The Regulation of Print Media in the United States and United Kingdom


Print media is one of the most influential means of communication used today in the world. I know for a fact that it influences me on a daily basis, let alone all the :people who are able to read. I learned that print media is not just limited to :newspapers; it has opened itself to books, magazines, printed advertisements, scholarly :journals, and much more. I shape my opinions and outlook on life through the :information I read in magazines and newspapers. The information conveyed through print :media is important to the general public. This means that it needs to have clarity :and validation because people want truthful information. I typically use print media as a source of entertainment; however it is also very informative. As the stereotypical teenage girl, I lie on my bed and read various magazines that range from Cosmopolitan to Teen Vogue. These magazines help me get into touch with my feminine and fashionable side. However, this is only a tiny glimpse into the importance that I see in print media. It is source of useful information that includes the war, national emergencies, the weather, elections, sports standings, etc. This is not only important to me but also to most of the population of the world. Bending the truth in print media leads to misrepresentation of an event, a person, and potentially a story. Who would want to read any source that they were not certain was telling the truth? This is a risk that I am not willing to take and I feel as though most people would agree. Regulation of print media is important because people want and need to know the truth about the situation at hand. While studying abroad in London and doing research on the topic at issue I feel that the United States is more effective in their regulation of print media. The United Kingdom only has a code of ethics to abide by while the U.S. has laws against libel and slander, the difference in the potential consequences of breaking the regulation, and the profit that the victims make after settlement of the case. These reasons account for the major differences between the regulation of print media in the United Kingdom and the United States.


The first question that one should want to consider is, when exactly did print media begin? This communication technology has a lengthy history, “as long ago as 25,000-30,000 years B.C. first humans painted descriptive pictures on cave walls” (Piechota). This was our first indication of humanity attempting to communicate with one another. Once social class and ownership of property became apparent, it was imperative for humans to have some sort of blending of written language to communicate efficiently. The invention of paper happened in 105 B.C. and almost 200 years later the first book was sold. At this time and for many years to come books were the common print media tool used by the globe. To produce one copy of a book at this time was very time consuming but this was all about to change. With the invention of the printing press by Johann Gutenberg the process of printing became quicker, cheaper, and allowed for mass production. Gutenberg’s invention aided in the mass production of books, the creation of the first newspaper in Germany, and the first publication of a magazine in 1839. The industrial revolution led to innovation of print media, allowing it to widespread at a quicker pace and potentially the creation of the typewriter. Now we have the ability to use computers that have word processors which in turn allows us to create print media. However, there is one innovation that shapes the way print media is run today, “I've written extensively about newer media, including a book on electronic publishing in the embryonic days of videotex, teletext and online databases, which were prelude to the explosion of personal computers that paved the way for the Internet's mass appeal in the 1990's. Many from print media who once were so dismissive of interactive media today regard the Internet as central to their survival” (Aumente). The internet allows newspapers, magazines, publishing companies, etc. to communicate with one another instantly, to research information with convenience, and publish stories for the world to see with no problem. Although the internet is prevalent in today’s society, there is still plenty of room for print media to continue with business.

Laws vs. Code of Ethics

In the United States’ Bill of Rights the First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” (Roland). This amendment is extremely important to the general public of the United States. However, the press can use this amendment maliciously or appropriately since the American people have a freedom of speech and of the press. This is a problem that the United States government needed to address in order for everyone to be properly represented. In order to decrease the problem of misrepresentation of the general public in print media, the United States passed specific laws protecting them from defamation, libel, and slander. The first question to address in these laws is what exactly are defamation, libel, and slander? The definitions are, “generally speaking, defamation is the issuance of a false statement about another person, which causes that person to suffer harm. Slander involves the making of defamatory statements by a transitory (non-fixed) representation, usually an oral (spoken) representation. Libel involved the making of defamatory statements in a printed or fixed medium, such as a magazine or newspaper,” (Larson). This means that if any publication or oral statement is false it is defamation and if not exactly false but misleading it could be considered defamation. Print media falls under the libel portion of defamation because it is written word that includes magazines, newspapers, books, etc. These laws were put into place in order to protect the public from anything that could hurt them in the present time and potentially the future. It is very possible for a person to lose their job from what someone wrote, falsely or in a misleading way, about them in paper form. This is the main reason why the United States put laws, in a sense a little against the freedom of speech amendment, in effect in order for truthful information to be published about people. The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) regulates the print media, which does not include the internet, in the United Kingdom. The PCC began in 1991, it brought together editors and people that have jobs in the print media business, and ultimately they decided on a code of ethics that protects the public community from misrepresentation. The PCC’s code of practice, which was ratified in 2007, states, “All members of the press have a duty to maintain the highest professional standards. The Code, which includes this preamble and the public interest exceptions below, sets the benchmark for those ethical standards, protecting both the rights of the individual and the public’s right to know. It is the cornerstone of the system of self-regulation to which the industry has made a binding commitment” (Press Complaints Commission). The code of ethics is not a set of laws but merely a set of guidelines that print media organizations should follow when publishing articles. These guidelines include how to form an accurate article, the privacy to those involved in the story, how journalists should handle themselves when researching and reporting a story, and the interest of the public. The problem with regulation in the United Kingdom is that the PCC only bases their rules on print media on a set of guidelines. The definition of a guideline is a way for a committee to get its employees to go in a specific or favorable direction. However, guidelines are not mandatory. This is compared to a law which is when a governing body puts forth a set of rules that are enforced through punishment. The PCC is handling the job well, “Given that it has no real power to punish wrong doing and those who ruin other people's lives, the Commission probably does as good a job as it can. The essential dilemma is that the P.C.C. could only have more power if Parliament granted it. But the Government would never ask Parliament for this extra power for fear of what the papers could say about them” (Munson). There is not much more that the PCC can do other than guidelines because Parliament will not allow them to pass laws like the United States. Since the United States uses laws as a way of regulating print media it tends to more effective rather than the United Kingdom using a set of guidelines. However, the creation of the PCC was to fix the problems with the UK’s media that the previous Press Council was not regulating.

