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Read All About It: Leveson Presses To Legislate

Read All About It: Leveson Presses To Legislate

Lord Leveson’s long-awaited Report on the culture, practices and ethics of the press was published last week. The Report, which ran to over 2,000 pages, has been widely received as a comprehensive and clear investigation into how the British press can get back on track following the turmoil they have faced over the past year or so.

Leveson proposes that an independent regulatory system be set up by the press, free from any influence from the government and the press industry - essentially a replacement of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) – with the power to investigate serious breaches and sanction newspapers. He believes that had the PCC been given the power to carry out investigations, both into suspected serious or systemic breaches of the code of conduct, they would have been able more fully to have investigated the allegations of phone hacking at the News of the World.

But who regulates the regulator? Leveson wants the regulator to be monitored by an existing and recognised statutory body, such as Ofcom. The new regulator should have the power to impose fines of 1% of turnover, to a maximum of £1million and that a whistle-blowing hotline should be established for journalists who feel under the pressure to act unethically.

Additionally, Leveson proposes a legally-binding arbitration process to force newspapers to deal effectively with complaints.  Anyone who wishes to take action against the press would therefore be able to seek redress without having to go through the courts.

To ensure that we have a free press Leveson is looking for statutory provisions to be put in place to impose a legal duty on the government.

Regardless of whether legislation is passed, Leveson recommends that the new system should not be mandatory. This is a controversial move since one of the main criticisms of the PCC was its voluntary membership.

Disappointingly, although not surprisingly, only one of the 2000 pages of the Report deals with the internet and social media. This is surprising given the migration to online news that we have seen in recent years. Some have seen Leveson’s distinction between the written press (as a group who claim to follow ethical standards) and the internet (as an “ethical vacuum”) to be a threat to the success of any new regulatory body that may emerge.

Leveson does state that some online newspapers providing “press like” services should be regulated by the new body.  However, critics are bound to state that Leveson has missed an opportunity to provide a clear regulatory structure that covers the entire media landscape.

Only time will tell how effective Lord Leveson’s Report will be at harnessing the media to work towards a brighter, more ethical outlook.  The responsibility will lie at the door of today’s government to adopt a clear strategy in implementing any or all of the Leveson recommendations.  Regardless of the outcome, the decisions made will undoubtedly hit the headlines.

Philiip Rodney