Legal incentives (such as protection from exemplary damages, legal costs and the opportunity to influence the case-law on privacy and free speech), could be provided for ethical publications who set up and comply with a scheme independent of both the state and serving editors/owners.
Liberty’s Director, Shami Chakrabarti, was on the panel of Assessors who advised Lord Justice Leveson – but is responding as the head of the human rights organisation and not in her role on the panel:
“Leveson’s main proposal makes sense for the public, press and politicians alike. The press sets up a robust body – independent of Government and serving editors – and earns legal protections from needless challenges in court. The public gets confidence of greater access to justice and redress when things go wrong. What nobody needs and Liberty cannot support is any last-resort compulsory statutory press regulation – coming at too high a price in a free society.”
What is the Report’s main recommendation on press regulation?
Why is this good for the public?
Why is this good for the free press?
What about the internet?
How does this differ from statutory regulation?
What Liberty cannot support
1. The panel of Assessors was appointed
by the Prime Minister for their expertise in the range of issues being
considered by the Inquiry. Their job was to advise Lord Justice Leveson in those
areas of expertise rather than on findings of fact which are purely a matter for
the Judge. Contrary
to some media reports, Shami Chakrabarti remained in Liberty's employment and
neither she nor Liberty have taken any remuneration or expenses for her role on
2. Whilst the Report acknowledges that whether an industry body meets the criteria triggering legal benefits will ultimately be a matter for the courts, it suggests that a “recognition body” should initially decide whether a press regulatory group meets the statutory standards. Liberty regards this as unnecessary bureaucratic intervention and believes that this “recognition” should be left to the Courts not a quango.
3. The report also proposes changes to the Information Commissioner’s Office. For example it recommends making the ICO a Commission with increased resources and to expand prosecution powers to cover any offence that is in breach of privacy principles. It also proposes increasing the penalty for breach of section 55 of the DPA (unlawfully obtaining, disclosing or procuring the disclosure of personal information without the consent of the data controller) – to include a custodial sentence. Compensation would also be extended to individuals who have suffered distress but not financial loss, as a result of a breach of the DPA requirements. In discharging its functions, the ICO would take into account whether newspapers were members of a regulatory group. Liberty supports these suggestions.
4. The national newspapers have been understandably unanimous in their rejection of state regulation but have generally agreed with the need for effective, independent regulation. In Liberty’s view they should all be able to support and implement the principal (if not the last-resort) proposal in the Leveson Report:
“There is scope for a new, tougher self-regulator – one with the power to proactively investigate and to fine”
The Independent, 27th Nov 2012
“The proposals for a new voluntary regulator are extremely severe on wrongdoers… Nobody can call such a regime toothless”
Mail on Sunday, 25th Nov 2012
“The crucial question to any journalist advocating independent regulation over statute is this: is the new regulator proposed by the press sufficiently tough, independent and enduring to command widespread public support?”
The Guardian, 26th Nov 2012
“How would a belligerent press behave if they saw a powerful, self-regulated industry behave as badly as journalism sometimes has over the last ten years?”
The Observer, 25th Nov 2012
“No one defends the PCC, the toothless self-regulator of the press for the past two decades…”
Independent on Sunday, 25th Nov 2012
“…we need to move to a system of independent regulation with a judicial, not statutory, backstop”
The Times, 27th Nov 2012
“...a new self-regulatory structure…should have the power to summon editors and journalists to answer for their actions, and to punish newspapers with substantial fines if they breach the code of good practice. It should also have a duty to report suspected crimes to the police. It must offer a fair, fast and forceful solution when issues arise. Public confidence in it will depend on its ability to hold newspapers firmly to account”
Daily Telegraph, 28th Oct 2012