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Leveson report recommends statutory underpinning of press regulation

29 November 2012

‘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’.

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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. The word ‘incentive’ is strange in relation to paragraph 67, where Leveson writes:

‘If, by declining to be part of a regulatory system, a publisher has deprived a claimant of access to a quick, fair, low cost arbitration of the type I have proposed, the Civil Procedure Rules (governing civil litigation) could permit the court to deprive that publisher of its costs of litigation in privacy in defamation, privacy and other media cases, even if it had been successful. After all, it’s success could have been achieved far more cheaply for everyone.’

The incentive that comes with this new body, therefore, is a stick dressed as a carrot, and it dramatically increases the discretionary powers of the civil courts. There are further recommendations about what recourse might available against publications that are found to have trangressed ‘civil legal rights’; again, the answer is for courts to impose costs in the hope of coercing miscreants into compliance. On the other hand, Leveson proposes that those private individuals who bring expensive libel actions rather than pursuing a course of arbitration should be subject to the same penalties as the press; this is designed to stop rich or well funded people with something to hide who use the prospect of costly legal action in order to frighten the media from reporting. Leveson recommends that the arbitration committee be staffed by former judges and lawyers who are au fait with media law so that they are able to judge meritorious claims and achieve swift resolution.

These changes to the legal and regulatory system are substantial, and Leveson recognises that such provisions would need ‘legislation to underpin the independent self-regulatory system and facilitate its recognition in legal processes’. That is to say that the new body would be created by the press industry and then recognised by law; thus independence would be preserved and clear standards would be established. Under Leveson’s proposals, the only legal requirement placed on the press is to ‘direct the placement and prominence of corrections and apologies in respect of information found, by that body, to require them’. Leveson recommends that Ofcom has responsibility for assuring the public that the self-regulatory body meets its own requirements; thus maintaining standards and independence.

If the industry – or elements of the industry – do not comply with new regime and its standards, Leveson describes how the government might achieve compliance. One of these options is that Ofcom might act as a “backstop regulator for those not prepared to join such a scheme”. Leveson stresses that these are no recommendations; but merely a discussion of possible ways forward should the need arise.

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  • A Layman

    “He intends to incentivise membership through the provision of an arbitration service on civil matters like libel.”

    Oh, by the way, the lawyers have set up such a service already – ready and waiting.. Who’s the Managing Director? Why, Alastair Brett – Former Legal Manager of The Times.

    Stitch-up or what?

  • Nick Cartwright

    “After all, it’s success…” – so Leveson doesn’t understand when and when not to use an apostrophe. Compounds my judgement of the man.

  • Nick

    The press and media are out of control and have been for years.They believe that they are above the law and many of them are in fact above the law…..No names mentioned but they are on police bail at the moment having been charged.There are many reasons why I feel that legislation is necessary to control the press but there is one that overrides all of them……The parents of Milly Dowler thought their daughter was alive when Milly’s voice mail was activated.Those poor people actually thought she was alive…….And the press did that to them……..Which makes the press as bad as the girls killer.

    • eeore

      Think of the children.

      • Nick

        Hello Eeore.Maybe Fergus should think of the children as well.

        • eeore

          Frankly you should be thoroughly ashamed of yourself for suggesting the press behaved as badly as the killer. Which is not to diminish the parents feelings, but to suggest that offering false hope is the same as extinguishing all hope, is not the argument a moral being should make.

          • Nick

            The press are the same as the killer in the sense that they have no feelings for people.Like the killer,they simply function like mindless automata.Us mere members of the public are here for the taking,no matter what we may feel.The press have no feelings or morales.They simply function like a mindless killer and do what they want.

            • eeore


              • Nick

                Yep,really.And the proof is all around us which is why the Levenson enquiry was initiated in the first place.

    • Fergus Pickering

      I have rarely heard such bollocks. You can’t REALLY mean it, can you? Good God, you can.

      • Nick

        Yes Fergus,I REALLY do mean it.What’s wrong with what I have said? Let me guess……….The truth hurts?

  • June

    Self regulation never works. Once again, newspapers have gotten away with murder. Leveson has been a damp squib.

    • eeore

      Any evidence you have of this murder should be reported to the police.

      • June

        Obviously you’re not aware of something called a figure of speech, so I understand why you’d find my, no doubt a feeble attempt at hyperbole, a little… stretching.

        • eeore

          Let me guess, that was a feeble attempt at sarcasm?

          • June

            That’s right… there is hope for you yet. Stay tuned, you might learn a little bit more.

            • eeore

              I doubt it.

  • eeore

    I see, so the Rothschild’s fund David Bell to set up MST, and through David Bell in his role as an advisor, groups set up by MST are called as witnesseses. Then on the same day as the report is published, Rebecca Brooks and Andy Coulson turn up in court in relation to an investigation being overseen by a police officer who has undergone Common Purpose training. And on the board of that charity happen to be David Bell and Anthony Salz, the executive vice chairman of the Rothschild charity.

