Tuesday, 4 December 2012

A free press and regulation can go side by side.

One of Lord Justice Leveson's main recommendations is:

An independent self regulatory body should be governed by an independent Board. In order to ensure the independence of the body, the Chair and members of the Board must be appointed in a genuinely open, transparent and independent way, without any influence from industry or Government.

And in the Executive Summary, Page 17 paragraph 72 Lord Justice Leveson asks...

72. What would the legislation achieve? Three things. First, it would enshrine, for the first time, a legal duty on the Government to protect the freedom of the press. Second, it would provide an independent process to recognise the new self-regulatory body and reassure the public that the basic requirements of independence and effectiveness were met and continue to be met; in the Report, I recommend that this is done by Ofcom.(my emphasis) Third, by recognising the new body, it would validate its standards code and the arbitral system sufficient to justify the benefits in law that would flow to those who subscribed; these could relate to data protection and the approach of the court to various issues concerning acceptable practice, in addition to costs consequences if appropriate alternative dispute resolution is available.

And in there lies the answer as to why there is strong opposition to the Leveson Report, especially from right wing politicians and press - they hate Ofcom. After all before the last election David Cameron said the Conservatives would abolish Ofcom.

Lord Justice Leveson continues:

73. Despite what will be said about these recommendations by those who oppose them, this is not, and cannot be characterised as, statutory regulation of the press. What is proposed here is independent regulation of the press organised by the press, with a statutory verification process to ensure that the required levels of independence and effectiveness are met by the system in order for publishers to take advantage of the benefits arising as a result of membership.

74. In the light of all that has been said, I must recognise the possibility that the industry could fail to rise to this challenge and be unable or unwilling to establish a system of independent self-regulation that meets the criteria. I have made it clear that I firmly believe it to be in the best interest of the public and the industry that it should indeed accept the challenge. What is more, given the public entitlement to some accountability of the press, I do not think that either the victims or the public would accept the outcome if the industry did not grasp this opportunity. Neither do I think the public would find it acceptable if I were to overlook the consequences of the industry doing so.

75. For the sake of completeness I have therefore set out in the Report the options that I believe would be open to the Government to pursue, and some views on the potential way forward, in that regrettable event: these include requiring Ofcom to act as a backstop regulator for those not prepared to join such a scheme. I have made no recommendation in relation to this situation, nor do any of the options in this paragraph amount to an outcome that I want to see.

Now I've already posted about how Finland has a self-regulating press underpinned by statute - Leveson and Press Freedom. and Finland jointly tops the Press Freedom Index 2011-2012.

In the index the UK is 28 and the Republic of Ireland is 15. In Ireland they have a self regulating Press Council and Press Ombudsman, which are independent of both government and media. See Press Council of Ireland.

And the legislation that underpins this independent body is the Defamation Act 2009.

In his reply to the Leveson Report the Guardian says ....[David] Cameron said he had "serious concerns and misgivings" in principle to any statutory interference in the media. He warned: "It would mean for the first time we have crossed the Rubicon of writing elements of press regulation into law of the land."

Cameron argued: "We should think very very carefully before crossing this line," warning that parliament for centuries had seen its role as a bulwark of democracy. "We should be wary of any legislation that has the potential to infringe free speech and the free press."

Although as I said in a previous post - Leveson and regulation of the press 'statutory interference' with the media can be found as far back as 1881, and the public interest defence.

Of course he is right we should be weary of any legislation that infringes free speech and free press. However, as Finland and Ireland have shown this is not a reason to stop any legislation that underpins self regulation and protects the principles of free speech and of a free press.

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