I suppose it was inevitable that Lord Justice Leveson’s report on the media would dominate the media for the last week. Most of the comment from press has been defensive and has opposed some parts of the report.
I am no media lawyer, although to some degree we all now have a role to play –
There cannot be any doubt that more robust regulation is needed.
The Leveson Report recommends a new Press Regulator which is truly independent. In particular it must be independent of editors, owners or politicians. I doubt if anybody could dispute that. What is a bit more controversial is his suggestion about what happens if say a newspaper refused to sign up. Leveson suggests that there should be a safety net in the form of a statutory body like Ofcom. This would give the new regulator some statutory power.
This suggestion of a legal ‘stick’ has some commentators up in arms. The Prime minister has talked about his serious misgivings about State Regulation. Not surprisingly, many of the most powerful media players are saying the same.
But I think that Leveson has it right. Over the last few months we have seen horror story after horror story of press excesses – the lowest point being the hacking of Mille Dowler’s phone. Nobody can doubt that something far reaching is necessary. There is no public support for the status quo. But will the statutory powers undermine our treasured freedom of speech. I don’t think so. Hopefully the responsible papers will agree to a tighter self regulation. Those who do not deserve all they get.
The opposition of powerful Conservative politicians is bound to be influenced by their need to be close to the press barons as was all too obvious during the inquiry. Top Human Rights Barrister Ben Emmerson writing in the Guardian says –
‘It is because they rely on the newspaper editors to support their policies and endorse them at election time. They want to carry on having tea together, laughing out loud in their private texts, going horse riding together. And they want to keep well-oiled the revolving door that sees prominent journalists from Murdoch owned newspapers becoming politicians and ministers.’
We should do all that we can to protect free speech. But there has to be a difference between that treasured right and the power of the press to walk all over people.
The sooner Leveson is brought into law the better.