The Only Way is Ethics: Tory distrust of the Beeb is only going to add to a swamp of regulation

It's hard not to feel that there is something anachronistic about our existing set-up

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The Independent Online

The news last week that a group of 18, mostly Conservative, MPs has tabled an amendment to the EU (Referendum) Bill that would create stiffer oversight of broadcaster impartiality during the referendum period came as something of a surprise. However much some Tories might doubt the BBC’s ability to give a fair account of the EU’s merits, creating additional regulation hardly seems helpful.

Indeed, the trend in recent years, here and abroad, has been to recognise the need for lighter-touch regulation for television, bearing in mind the structural changes to the industry. Three-quarters of us now watch streamed content at least several times a week. Young people, in particular, are increasingly as likely to be tuned in to YouTube videos as they are to be watching linear television. The old idea that broadcasting required super-strict regulation, because it was beamed directly into the homes of unwitting families via a limited bandwidth, feels ever more quaint.

That isn’t to say regulation has no place. Mainstream broadcasters, like newspapers, should adhere to rules that ensure high standards precisely to make themselves stand out from the morass of other material available online. There is also something reassuring about the fact that, in traditional broadcasting, there is a media space where impartiality is a defined requirement.

Nevertheless, it is hard not to feel that there is something anachronistic about our existing set-up, with varying degrees and methods of oversight across forms of media that are much less different from one another than they used to be. The post-Leveson muddle in the press arena shows that overhauling media regulation is not straightforward; that some parliamentarians wish to add further complexity to the already convoluted broadcast sphere is, frankly, extraordinary. And that is before we even consider the merits of the conspiratorial notion that the deviously biased Beeb is plotting to swing the referendum in favour of the dastardly EU.

 

• A disappointed holidaymaker emailed last week to tell us about her ruined vacation to Nicaragua. The chosen hotel had, she said, been miles from anywhere of use; the food had been expensive and bland. All in all, the experience was so ghastly that, three nights into a stay which should have lasted a week and a half, the disconsolate tourist and her partner beat a hasty retreat.

All this was jolly sad but why submit a complaint to The Independent? The answer lies in a glowing review of the same hotel published in the paper in 2011 and, naturally, still available online. This, said the complainant, was likely to mislead people and ought either to be removed or updated before others experienced the same discrepancy.

Double-checking every glowing hotel review The Independent has ever run might be logistically tricky. Then again, I’m not one to shy away from a difficult task and if it means I have to stay in several hundred top hotels over the next couple of years, I suppose it’s only a manifestation of good ethical practice.

At least this complainant didn’t try to invoice us – unlike an individual two years ago, who felt we should pay for her business trip because the hotel she stayed in hadn’t lived up to our report of sometime before.

Nothing in either of the reviews led me to conclude that they were anything but authentic, though inevitably subjective, appraisals. But the complaints highlight the fact that readers are guided by what The Independent says about holiday destinations. This places a considerable responsibility on us, which is why brutal honesty is so important when it comes to travel writing.

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