Sunday, June 26 2016

Final stage of Leveson Inquiry commences

As the Leveson Inquiry enters its concluding stage, recommendations for press reform, there is coverage in the newspapers today of the testimonies of, amongst others, Lord Hunt, chairman of the Press Complaints Commission; Lord Black, chairman of Press Standards Board of Finance  (PressBof), representatives from the National Union of Journalists and Martin Moore, Director of Media Standards Trust.

From the BBC:

“Lord Justice Leveson has told the chairman of the Press Complaints Commission he has "absolutely no truck with censorship".

“He was responding to comments by Lord Hunt, who said statutory regulation of journalists could lead to censorship.

“Lord Hunt also said the taxpayer should not finance regulation of the press.

“Lord Hunt told the inquiry, in a witness statement: "I do... have genuine and profound misgivings about directly involving the state - ministers, civil servants or even parliamentarians - in anything that might chill freedom of expression arbitrarily and unnecessarily."

“Lord Hunt went on to say he had suggested a new system of self-regulation, to be funded by publishers.

“"Do we really need a press law to highlight the need for a cultural change?" he asked.

“"If we receive the green light we will immediately move to set up a new body. I am pleading for an opportunity to make progress now."

“Lord Justice Leveson also said he would provide a report regarding any new press regulation "that will make a recommendation, but it will not be my decision".

“Meanwhile, NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet and chairman of the NUJ's ethics committee Professor Chris Frost said self-regulation of newspapers had "failed the test every time".

“"Self-regulation has been given the chance to work in many different forms over the past 40 years and has failed the test every time."

“Ms Stanistreet also said proposals for a new system of self-regulation - outlined by Lord Hunt - were "nothing but more of the same".

The Guardian also reports that Lord Justice Leveson is using powers under the Inquiries Act 2005 to find out if editors agree with detailed plans put forward by Lord Black to bind newspapers to self-regulation with no opt-out clause. The voluntary nature of the former PCC undermined the whole system of self-regulation allowing publishers of titles, such as Express newspapers, to withdraw from the system leaving readers no avenue to address grievance.

The Guardian yesterday carried an editorial reflecting on the potential of the Leveson Inquiry to achieve something “far reaching and important”:

“The British press is arguably under-regulated and over-legislated. The Press Complaints Commission was never a regulator in any meaningful sense of the term. The rules on ensuring plurality of voice don't work.

“Lords Black and Hunt have done much to secure a large measure of industry consensus behind a new form of more independent regulation with greater powers of investigation and punishment. The system would rely on the major publishers entering into long-term contracts with the new regulator, and would be non-statutory. This is real progress.

“But if regulation is to be voluntary, how do you prevent publishers simply walking away, as Richard Desmond, the owner of the Express titles, did with the PCC? One idea – which looks slightly protectionist and may not be workable in the blogging age – is to limit information, press conferences and events to accredited staff of large publishers. Another – more desirable, anyway – is to create an arbitral wing of the regulator, which would deal with libel and privacy matters swiftly and cheaply.

“Most of the press would need persuading that any form of statute is desirable or necessary. Leveson, however, may want to show that he can not only regulate more effectively, but also propose a new settlement protecting public-interest journalism.

“The Leveson inquiry has revealed shocking things about press, policing and politics. It retains the potential to achieve something far-reaching and important.”

Transcripts of the hearings and submissions, including those of Lord Hunt and Lord Black, on their recommendations for reformed the PCC are available to read and download here.

You can see ENGAGE’s oral evidence to the Leveson Inquiry here and download our submission here. Our recommendations on Lord Hunt’s draft proposals on a reformed PCC can be read here.

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