coincidence that almost all of the countries with the highest press-freedom ratings in the world (save one) practise self-regulation of the press. Julie Reid (2012). Once the media is able to regulate itself properly, then their existence will not be threatened.
3. Since reporters or media practitioners are aware of the watchful eye of their self-regulatory body, then this really does increase the chances of editors and journalists observing ethical practices and also acting ethically. They are most likely to think, read and talk more about the rules and regulations of their profession.
4. The VMCZ is clear in their policies that they want to protect the reputation of the media profession. In order to achieve this they expect all media companies to produce news that is worthy and is of quality. The public has to get value for money as they purchase the various newspapers available to them on the market.
5. The VMCZ provides a platform where if anyone has a complaint against newspaper articles published by papers which are member of their council, their grievances are adjudicated. “Where there is a false, unfair or unethical report in the media, voluntary self-regulatory media councils establish complaints mechanisms that seek to acquire resolution to complaints about the conduct of the media via consensus, apology, retraction and avoidance of costly legal suits.” Zhangazha. T (2011).
6. Everyone has the right to get a second chance even after they have been summoned before the VMCZ, we all get warnings at our various workplaces. One does not just get fired or imprisoned after committing a petty crime or failing to observe a code of conduct. Similarly, the council helps journalists to, “avoid or duck the threat of prison for anyone who says, writes, broadcasts, or prints opinions of their enjoyment of their right, as well as that of others to freedom of expression and access to information. Zhangazha. T (2011)
7. The other advantage is that the self-regulatory board can encourage ‘democracy political culture.’ Their role will be to convince the audiences that the media are conscious of the need for standard. They should encourage people to investigate and reveal all the corruption in our society.
Disadvantages/demerits of media self-regulation.
1. The fact that newspaper companies are not forced to be a part of VMCZ is a great disadvantage. Individual papers still have their own code of ethics but they are hardly seen to be implemented. As long as there is a void and it continues, as we will see media practitioners continue to practice unregulated, unmonitored and some behave irresponsibly.
2. When the council has presided over each case, they may find it difficult to enforce the ethics because the code of conduct is not regulated by the courts of law. “When a self-regulatory authority has no meaningful enforcement power, will it not be criticized as a convenient tool and scapegoat used by an irresponsible and at times grossly unscrupulous media, to protect with kid gloves their wayward colleagues in the guise of lame sanctions?” Mhiriphiri N. (2013.)
3. The VMCZ has been seen to be selective over the application of criminal or civil provisions as they have been protecting personal rights. Journalists are protected when at times they should simply be dealt with in order to correct that defiant behaviour.
4. Self –regulation discriminates against non-state, in favour of the still existing state-owned press, for example in the administration of such spheres as registration, taxation, printing, subscriptions and distribution. (Zhangazha. T 2011)
5. It does not include all stakeholders in the media industry such as publishers, newspaper owners, editors and journalists. If the VMCZ is to be effective it has incorporate all those that are involved in the media. The state run-papers have their own body The Zimbabwe Media Commission that runs them that is appointed by the government, therefore how can there be a body that is split into two, one catering for the public media and another for the private owned. “The controversies facing ZMC and VMCZ in many ways reflect the contradictions and tensions in the larger Zimbabwean socio-political fabric since the crisis years.” Mhirirpiri. N (2013)
Another distinct disadvantage is that if these regulatory bodies fail to solve the problems that maybe encountered in the world of the media, there will be an increase in the lack of trust by the public who rely on them. Mhiripiri. N (2013.) states, “Inefficiency of any sort in a media council will only lead to the dissipation of trust within both media practitioners and the public. Between the radically distinct councils – one statutory and with the power to criminalize transgressions and the other ‘self-regulatory’ and largely mediatory – which of these is likely to be more effective