Leveson: Where does it leave the internet?

The Leveson report

With only a few pages of the Leveson Inquiry devoted to internet regulation, was Lord Justice Leveson right to avoid the issue?

Amid Lord Justice Leveson's 2,000 page report into the culture, practice and ethics of the press were around a dozen pages dealing with the internet.

After describing the internet as an "ethical vacuum", some have questioned the wisdom of bringing more regulation to the press and not the wider internet, although any publisher could sign up to the new legislation-backed self regulator that he envisages.

Lord Justice Leveson has also been criticised for his attitude towards new media.

"People will not assume that what they read on the internet is trustworthy or that it carries any particular assurance or accuracy; it need be no more than one person's view," he wrote.

But there is disagreement on Lord Justice Leveson's stance on the issue:

JP Barlow - co-founder, The Electronic Frontier Foundation

There is practically every shade of human truth and nonsense to be had online and I think most people that are familiar with that environment - which is practically everybody younger than the Lord - is familiar with how to determine the wheat from the chaff.

Claire Enders - media analyst, Enders Analysis

What [Lord Justice Leveson's] saying is that the internet has a place and a role, but the information it provides has a much greater reach if it's on newsstands across the country and in every supermarket or newsagent - and that's right.

There's 23 million people who are reading a newspaper everyday and newspaper websites do comprise seven of the top 10 websites in this country - they have enormous scope.

I dispute absolutely the fact the internet has the same reach and power as the printed press. Lord Leveson does not say the internet has no power and no reach - we know that's false, but [newspapers] have a different impact on reputation here in the UK.

Stephen Glover - Daily Mail

His Lordship appears not to understand the radically different nature of the internet, whose more irresponsible practitioners are immune to discipline or control of any kind.

An internet publication, whether respectable or disreputable, can easily set up shop in another country, where it will be immune from any form of statutory control. That is the future. In his startling innocence, Lord Justice Leveson is often describing the past.

One paragraph in his report highlights his ignorance. In discussing photographs of Prince Harry misbehaving, he suggests they would make more impact on children passing a newsstand than they would on the internet. What planet is he living on? Few children concern themselves with newsstands. Tens of millions of them trawl the internet unsupervised.

Read the full article

Martin Moore - director, Media Standards Trust

What [Leveson] has said is we need to distinguish between organisations that have a lot of power and therefore can do a lot of harm, as opposed to just the usual conversations that happen.

If you try to regulate those then you're getting into problems with free speech and genuinely threatening freedom of expression. What he's trying to do is say 'let's leave that' - and clearly there are problems we have to deal with it separately - but for the moment let's worry about this big bear in the room.

Ashley Hurst - partner at law firm Olswang

If the attraction of a kite mark and other benefits of membership proves to be a draw for online news providers, they may be encouraged by the Leveson recommendation that membership be open to all with modular fees and systems of governance for different types of providers.

Whether the incentives will be enough to entice any online news providers other than the Huffington Post to join remains to be seen. With recommended fines of up to £1m of turnover, online operators may choose to stay well clear for a while and let the newspapers fight it out.

David Banks - author of McNae's Essential Law for Journalists

We're putting a system of regulation in on print newspapers and their websites when the world's changed. The horse hasn't just bolted - there's a whole new horse.

The media landscape has changed vastly in the last five years and will do so again in the next five. Leveson is referred to as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and by ignoring the internet, it's missing an opportunity.

Read full quote in The Guardian

Jim Killock - director of Open Rights Group

He seems to have skirted the issue of the internet. It's important when the government tries to implement some of the recommendations that they avoid trying to pull in citizen media like blogs and internet platforms. It would be deeply inappropriate for individual comments platforms and companies like Facebook to be pulled into this media regulation.

The idea that the internet is not subject to law does not bear scrutiny. When people post things they're at risk of being arrested under the Communications Act, for breaching data protection, and they're subject to libel laws.

However although Leveson has over-egged what he said and misunderstood parts of [the internet] the key thing is he's not calling for regulation to those kinds of platforms and as long as the government try to apply his recommendations to large media outfits then we should be on safe ground.

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