Leveson Report: Analysis
- 29 November 2012
- From the section Entertainment & Arts
For editors, publishers and - not least - newspaper proprietors, this is a damning report.
Lord Justice Leveson not only recommends statutory 'underpinning' for a new independent system of press regulation - rejecting the industry's own proposal for a new body as "not going nearly far enough" to demonstrate independence from publishers.
He also delivers withering verdicts on the behaviour of many journalists and editors, "wholly rejecting" the suggestion that these are "aberrations and do not reflect on the culture, practices or ethics of the press as a whole"
He says parts of the press acted as if its own code simply did not exist and "wreaked havoc" with the lives of innocent people. Ordinary members of the public, caught up in tragic events, had their experiences "made much much worse by press behaviour that, at times, can only be called outrageous".
He goes on: "There has been a recklessness in prioritising sensational stories, almost irrespective of the harm that the stories may cause and the rights of those who would be affected, like the Dowlers, the McCanns and Abigail Witchalls."
Lord Justice Leveson is particularly critical of the publishers of the News of the World, over their response to the conviction of the paper's royal correspondent for hacking into phone messages.
He writes: "Most corporate entities would be appalled that employees were involved in the commission of crime in order to further their business. Not so at the News of the World. When the police sought to execute a warrant, they were confronted and driven off by the staff of the newspaper."
But it wasn't only the News of the World that behaved unethically, he says: "Too many stories in too many newspapers were the subject of complaints from too many people, with too little in the way of titles taking responsibility or considering the consequences for the individuals involved."
There had been a "reckless disregard for accuracy."
So how does he propose it should be put right?
Lord Justice Leveson says the Press Complaints Commission has failed and must be replaced. Newspapers should not be allowed "to mark their own homework".
He says: "The press needs to establish a new regulatory body, which is truly independent of industry leaders and of government and politicians. It must promote high standards of journalism and protect both the public interest and the rights of individuals. The chair and other members of the body must be independent and appointed by a fair and open process."
He says the new body would handle complaints and there could be sanctions for papers that broke the code, including the power to levy fines of up to 1% of a paper's turnover, to a maximum of £1m
But - and this is where his proposal will be opposed by many newspapers - he also says it must be set up by law: "There should be legislation to underpin the independent self-regulatory system."
He says the new law would enshrine for the first time a legal duty on the government to protect the freedom of the press, and provide an independent process to recognise the new self-regulatory body.
In the "regrettable event" that any major publisher refused to join such a scheme, he suggests that one option would be for Ofcom, the broadcasting regulator, to act as a backstop regulator, though he does not recommend this.
Lord Justice Leveson insists that "this is not, and cannot be characterised, as statutory regulation of the press".
But one newspaper senior executive I've spoken to says "this is sophistry".
The press will continue to oppose the state having any role in its regulation. This is where the political battle lines will now be drawn.