Who wants to be a media regulator?

February 4, 2014

by Ed Morrissey at HotAir

Want to squelch investigative reporting? Punish media outlets for offenses, real or perceived? If you don’t mind relocating, the UK has a position open for aspiring public-debate referees:

Wanted: someone unconnected with the newspaper and magazine publishing industry willing to take on the burden of chairing a new press regulator for £150,000 a year.

Applicants are being invited for the inaugural chair of the IndependentPress Standards Organisation (Ipso) in an advert placed in the print edition of today’s Guardian.

It says that the job “is a real challenge and rare opportunity to lead in the creation of an important new national body.”

So the successful applicant will be “a proven leader with experience in a complex and high-profile environment” who can “demonstrate independence, sound judgement and resilience, as well as the ability to work and communicate effectively in a public and high profile environment.”

Furthermore, the Ipso chair “will be committed to protecting the rights of the public whilst maintaining freedom of expression.”

Good luck with that. IPSO is a little more than just a trade organization such as Underwriters Laboratories is here in the US. Parliament has added some regulatory heft to the panel, and may add penalties for legal actions involving non-members, which makes this somewhat less than entirely voluntary. (The Guardian, which reports this opening, has refused to join, as has the Independent and the Financial Times.) It’s a lever to allow government to dictate limits of reporting, which is at the moment a not-unpopular position among the British after the press scandals at News of the World and other outlets of late.

Americans might well feel a little sanctimonious about the premium we put on free debate and expression, but I’m not sure we’re much different these days. In my column at The Week, I offer my services to IPSO as their new chief regulator of the press, and explain that they needn’t fear hiring Americans these days:

All one needs to do to confirm that our reputation exceeds reality is look at how free speech is handled on college and university campuses. Earlier this month, the free-speech watchdog Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) released its report on campus speech restrictions, finding that 59 percent impose “policies that seriously infringe upon students’ speech rights,” which is a slight improvement over the previous year. These institutions, many of them state-funded, impose “speech codes” to prevent “offense,” and in some cases restrict the First Amendment’s application to small “free speech zones” that others on campus can avoid. This, by the way, surveys official action against free speech by administrators, and not the assaults and blockades that often greet speakers with heterodox viewpoints from universities’ student populations.

The lengthy use of such campus speech codes has, as FIRE president Greg Lukianoff argues in his new book Unlearning Liberty, begun to transform American society from a culture that values open debate to one intolerant of any contact with differing opinions. Thus we have the attempts to shut out those who challenge political correctness, such as a reality TV star who expressed mainstream Christian theology on homosexuality, an actress who endorsed a Republican in California (admittedly a bit of a novelty these days), and according to the governor of New York, anyone who opposes abortion.

While I could regale the committee with plenty of examples along these lines — for instance, the demand to fire meteorologists who refuse to endorse anthropogenic climate change from all media outlets — one more for this week will suffice. ABC invited conservative radio host Dana Loesch to make a guest appearance on The View, which rather notoriously features just one conservative at a time among their regular contributors. The one conservative regular, Elizabeth Hasselbeck, left the show in the summer of 2013 and has yet to be replaced.

Needless to say, this put Loesch in the distinct minority on the panel, but that wasn’t good enough for a group called Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Rather than cheer on the lopsided odds facing Loesch in defending her gun-rights positions, MDA founder Shannon Watts blasted ABC and The View for giving Loesch any time at all. Watts claimed to speak for 80 million moms, while perhaps forgetting that Loesch might just as well claim to speak for 62 million gun owners. Watts lamented that rather than look for a “responsible gun owner” to co-host, The View gave “a pro-gun activist” a spot in which she was outnumbered 4-1. Watts also noted that The View had a right to select its own co-hosts, but that the producers and ABC should have realized how offensive it would be to have Loesch offer her opinions on gun laws.

It might seem a little odd for me to be using my current job and platform to apply for another one across the Atlantic, but I’m pretty sure everyone knows that my satirical tongue is planted firmly in my satirical cheek here. However, the job does pay £150,000 a year for a three-day work week, roughly equivalent to $245,000 here in the US. As I conclude in my piece, that’s pretty tempting even with the relocation, because these days, there doesn’t appear to be much difference in embracing free debate.

Be sure to read it all.