Profit Made from Misrepresentation

In the United States if a person strongly feels as though they have suffered from libel, they can file a lawsuit and potentially obtain a monetary compensation. However, since the US Constitution has the First Amendment protecting the rights for freedom of speech it is often hard to win lawsuit based on defamation. “The defamation case is a difficult kind of lawsuit to win. The first amendment to the United States Constitution protects freedom of speech and the courts have set forth a complicated set of rules that are used to determine whether particular types of statements are protected by the first amendment, regardless of whether they are false. An experienced attorney can help you with any particular case” (Orion Foundry (US), Inc.). This statement proves that if someone feels strongly that they have been misrepresented from libel then file a lawsuit; however if the libel is minuscule than a suit will probably not even make it to court. As long as an experienced attorney represents the case and there is clear evidence for libel, than the lawsuit will go through and more than likely a monetary compensation will have to be paid. Throughout United States history there have been numerous cases where people have filed a lawsuit on a libel issue. One may think who exactly would file a lawsuit because they have suffered from libel? The typical response is a person who is in the spotlight and this is very true. In the United States most of the lawsuits are from people with importance, who jobs and reputations are at high risk due to defamatory statements. For example, Ravi Batra is a well-known lawyer in Brooklyn who filed a $15 million libel lawsuit against the creators of Law & Order. In an episode a character resembled many qualities that Batra had and incorporate the character with a scandal (this actually happened in reality to Batra), “Moreover, because of the widespread media coverage of the Garson/Siminovsky scandal, with which the accusations against [Batra] were inextricably intertwined, it would be reasonable for a viewer to associate Batra" with the "Law & Order" character, Shafer wrote in Batra v. Wolf, 116059/04” (Walder). Even though this case has not been settled that libel lawsuits are very serious offenses in the United States and if Batra wins he will not only win $15 million but also his pride back. There have been previous suits where the victim has won, such as New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, where Sullivan received a monetary compensation of a half of a million dollars. In the U.S. libel is considered serious and in order to give the people back their credibility they are rewarded substantially. Since the United Kingdom does not have a law that is against libel the question is, how does the Press Complaints Commission handle when a person feels they have been misrepresented in any type of print media? First, the victim has to submit a complaint about the article that has misrepresented them and then the complaint has to be approved by the PCC. According to the guidelines put forth by the PCC all that is required from the accused is a correction in the article and possibly an apology to the victim. The PCC feels, “A complaint is deemed to be resolved when the PCC has been able to negotiate a resolution with the publication concerned that is satisfactory to the complainant. Some of the ways of achieving this are: the publication of a correction or an apology; a follow-up piece or letter from the complainant; a private letter of apology from the editor; an undertaking as to future conduct by the newspaper; or the annotation of the publication’s records to ensure that the error is not repeated” (Press Complaints Commission). This shows that the people of the United Kingdom may not even get an apology from the publisher of the article. How is a person supposed to feel any sort of relief from just possibly a correction in the publication? At least in the United States the return for the complainant is money and a lot of bad publicity for the wrong-doer. In the United Kingdom the Press Complaints Commission receives numerous complaints, about what people feel is misrepresentation, on a daily basis. This shows that the governing body does not have complete control over the regulation of print media and causes them a lot more work then they need to have. However, unlike the United States most of the PCC’s complaints do not come from people in the public eye but rather the general public. Typically celebrities do not complain unless it is something serious, “The Daily Sport, a national tabloid newspaper, claimed that Malcolm Forbes, the late U.S. media mogul, died of AIDS. The article, headlined ‘Wiped Out By AIDS,’ was published in November 1991. Following complaints by Forbes' attorneys, the newspaper's editor published what the PCC said was an insignificant and inadequately worded correction. The newspaper refused to apologize in print. The complaint was upheld, but the paper was not fined” (Koranteng). The deceased celebrity was wrongly accused of dying from AIDS, not only that but The Daily Sport seemed to say it in a joking matter. However, The Daily Sport never was really punished for the indecency they published. This was a serious offense and all the newspaper had to do was make and correction. In the United States this would have been a lawsuit and the complainant would have won. The newspaper refused to apologize and no course of action was taken, which shows that the person who complained really did not win something substantial.

