The Leveson Report

November 30th, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

AP report at Stuff:

Britain needs a new independent regulator to eliminate a subculture of unethical behaviour that infected segments of the country’s press, a senior judge has said at the end of a year-long inquiry into newspaper wrongdoing.

Lord Justice Brian Leveson said a new regulatory body should be established in law to prevent more people being hurt by “press behaviour that, at times, can only be described as outrageous.”

But UK Prime Minister David Cameron balked at that idea, warning that passing a new law to set up the body would mean “crossing the Rubicon” toward state regulation of the press.

I agree with Cameron that it is undesirable to have the state regulating the media. The ball is in the UK media’s court to set up a new regulator along the lines recommended by Leverson.

The full report is here. He notes:

the press is given significant and special rights in this country which I recognise and have freely supported both as barrister and judge. With these rights, however, come responsibilities to the public interest: to respect the truth, to obey the law4 and to uphold the rights and liberties of individuals. In short, to honour the very principles proclaimed and articulated by the industry itself (and to a large degree reflected in the Editors’ Code of Practice).

Do we have that reflected in codes here?

Turning to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), I unhesitatingly agree with the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition who all believe that the PCC has failed and that a new body is required. Mr Cameron described it as “ineffective and lacking in rigour” whilst Mr Miliband called it a “toothless poodle”. The Commission itself unanimously and realistically agreed in March 2012 to enter a transitional phase in preparation for its own abolition and replacement.

A fascinating recommendation here:

I have recommended as a first step that political leaders reflect constructively on the merits of publishing on behalf of their party a statement setting out, for the public, an explanation of the approach they propose to take as a matter of party policy in conducting relationships with the press.

Not quite sure what this would be. Would a political party have to state that their general approach is to take journalists out for boozy lunches so they write nice things about them? :-)

Some key recommendations:

  • 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.
  • The requirement for independence means that there should be no serving editors on the Board.
  • The Board should not have the power to prevent publication of any material, by anyone, at any time although
  • The Board should have the power to impose appropriate and proportionate sanctions, (including financial sanctions up to 1% of turnover with a maximum of £1m), on any subscriber found to be responsible for serious or systemic breaches of the standards code or governance requirements of the body.
  • The term ‘off-the-record briefing’ should be discontinued. The term ‘non-reportable briefing’ should be used to cover a background briefing which is not to be reported, and the term ‘embargoed briefing’ should be used to cover a situation where the content of the briefing may be reported but not until a specified event or time. These terms more neutrally describe what are legitimate police and media interactions.

Our own media regulation in New Zealand is also being reviewed by the Law Commission, whom I expect will publish a final report next year.

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8 Responses to “The Leveson Report”

  1. RRM (8,988 comments) says:

    Rather than a whole new regulatory body… what about just extending the crown prosecution service, with a dedicated office that focusses on prosecuting the media for cases of slander & libel etc based on laws that are already in place and apply to everyone – news media included?

    If someone assaults you, you generally don’t have to bring a private prosecution.

    If the media didn’t think they could get away with all manner of rubbish – because only the very well-heeled will ever challenge them on it – they might be forced to up their game?

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  2. tvb (3,939 comments) says:

    But we have a statutory regime for broadcasting but not for print which is a declining media. I suppose the print media have to be more and more outrageous to get readers

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  3. kowtow (6,701 comments) says:

    A lack in personal standards and decency on the part of editors,police ,politicians etc and indeed large segments of the public who insist on buying into trash. Sadly a reflection of modern ethics or the lack thereof.

    The response? More government control and calls for legislation.

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  4. AG (1,727 comments) says:

    “I agree with Cameron that it is undesirable to have the state regulating the media.”

    Really? So this post is a call for the abolition of the Broadcasting Standards Authority? And OFCOM in the UK has to go as well? I also assume that the media need a general immunity from defamation, breach of confidence, breach of privacy … not to mention general criminal laws? After all, those are all forms of “state regulation” of the media.

    Furthermore, is there any evidence that statutory regulation (which is really what you are opposing) of one form of media (TV) has resulted in worse outcomes/greater political interference/less preparedness to cover politically inconvenient stories than self-regulation of another (print media)? Because that’s what you’d need to show, if you are to make any argument beyond the kneejerk “if a statute underpins the regulation, then it is bad” one.

    [DPF: Yes the BSA should go. I have said that before. I think an media not regulated by the state is different to a media exempt from the normal laws of the land, and most people know what I meant. I don't want the Government or Parliament being able to decide who is able to be "media" or not. I generally support the Law Commission proposal that sets down criteria for publishers to be able to gain the legal privileges of media - but that you can still be media without those privilege should you so choose

    And yes I think the BSA decisions have affected media, as the fact they are partially Govt appointed means there is less consistency with them over time]

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  5. AG (1,727 comments) says:

    @RRM: “Rather than a whole new regulatory body… what about just extending the crown prosecution service, with a dedicated office that focusses on prosecuting the media for cases of slander & libel etc based on laws that are already in place and apply to everyone – news media included?”

    Because slander and libel are not criminal activities (like assault, which you mention later).

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  6. Graeme Edgeler (3,216 comments) says:

    Really? So this post is a call for the abolition of the Broadcasting Standards Authority? And OFCOM in the UK has to go as well?

    Also minimum wage, and health and safety laws, and anti-slavery laws so far as they relate to the media, one presumes :-)

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  7. thedavincimode (6,119 comments) says:

    Were there any recommendations regarding standardisation of the perforations?

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  8. Alan Wilkinson (1,798 comments) says:

    I agree, the BSA is b.s. organisation and should be long gone. Don’t expect anything constructive from the Law Commission. The only thing they know is more laws and more regulations.

    As for Levesen, he seems unable to comprehend that hacking other peoples’ phones etc. is and should be illegal for anyone, not just the conventional media. So just police and enforce the existing laws.

    He seems to be a political and technological dinosaur.

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