  • the viceroy’s gin

    “If ye love wealth better than liberty,
    the tranquility of servitude
    better than the animating contest of freedom,
    go home from us in peace.
    We ask not your counsels or your arms.
    Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you.
    May your chains set lightly upon you,
    and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen.”

    Samuel Adams
    (1722-1803), was known as the “Father of the American Revolution.”
    Date:Philadelphia State House, August 1, 1776

  • Rhoda Klapp

    Basically it means that instead of the PCC being composed of the press itself it will have its members chosen from those considered ‘sound’ by Sir Humphrey Appleby. You know, it would not surprise me a bit if that list of prospects comprised not a few ex-politicians and quango bosses. KBEs all round, chaps. Wonderful. Will anything change? Don’t be daft.

    I do not think the import of this in any way justifies the mass orgy of onanism on my telly at this moment.

    Now, can we get on to the energy bill, or does the prospect of the lights going out quail into insignificance compared with Hugh Grant’s right to pick which stories about him get out?

  • DavidDP

    The politicians and press were too close, and so we’re going to have the politicians regulate the press?
    Consistency of argument and logic is clearly not Lord Justice Leveson’s strong point.

    • HooksLaw

      Where to politicians do any regulating?

      • Mike

        Who appoints the regulator? The days when non-political people ran NGOs are long gone. The chap who runs Ofcom is an ex- Brown aide.

        The problem is that the only left wing papers , the Guardian, Daily Mirror and Indy are out numbered by right wing ones and the middle class left wing do not like it. Left wing middle class types actually know that they could not raise the money to produce profitable competition to Mail. Express, Sun and Telegraph and/or |Sky because most people would not buy the product. I do not buy buy Murdoch’s products if possible, but I wish the left middle class types would try to compete with him rather than just whining.

  • William Blakes Ghost

    Levesons argument is fundamentally flawed because he attempts to differentiate between the police’s role in bringing criminals to book in the real world and bringing corrupt journalists to book because somehow the activities of journalists are ‘hidden’ from the victim. How is that different from the whole raft of fraud, invasion of privacy, data, identity theft and other associated crimes. It’s bollocks.

    It is a wholly false argument. Not only that, his proposals for appointees of appointees of stooges of the industry and politics is just another carve up by the corrupt elite intended to distance the purpotrators from their activities. It is a way of ensuring that polticians and press bare no responsibility for whatever it is that they contrive to do behind they layers of grey resource sapping bureacracy. The idea that he clams it to be independent is as laughable as it is futile. Appointees can never be viewed as independent.

    Instead of providing these common crooks with their own privileged version of justice, treat them like any other common crooks.

    • eeore

      His questioning only works in one direction.

      He criticizes John Yates for the ‘flawed’ investigation of the phone hacking, and suggests that it was related to his friendships with NI. Yet he ignores that NI also had relationships within government, and these contacts played as much, if not more, of a role in the way the investigation was handled, and the decision to prosecute or not.

      And it is worth considering why Leveson did not chose to look at this relationship in terms of a wider pattern that is perhaps evidenced by Cash for Questions, Doctor Kelly, Tessa Jowell and her husband’s activities, Peter Mandelson’s mortgage arrangements etc. There were a number of ‘scandals’ throughout the Blair years in particular that on the face of it have similar elements to phone hacking. The only difference is that at the time the phone hacking ‘scandal’ broke the relationships between NI and the Labour government had broken down.

  • In2minds

    “The police escape lightly and Leveson has found no evidence of widespread corruption” – You could have bet on on that!

    • HooksLaw

      Yes. how should we define ‘widespread’ I wonder?

      • Rhoda Klapp

        It’s OK, not widespread at all. Just a few officers getting very well rewarded.

        • dalai guevara

          We can relax and breathe a sigh of relief. Now we can spend all our time debating how or how not to install Leveson’s proposals, discuss a timeline, discuss protocol, apply a party political spin to it and so on.

          This will be a welcome distraction to all those who were anxious to see some form of exercising of existing law.

        • eeore

          Or not, given the current stories about Cyril Smith.

    • jsfl

      Clearly looking the other way is not deemed corrupt then…..

    • High level torrist informant

      Leveson has white washed corrupt police practices especially their role in telling a pack of lies to then PM Gordon Brown in 2007. Another Establishment cover up. Anybody want to ‘engage’?

      • high level terrorist informant

        high level terrorist informant.

    • English Communist Party

      Looks like Leveson was spoon fed by the British plods.

  • HooksLaw

    ‘ permit the court to deprive that publisher of it’s costs of litigation in privacy in defamation, privacy and other media cases’ – this seems a good idea since Captain Bob famously spread loads of money around the legal system to frighten people off taking him to court.

  • HooksLaw

    ‘ failure of the existing regulatory system and widespread press malpractice’ and it was not just at the NOTW.

    Grub St is aptly named and when you see the tabloidisation of what was once a fine newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, you can see why. Today’s press is run by infantile juveniles; children playing in their sandpit have more serious intent and have a greater sense of propriety.

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