UK Politics

Leveson: Legal warning for tweeters and bloggers

Lord Justice Leveson
Image caption Lord Justice Leveson's report into the culture and ethics of the press was published last month

The law should be enforced against tweeters and bloggers to avoid a drop in mainstream journalistic standards, Lord Justice Leveson has said.

In a speech in Australia, he said there was a "pernicious and false" belief that the law did not apply online.

This undermined the rule of law and could lead to journalists cutting corners in order to "steal a march" on their online competitors.

Creative thinking was needed to ensure the law was applied equally, he said.

Lord Justice Leveson, whose report into the press was published last month, is taking part in a lecture tour, although he has ruled out commenting on the report itself.

'Electronic pub gossip'

During a speech at the University of Melbourne, he insisted there was an important difference between mainstream journalists with "a powerful reputation for accuracy" and bloggers and tweeters who were "no more than electronic versions of pub gossip".

But, he said, there was a danger that a perception online competitors were operating without legal restraints could damage wider journalistic standards and "lead to journalists adopting an approach which was less than scrupulous in the pursuit of stories".

He said: "In order to steal a march on bloggers and tweeters, they might be tempted to cut corners, to break or at least bend the law to obtain information for stories or to infringe privacy improperly to the same end.

"It may encourage unethical, and potentially, unlawful practices to get a story.

"In a culture which sees some act with impunity in the face of the civil law, and the criminal law, a general decline in standards may arise."

It could also lead to some newspapers deciding to publish entirely online and moving abroad to avoid UK law, although this was unlikely in the near future, he added.

He called for creative thinking on making sure the law was applied equally and more international co-operation to enforce standards.

"It might be said that if we facilitate or condone breaches of the law, and thereby weaken the rule of law by failing to act and to recognise judgements and court orders which emanate from other countries, we encourage the weakening of the rule of law at home too," he said.

"If we are to ensure that appropriate standards are maintained, we must meet those challenges, and ensure that the media not only remains subject to the law but that it is not placed at a disadvantage where the enforcement of the law is concerned.

"We will therefore have to think creatively about how we ensure that the law is capable of equal application, and is applied equally and fairly, against the mainstream media and bloggers, tweeters and other amateur online journalists."

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