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
    +1

    Comment number 1319.

    It doesn't suit the government to have a well regulated press and media.

    The government thrives on the ability to feed in stories.
    In return it gives proprietors free rein.

    Mutual appreciation society.

    If others get hurt - so what?
    They will never get properly published anyway.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1318.

    Just read that when David Cameron resigned as Carlton Communications' Director of Corporate Affairs, he remained on the payroll as a consultant.

    Of course he is going to be objective when it comes to dealing with the media..... Isn't he?

    Politicians with a background in the media are not to be trusted....

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1317.

    Leveson is recommending statutory backup for the press regulatory body to give it teeth. He is NOT recommending statutory control of the press. WHY is David Cameron deliberately misunderstanding that point? Why is he misrepresenting Leveson's position? He's creating confusion, and going back on his promise to implement the results of the enquiry. His position is absolutely untenable, he should go.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1316.

    It should have been obvious to us all along. This spineless excuse of a Prime Minister called for the enquiry and PROMISED that he would abide by the outcome unless it was “bonkers”.

    Now he fears the mighty tabloids will turn against him and so he lets down the country (again).

    Time for Eton Dave to go and get someone who will do the job.

  • 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
    0

    Comment number 1314.

    A mountain of an inquiry that laboured to bring forth a mouse. Why such craven fear of the establishment and the newspapers and their owners which support it?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1313.

    I am ashamed of my Prime Minister. If I betrayed the poor victims of repeated and willful Press misconduct in this way, I would shrivel up and die.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1312.

    Leveson noted: Some "troubling evidence" in relation to the actions of some police officers
    Lord Justice Leveson said putting "a policeman in every newsroom is no sort of answer,"

    You summed it up beautifully Leveson .... brilliant!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1311.

    Clegg needs to stand for once on one leg & give Cameron for once, a good rebuttal with his "Other"!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1310.

    Serve them right. Hit them where it hurts. Don't fined them millions, fined them billions. So called national news paper printed princes Harry's naked photos as headlines? It's not public interest, it's a pure greed with one thing in mind " MONEY".

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1309.

    What a shower our ministers are... they all wanted the inquiry, they all voted for it and now they are at war, what a shambolic lot!

    Our so-called ministers are good at holding inquiries, wasting our money and claiming expenses.... it's a pity they wasn't as good at running the country!

    Under no circumstance must the government regulate... thanks to the media they uncovered the expenses saga!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1308.

    For goodness sake Cameron stop defending the indefensible. These Editors and media owners are not really your friends. Some of them are going to go to jail and you will get it in the back once this all blows over.

    IF they get the story right they have nothing to fear.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 1307.

    Move along - There's nothing to see here....

    Mr Cameron - Why are you not implementing the recommendations of the Leveson Report as you said you would?

    Have the press got to you as well?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 1306.

    Existing laws, if enforced, are adequate. The enquiry was wholly unnecessary and wasteful of public money; merely a sop to the hysterical , fading 'celebrities' and compensation seekers

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 1305.

    The more of Mr Cameron I see; the less of a Prime Minister is "He"!

    Especially after today (29/11/2012) when he bought the "Press's Popularity"!

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 1304.

    Lost in judicial caution, Leveson must have seen it

    Michel Portillo sees: we've 'a free press', NOT a free people

    Cameron perhaps 'cannot see it'

    Career & party interest preclude

    Content to think victims only few

    To deride a 'UK first amendment'

    Mugabe seen in Clegg & Miliband

    Ideas to or from beloved titles?

    The public so easily led

    Even to vote votes down!

    Innocuous AV-Plus demonised!

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 1303.

    All those suggesting that nothing needs to be done, really don't get it. Its not about crimes not being prosecuted, or politicians being cosy with press barons, or the rich being able to afford to sue. Its about those who can't afford to sue, or those so traumatised by events that all they want is to be left alone. That is why Leveson's recommendations need to be accepted in full, now.

  • Comment number 1302.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1301.

    Here's the thing. I personally do not care if a 30p tabloid rallied a mob to laugh at my opinions. It just gives me more people to laugh at! AND to annoy! People can say what they like about my opinions, and I would defend them against anybody who tried to make them be silent, since it's hard for me to care about hurt feelings from name calling when there is REAL human suffering in the world.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 1300.

    I can see this report being totally ignored by government and nothing happening to curb the out of control press.

    Paparazzi will still plague peoples doorsteps and the media will continue to sell drivel under the guise of news.

    Some good reporting goes on, but is being drowned by drivel.

 

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