David Blackburn

Leveson report recommends statutory underpinning of press regulation

‘This is not, and cannot be characterised as, statutory regulation of the press.’

This is the headline from the Leveson report. That said, Lord Justice Leveson recommends substantial changes to the current self-regulatory system, including changes that empower the civil courts. The changes will be underpinned by legislation to validate the new regulator, to guarantee independence from the industry, parliament and government, and to ensure compliance with certain guidelines.

These changes are the consequence of the failure of the existing regulatory system and widespread press malpractice. Indeed, the report damns Fleet Street. Lord Justice Leveson ‘wholly rejects’ the analysis that activities at now notorious publications were ‘aberrations and don’t reflect the cultures, practices or ethics of the press as a whole’. The problems within the press are so entrenched that there must be wholesale reform of press practice and press regulation rather than the criminal justice system and the police, which, arguably, may have provided redress to victims earlier. Leveson writes that ‘more rigorous application of the criminal law… Does not and should not provide the solution’. The police escape lightly and Leveson has found no evidence of widespread corruption.

Leveson’s regulatory proposals are laid out between paragraphs 47 and 76 of the executive summary. He suggests a new code been drawn up by a committee of former editors to be submitted to the new regulatory body. He insists that they take into account the need for proper documentation to be kept to prove that the public interest angle on each story has been properly assessed; this is part of what Leveson describes as greater ‘transparency’ from the press ‘in relation to sources and source material’.

Leveson’s most controversial proposals concern ‘the very difficult question of participation’. He intends to incentivise membership through the provision of an arbitration service on civil matters like libel.

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