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
    +6

    Comment number 259.

    Presented with shocking evidence, the jury, the public, categorically concluded the defendant was guilty of wrecking countless peoples lives whilst making a lot of money by doing so. The judge after many months of dialogue with the defendent asked the defendent to promise to behave in the future. Thanks be to our Lord.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 258.

    Hugh Grant said he had no reputation to protect - kindly keep up there. The laws we had should have protected us - so WHY didn't they protect us? Why did only the wealthy get to protect themselves? MP's cuddle up to newspapers perhaps because newspapers have information MP's think would look bad if it was in the public view.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 257.

    Freedom of press means the public have a right to challenge what they have written, both in the media and in court. i beleive the press should pay for this, they will be more careful and accurate about what they print in future.
    Trial by court not trial by facebook, twitter or any other media as we have now.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 256.

    Is the public allowed to purchase a copy of this report?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 255.

    How much has all this cost?. What will it achieve? . Will the torys back it?............The answers ......NO..........NOTHING.........NO... All the lawyers collect your wedge.and look forward to the next ;Nice little earner:.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 254.

    Ian Hislop said it best, and I'm probably going to quote it wrong, but it was something like "we don't need more laws, we just need the press to obey the ones we do have"

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 253.

    Only fools and con men 'believe' there is a free press in the UK. There is only two or three oligarchs using the media to dictate the agenda to the politicians they hold paralyzed. If nothing else Leveson proved to us the newspapers can never be trusted to self-regulate. Retractions and apologies should take up the same amount of space in the same place in the publication as the offending article

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 252.

    #185 a valid point.. and very often the government wants some things not to be in open court because 'they are not in the public interest' or 'in the interests of national security'. Obviously very often because it would be politically embarrassing. On balance this is one area where the Press and public interest view should hold sway.

  • rate this
    -6

    Comment number 251.

    In another BBC article, Graham Foulkes, who lost lost a son in 7/7 nicely summed up the inquiry when "slebs" got involved:

    "...The inquiry went from a very serious and important piece of work to OK Magazine overnight,..."

    Thanks a lot Hugh - thanks to you and your chums we lost a golden opportunity to sort out the press properly.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 250.

    Absolutely underwhelming! Where is the clear, tough recommendations we expected from Lord Leverson? Perhaps we have been whistling in the wind. OMG; the future is ging to be as bad as the past.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 249.

    The press want a system akin to one where the Thieves appoint the judges.

    For the sake of genuine free speech we need to support Levenson on this

  • rate this
    +9

    Comment number 248.

    So when will Rupert Murdoch be arrested then?

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 247.

    I know.... Let's have directly elected Press Complaints Commissioners!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 246.

    Freedom of press is good as long as there is no harm to the nation is done.Also people have to know it is an opinion and not the policy.Educators should warn the students about this.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 245.

    "4.Terzo333 But what does this mean for the Daily Sport?"

    Should have no impact on it - or the Dandy or the Beano come to that.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 244.

    Lots of talk of a free press, but only free for those that can afford to publish, be it true or false. Was it free for people who were wronged eg Hillsborough families, was the press free for them ?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 243.

    Will the proposed watchdog be impartial, and not subject to any influences? Or will it be governed by politicians and spin doctors?

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 242.

    Never forget, their all in it together.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 241.

    @217 grump-old-man

    You'll notice that people are already being tried for the crimes they committed re: phone hacking.

    Why do we need more laws here? Criminal actions deserve criminal prosecution. Press regulation is not the answer.

    Further to that you mention libel laws, which already make this country a laughing stock because they reach too far. Time to push things the other way.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 240.

    Leveson has been far too measured. The evidence of systemic abuse by journalists, bribery of police officers (underplayed by Leveson), undue influence on feeble politicians by Murdoch undermine our supposed democracy. His proposals look likely to be watered down by vested interests of politicians who don't want to be exposed and press who want the freedom to do what they want - opportunity missed!

 

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