Northern Ireland

'Leveson for NI' claim dismissed as review announced

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Ian Paisley asked whether the policy could be characterised as 'Leveson for Northern Ireland'

The government has dismissed suggestions the appointment of an independent reviewer for press standards represents a "Leveson for Northern Ireland".

The National Union for Journalists (NUJ) has called for "absolute clarity" on the scope and nature of the review.

Northern Ireland was not included in the original Leveson press inquiry.

The review was announced after moves to implement a second stage of the inquiry were defeated in parliament.

A review by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) of journalists' compliance with new data protection regulations is to take place in all parts of the UK in four years' time.

But Northern Ireland will have an "independent named reviewer" overseeing the process and it is understood the report will be shared with ministers in the relevant devolved administrations.

The original Leveson Inquiry

The original inquiry, chaired by Lord Justice Leveson, was set up in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal that led to the closure of the News of the World in 2011. It reported in November 2012

A small number of publications have joined Impress, the self-regulatory body set up to be "Leveson-compliant"

Most newspapers have signed up to Ipso, the Independent Press Standards Organisation, which has no intention of applying for recognition under the royal charter

A second phase of the inquiry was envisaged to cover cases under criminal investigation while phase one was carried out, and further examine relations between journalists and the police.

Former Labour leader Ed Miliband had tabled an amendment seeking a new inquiry into press standards, during a vote in the House of Commons.

The Conservatives had opposed re-opening the Leveson Inquiry in their general election manifesto

Culture Secretary Matt Hancock said earlier this year that the "world had changed" and that "we do not believe that this costly and time-consuming public inquiry is the right way forward"

The DUP had previously called for the original Leveson Inquiry to be extended to Northern Ireland but backed the government in the vote on Wednesday to defeat an amendment to implement the second stage of the inquiry.

Although Northern Ireland was not included in the original remit, the editors of The Irish News and The Belfast Telegraph gave evidence to the inquiry in 2012, as did the PSNI chief constable at the time, Sir Matt Baggott, and his predecessor Sir Hugh Orde.

Image caption Culture Secretary Matt Hancock announced the UK-wide review in the House of Commons

'Leveson for Northern Ireland'

Following the vote, DUP North Antrim MP Ian Paisley asked the Culture Secretary whether: "It'd be fair for me to characterise that as a Leveson for Northern Ireland?"

Mr Hancock replied: "The way I would characterise it is as a review aligned with the new clause 23, which we're bringing in for the whole country, specifically to look into effects in Northern Ireland.

"We will make sure through the review that the future of the press is both free and reasonable. That their behaviour is reasonable yet they are not subject to statutory regulation," he added.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The first part of the original inquiry, chaired by Lord Justice Leveson, reported in 2012

Mr Milliband laughed as the announcement was made, saying that it was an "extraordinary way to make policy" which did not apply across the UK.

'Seeking urgent engagement'

NUJ assistant general secretary, Séamus Dooley, said the union will be "seeking full consultation" on the terms of reference of the proposed review.

"We are surprised that a specific review of the press in Northern Ireland has been announced. The confused manner of the announcement suggests that the proposal has not been properly thought out and may be motivated by political expediency," he said.

"We are seeking urgent engagement on the terms of reference for the review.

"It would have been more appropriate if such a review had formed part of the terms of reference of the Leveson Two process.

"Northern Ireland was excluded from the remit of the original inquiry although a number of Northern Ireland witnesses gave evidence to Lord Justice Leveson, including local newspaper editors," added Mr Dooley.

At the time of the original report, a charity for relatives of murder victims, Support after Murder and Manslaughter (Samm NI), called for a press ombudsman for Northern Ireland.

Image caption Pam Surphlis said she was "disappointed" at news of the review

'Had to change my phone number'

Samm NI's volunteer co-ordinator and chair, Pam Surphlis, whose father Rev Eric Davidson and sister Judith were found murdered in his Cookstown home in 1992, said that the announcement of a review was "disappointing".

She said that her own experience of dealing with the media had been traumatic.

"I had to change my phone number. I had all sorts of people coming after me for my story," she said.

"I would like to see journalists go into group sessions with those who have been a victim of any crime - to see what it is like for them."

The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said how and when a Northern Ireland reviewer was to be appointed was yet to be decided.

A spokesman for the DCMS said: "As in the Government amendment, we have proposed a statutory review of journalists' compliance with the new data protection regulations in four years from Royal Assent of the Bill.

"Within this ICO review, or aligned to it, we will make sure there is an independent named reviewer for Northern Ireland."

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