The different approaches to press regulation in the USA, Britain and Ireland

This essay details the different approaches to press regulation between USA, Britain, and Ireland along the lines of the different period in which press regulation took place, regulation bodies, principles, and control-ability.

Freedom of Speech, as a starting point of press regulation, will therefore always be one of the main topics regarding press regulation. Currently, Ireland is on place 15 (from total 180) of the World Press Freedom Index of 2019, the United Kingdom is on place 33 and the United States are on place 48 (RSF, 2019a). The ranking shows how the countries deal with those seven indicators: Pluralism (degree of opinion representation), media independence, environment and self-censorship (operation environment of the media), legislative framework, transparency, and the quality of the infrastructure that supports the production of news and information.


Britain has long established its press councils whereas the press council for Ireland is comparatively new. The USA is yet to set up a press council. There aren’t any active press councils in united states. Countries might not have press councils thanks to the politics, economics, legalization or within the culture of the country. Within the USA it’s mainly owing to the prevailing law system that they have, that handles a lot around media/press regulation. Some countries have ombudsmen, that are (mostly senior journalist/media) people that handle complains and recommends remedies. Since 1967 ombudsmen exist within the United States yet, when is compared to e.g. Japan (1922) is relatively late (ONO, 2018).


The main differences in the written principles are (1) where they are embedded, (2) range of validity, (3) number of principles, (4) content of the principles. In the USA they are embedded in the law system, unlike the principles in Britain and Ireland (UNESCO, 2014; Lewis, 2017). In the USA the principles have an absolutism status (Lewis, 2017), in Britain exist exceptions if the principles will be in huge confrontation with the public interest (the public interest outrank the principles). There is scarce information with respect to this for the Irish Principles. The number and the content of the principles differ extremely between the USA and Britain/Ireland. Britain is more precise in their principles (more separations between the principles) in comparison to Ireland. An example is that Britain has a special antidiscrimination principle:

  “The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s race, colour, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or to any physical or mental illness or disability. Details of an individual’s race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless these are genuinely relevant to the story.” (IPSO, 2018)

As distinguished from USA and Britain, Ireland has one extra principle regarding the press regulation of the regulatory authority and complain body of the country. Another interesting point is that because the freedom of speech is embedded in the law in the USA, they can’t forbid also negative outcomes of freedom of speech, like hate speech (Lewis, 2017). With a closer look to online media/social press regulation in those three countries, we can see a hugely different approach between USA and EU (Britain, Ireland). The USA decided to not regulate or tax it (Lewis, 2017), but it exists a copyright clause: the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, since 1998 (UNESCO, 2014). This Act supported the fundamentally no-restriction attitude because it enables the USA to restrain publications. Lewis (2017) opinion is that the pressure mainly comes from the Silicon Valley and all the big firms there: “Silicon Valley executives hate regulation and will move to block it”. As a result, the frustration level in the EU is high, which wants to regulate them. Their latest statement was: “regulate yourselves (and not just a charade), or we will regulate you” (Lewis, 2017). In Europe, the E-Commerce Directive handle internet intermediaries so far (UNESCO, 2014).


The market is through ownership concentration controlled in all three countries. Differences occur in the different ways of content control. The US, Britain, and Ireland have a high to very high concentration of media plurality and ownership even though all of them have some restrictions on this issue. It is an ongoing concern.

Britain and Ireland are one of the main regulated countries of western Europe. In general counts everything above 30% of the market share that is owned by one person as excessive. In Europe, the main national and regional newspapers are typically divided between less than a half dozen owners. In the United States, there are more groups, but a small number have a very dominant position in the large city and regional press. McQuail (2010). In the USA Bertelsmann counts as the most suspicious case regarding ownership concentration. He owns over 30 radio stations, 280 publishing outlets, and 15 record companies (University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing, 2010). In Britain 60-70% of the market is controlled by three companies, mainly newspaper publisher (RSF, 2019b), one of the famous person is Rupert Murdoch, who owns The Sun, News of the World, Daily Mirror (Brady, 2018), Times, Sunday Times, Sky Television, BSkyB and eventually more. In Ireland most is owned by Independent News and Media (INM) and RTE (Freedom House, 2016).

As an example, the FCC of the USA have the restriction that one person can (only) own one of the top-four local television stations but many undermine this restriction through Merger and Acquisitions or Joint Ventures (Freedom House, 2017a). In Britain exist the regulation that broadcaster can (only) own a limited amount of newspaper interest. This doesn’t include interest in satellite broadcasters (McQuail, 2010). In Ireland, one of the restrictions is that it is not allowed to own one of the fourth biggest radio and TV firms if you already own one of the biggest newspapers (Smyth, 2018). Media control is in each of the European countries/ states different. Each state of the EU has different rules under the umbrella of the EU rules. In the EU you don’t sell your product once, you sell it per country, e.g. once for Germany and once for Ireland (Smyth, 2018). In the USA in all the states the same, you sell your product (e.g. a movie) license only once to the country.

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