A PCC replacement may well revise the PCC Editors Code guidance over reportage of children, but if anything they're likely to make it stricter still. The PCC made much of the changes they made to tighten up the Editors Code on this.
Either way this makes for a useful example: it clearly shows that media regulation extends far beyond the formal regulators themselves - in this case it is the Education Secretary, not the Culture, Media, Sport Secretary enacting this change on press and media regulations.
You can read the full article below, or here on Greenslade's Guardian blog.
Here's education secretary Michael Gove speaking to the Leveson inquiry in May this year about regulation of the press:
"I have a prior belief that we should use the existing laws of the land and individuals and institutions should be judged fairly, on the basis of the existing laws of the land… And that the case for regulation needs to be made very strongly before we further curtail liberty."Gove went on to express what he described as a strong "bias, a prejudice, a predisposition to favour free expression" and spoke out against current libel laws.
It would not be far-fetched to say he was passionate about the cause of press freedom.
From today, however, Gove's department will be seeking to enforce a law that most editors, probably all, believe to be inimical to press freedom.
Under section 13 of the Education Act 2011,
it is now an offence to publish anything likely to identify a teacher who is alleged to have committed a criminal act against a pupil at the same school where that allegation has been made by, or on behalf of, the said pupil.
Intense lobbying against section 13 by the Society of Editors (SoE) and the trade body that acts for regional and local publishers, the Newspaper Society, did water it down slightly.
But the threat remains, and it does amount to a constraint on press freedom, as the SoE executive director, Bob Satchwell, has made clear in a statement on the SoE website:
"It will be a criminal offence for anyone – pupil, parent, police, school, local authority, whistle-blower, media – even to inform parents or the general public that an identified teacher has admitted that the allegation is true and has resigned, has been disciplined, or even cautioned for the offence.Satchwell's statement came just before an Eastbourne teacher, Jeremy Forrest, was arrested in France on suspicion of abducting 15-year-old Megan Stammers.
"Although we acknowledge teachers' fears about false accusations, the most important issue is surely to protect children. Malicious allegations by pupils are extremely rare and alongside this the laws of libel, contempt and confidence already restrict newspapers from repeating and publishing unsubstantiated accusations."
Yet, said Press Gazette, his arrest occurred "as a direct result of media coverage".
From today, he would have had automatic anonymity unless a magistrate was prepared to rule otherwise. In other words, news organisations would need to apply to a court, as a spokesman for Gove's department admitted.
He said that in such cases as the Forrest-Stammers affair, "the police, media organisations and others will be able to apply to a magistrate for an order lifting teacher anonymity."
He added: "If it is in the best interest of the child, this will be granted straightaway so the public can help the police. No teacher who has been charged with an offence, or where a warrant for arrest has been issued, will enjoy anonymity."
But Satchwell countered that the new law would indeed affect such cases:
"The idea that going to court is easy is a nonsense. It's time-consuming and expensive and any application is likely to be opposed. We've seen from other cases that social services and the police are not always quick to act and this is one of the arguments that we made to the education department.Trinity Mirror executive David Higgerson also raised objections about the need to convince a magistrate about it being in the public interest to publish stories involving teacher-pupil relationships.
"The ministers seem to be relying on speedy action by the police to bring charges, but the opposite is likely to be true."
He also points specifically to Gove's journalistic background, saying that "the man who began his career at the Aberdeen Press and Journal… now has the dubious honour of being the journalist who made it harder for reporters to report the facts."
Gove was also noted during his days as a leader writer at The Times, just prior to his going into parliament, for being a champion of press freedom.
Higgerson concedes that section 13 may be "rooted in honourable intentions" because there have been occasions when teachers who have been subjected to malicious allegations by teenagers.
"But," he writes, "banning any form of communication which risks identifying the person accused of an allegation is the wrong way to solve it. Expelling pupils who make the allegations would be a much better way to go."
And he raises questions about local education authorities opposing attempts by the press (and police) to lift reporting bans. Say a council department wished, for its own reasons, keep such a case under wraps?
Then, of course, there is the problem that people in an area where an incident occurs will get to know about it anyway. "Schools, like all communities, will gossip," writes Higgerson. "Everyone at the school will know the allegations, and probably know over-egged versions of them too."
Until today, the media was able play some part in keeping such playground rumours in check. So, Mr Gove, what was that you were saying about the need to ensure that regulation does not curtail liberty?
Sources: Leveson inquiry/Society of Editors/Newspaper Society/David Higgerson/Press Gazette