Consequences of Failure to Adhere to Regulations

Since libel is a big deal in the United States, there is most likely going to be a lawsuit filed. Libel lawsuits are in rarity today because of the bad attention that the print media companies receive along the way. Considering most lawsuits are high profile the media will attack the case, “Lawsuits aren't usually planned promotional tools but they can have serious effects on a company reaching a wide audience that it normally wouldn't. Not all cases that end up in court spin a positive light on a company, of course” (Duncan). Since our society is very inquisitive, the media tends to flourish itself on gossip to become successful. Gossip is the key to the heart of the American, and a high profile libel lawsuit is the key ingredient. However, being the center of this type of attention brings forth a bad reputation. This helps the person who files the lawsuit because the attention is taken off of them, which means the falsehood of the statements said are being ignored. The focus is mainly on the company/person who made the false claim. Also, since the lawsuit brings a lot of attention towards the case the truth of the matter will come out. The case will bring forth the truth and will typically focus on it because this is the point of the lawsuit. The repercussion of having a misrepresentation of a person in a printed publication in the United Kingdom is to just fix the mistakes, republish the article, and then possibly write a published apology. The fact that many people complain to the Press Complaints Commission shows the general public that libel is common the UK. This means that people are misrepresented on a daily basis because the publishers of print media do not follow the guidelines consistently. However, the problem occurs that, “the net effect may be that large numbers of people hear the false allegations, but never learn how the litigation was resolved” (Larson). This proves that in most cases in the United Kingdom no one reads the second printing which has the corrected article. Once someone writes a false statement about another than there is little chance that people will forget this statement. If many people read the first publication of the article, there is a small chance that all or even some of these people will read the second publication. It is though when the dead is done it is never redone. There is a very small probability that people will even want to know the truth because they have already developed their opinions on the situation. Compared to the United States having an attention getter lawsuit, a republication of an article has little affect on resolving the situation.


Without print media many people in the world would not be able to know the ongoing updates in the news whether it be for convenience, cost purposes, or just not being able to use technology. However, in order for it to be a creditable news source the company needs to be truthful in all or most of its statements. This is why there are regulations and guidelines for print media companies to follow. Although the United States has the First Amendment in the Constitution (freedom of speech), there are laws concerning print media in that they cannot commit libel or better known as misrepresenting a person in a potentially harmful way. In the United Kingdom, the Press Complaints Commission regulates British print media through the establishment of a code of ethics that guides journalists through what is acceptable for publishing. Journalists in the UK are more likely to break the code of ethics on a daily basis rather than those in the United States because of the profit that the victim makes through misrepresentation. In the UK, the victims of libel just receive a correction in the newspaper and possibly an apology, however there is no attention really drawn to the publishing company. People in the United States affected by libel will most likely file a lawsuit and receive a monetary consumption in order to help them cope with the misrepresentation. Libel lawsuits are a big deal, so a lot of bad attention is drawn to those companies that commit the crime and the general public learns the truth about the case through all of the coverage. However, since misrepresentation is found daily in the UK print media it is not that important. People are not going to read the second and fixed printing of the article and will continue believing the information they learned in the first article. Therefore, the regulations on print media in the United States are more effective than those in the United Kingdom.

Works Cited

Aumente, Jerome. "Multimedia journalism changes what universities teach: 'creating multimedia stories will require flexibility, a collaborative spirit, and strategic planning,' and these are essential skills that must now be learned.(Teaching Journalism)." Nieman Reports 61.3 (Fall 2007): 85(3). Academic OneFile. Gale. Slippery Rock University-Bailey Library. 22 Apr. 2008 < ONE>. Duncan, Apryl. High Profile Lawsuits. 2008. 23 April 2008 <>. Koranteng, Juliana. "No news, please, we're British." American Journalism Review 15.n4 (May 1993): 29(4). Academic OneFile. Gale. Slippery Rock University-Bailey Library. 23 Apr. 2008 <>. Larson, Aaron. Defamation, Libel and Slander Law. 2006. 12 April 2008 <>. Munson, James. "Regulating the British Press. (Reviews)." Contemporary Review 280.1634 (March 2002): 179(2). Academic OneFile. Gale. Slippery Rock University-Bailey Library. 23 Apr. 2008 <>. Orion Foundry (US), Inc. Lawsuit libel Slander Defamation Overview. 2008. 22 April 2008 <>. Piechota, Irene. Means of human communication through time. 12 February 2002. 22 April 2008 <>. Press Complaints Commission. 1 August 2007. 12 February 2008 < >. Roland, Jon. Bill of Rights. 8 November 2005. 23 April 2008 <>. Walder, Noeleen G. Attorney's $15 Million Libel Lawsuit Against 'Law & Order' Creators, NBC Goes Forward. 20 March 2008. 22 April 2008 <>.

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