Leveson report: New body to curb press 'havoc'

 

Lord Justice Leveson: "It must protect both the public interest and the rights and liberties of individuals"

A tougher form of self-regulation backed by legislation should be introduced to uphold press standards, the Leveson report has recommended.

Lord Justice Leveson said the press had "wreaked havoc in the lives of innocent people" for many decades.

But the report's recommendations have divided the coalition government.

David Cameron said he had "serious concerns" over statutory regulation but Nick Clegg said he supported some form of legal underpinning.

And Labour leader Ed Miliband urged the government to accept the report in its entirety.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Cameron said he broadly welcomed Lord Justice Leveson's principles to change the current system.

But he said: "We should be wary of any legislation that has the potential to infringe free speech and the free press.

"The danger is that this would create a vehicle for politicians whether today or some time in the future to impose regulation and obligations on the press."

Proposed new press law

Would:

  • Create a process to "validate" the independence and effectiveness of the new self-regulation body
  • Validate a new process of independent arbitration for complainants - which would benefit both the public and publishers by providing speedy resolutions
  • Place a duty on government to protect the freedom of press

Would not:

  • Establish a body to regulate the press directly
  • Give any Parliament or government rights to interfere with what newspapers publish

Deputy Leader Nick Clegg said changing the law was the only way to ensure "the new regulator isn't just independent for a few months or years, but is independent for good".

Mr Miliband described the report as "measured, reasonable and proportionate" and said Labour "unequivocally" endorsed its conclusions.

After the first of cross-party talks, a senior Labour source said Mr Cameron had agreed to ask the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to draft a bill to implement Lord Justice Leveson's recommendations.

The source added Labour would push for a Commons vote on implementing the recommendation in principle by the end of January.

The Hacked Off campaign, which represents victims of phone hacking said Mr Cameron's "failure" to accept the full recommendations of the report was "unfortunate and regrettable".

Founder Brian Cathcart said: "Despite their years of abuses and outrageous conduct, it seems that the prime minister still trusts the editors and proprietors to behave themselves. It seems that the prime minister wants self-regulation all over again."

Madeleine McCann's mother Kate said she hoped the report would "mark the start of a new era" for the press, in which it treated those in the news "with care and consideration".

The prime minister knows he has given his opponents yet another stick to beat him with. He also knows, however, that the press are firmly on his side.

Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors said he hoped any British politician would hesitate before doing anything that "might in the slightest way threaten the freedom of the media".

"What happens 20 years down the line if you have a different government, which was upset by the press again, once you've given away the principle and put a law in place, it's very easy to amend."

Mr Cameron set up the Leveson Inquiry in July 2011 after it emerged journalists working for the Sunday tabloid the News of the World had hacked the mobile phone of murdered Surrey schoolgirl Milly Dowler. The paper was subsequently shut down by its owners News International.

'Accountable press'

Among Lord Justice Leveson's findings:

  • All of the press served the country "very well for the vast majority of the time"
  • The press must create a new and tough regulator backed by legislation to ensure it was effective
  • This cannot be characterised as statutory regulation
  • Legally-binding arbitration process needed to force newspapers to deal effectively with complaints
  • Some "troubling evidence" in relation to the actions of some police officers - but no proof of widespread corruption
  • Over last 30 years all political parties have had too close a relationship with the press which has not been in the public interest
  • Former Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt was not biased in his handling of News Corp's BSkyB bid but failed to supervise his special adviser properly
  • The tabloid press often failed to show "consistent respect for the dignity and equality of women", and there is a "tendency to sexualise and demean" women.

In his 2,000-page report, Appeal Court judge Lord Justice Leveson said his proposals will protect the rights of victims and people bringing complaints.

He said the press had failed to properly regulate itself in the past, but he believed the law could be used to "validate" a new body.

Analysis

The statute proposed by Lord Justice Leveson is intended to do three things: Enshrine freedom of the press for the first time; recognise the new regulator; and ensure it can be can be audited to confirm it is performing to proper standards.

It also provides incentives to publishers to sign up. Incentives are needed because no serving newspaper editor can serve on the new body. The proposals amount to the press being allowed to set up its own regulator, but not sit on it.

Principally the incentives involve setting up an arbitration service to settle disputes with members of the public over privacy and libel. If a publisher isn't part of that service and has to go to court, it could be deprived of very considerable legal costs, even if it won. And if it lost, it could be made to pay additional, exemplary damages.

These proposals on arbitration represent a very large carrot and stick and that, says Lord Justice Leveson, needs legislation. But in addition, there's a shotgun in the cupboard. The broadcast regulator Ofcom could act as a backstop regulator for those publishers not persuaded by the Leveson carrot and stick.

He said: "There have been too many times when, chasing the story, parts of the press have acted as if its own code, which it wrote, simply did not exist.

"This has caused real hardship, and on occasion, wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people whose rights and liberties have been disdained.

"This is not just the famous but ordinary members of the public, caught up in events (many of them truly tragic) far larger than they could cope with but made much, much worse by press behaviour that, at times, can only be described as outrageous."

Lord Justice Leveson said putting "a policeman in every newsroom is no sort of answer," because legal powers were limited to allow the press to act in the public interest.

However, the press is "still the industry marking its own homework", and needs an independent self-regulatory body to promote high standards, he added.

The Metropolitan Police said it accepted the criticisms made against it in the report.

Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe said he had already taken "decisive action" on the issues raised and his priority was now ensuring phone-hacking victims got justice.

The chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, Lord Hunt, said the press had to seize the baton and make sure it "doesn't let Lord Justice Leveson down".

 

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  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 1315.

    Cameron had no intention of changing press regulation. Whether from fear of, or fondness for his media friends, he's betrayed the victims of our feral press. Leveson's report is balanced & sensible. Press claims that their ability to expose wrongdoing would be harmed is a nonsense - they get to write their own rules - & part of the legislation would enshrine in law the freedom of the press!

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 1273.

    Regulating the press is not the right solution. We must learn to tolerate the reality that our freedom is enshrined in the ability of the press to act unshackled. Of course they must behave within the rules of society and not act criminally, that's paramount, but to tie them up with legislation which has political controls would be folly. We don't want politicians to have influence over the press.

  • rate this
    +150

    Comment number 496.

    An independent watchdog only works if all newspapers are required to abide by its rulings. And that can only be achieved by giving the watchdog statutory backing. The Government should promote such a Bill in Parliament, giving MPs a free vote.

  • rate this
    -97

    Comment number 408.

    Despite the attempt at disguising it Leveson is calling for the State to 'regulate' the press, e.g. for government control of the newspapers. This is not acceptable in a free society. We don't need new laws to restrict press freedom - what some of the papers did broke the ordinary law and they should be punished for that - but don't make this an excuse for a press gag.

  • rate this
    +135

    Comment number 404.

    I have worked in many countries and know how precious a strong and free media is. With that freedom though comes responsibility and too often some elements of the media have crossed that line;as L Leveson says, innocent people have been hurt. We have to ensure that that line is not crossed whilst allowing the media the freedom to investigate when they can do a fine job - e.g. with MPs expenses

 

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