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Media self-regulation is the setting of rules for the media and oversight of compliance with those rules by media organizations or by users. Self-regulation should be distinguished from state or statutory regulation by law or by a statutory regulatory authority. Means of self-regulation include dispute resolution procedures, rating boards, codes of conduct, and at the level of the user, technical measures such as filtering, encryption, and pin numbers that regulate children’s and others’ behavior.
Self-regulation is often seen as more attractive than state regulation because it has legitimacy with the industry, is more flexible in responding to change, and can offer an alternative to state and political interference with media content. On the other hand, self-regulation is often criticized because it is overly flexible and too close to the industry to offer genuine protection of the public interest. Usually, exclusion from the trade association or self-regulatory scheme is the ultimate sanction. Forms of self-regulation are in some cases linked to statutory schemes. For example, the self-regulatory ratings provided by the Motion Picture Association of America and the British Board of Film Classification are adopted in the statutory framework for video rental or film exhibition. Such hybrids between state and self-regulation are referred to as ‘co-regulation’ or ‘regulated self-regulation.’
The aims and justifications of self-regulation of the media vary sector by sector. For example, a study of self-regulatory codes for Internet service providers (ISPs) found that codes had articles relating to illegal content, privacy, hate speech, spam, or protection of minors. By contrast, press codes focus on the practice of ethical journalism, in matters such as intrusion into privacy and accuracy of information provided. Codes for the electronic gaming sector focus narrowly on protection of minors and content standards. In the context of convergence these sectoral differences will be increasingly significant as codes and self-regulatory schemes overlap and potentially conflict.
Newspapers generally feature one or more of three forms of self-regulation: press councils, news ombudsman, or codes of conduct. For internet content ISP codes set out the procedures for dealing with illegal content (Tambini et al. 2008). News provision by new entrants such as bloggers, and by broadcasters, who have their own codes, have illustrated the complexity and overlap that result in the new environment.
- Beard, F. & Nye, C. (2011). A history of the media industry’s self-regulation of comparative advertising. Journalism History, 37(2), 113–121.
- Bertrand, C.-J. (2002). Arsenal of democracy: Media accountability systems. London: Hampton Press.
- Tambini, D., Marsden, C., & Leonardi, D. (2008). Codifying cyberspace: Communications self-regulation in the age of Internet convergence. London: Routledge.