LORD Justice Leveson condemned decades of “outrageous” behaviour by newspapers today as he called for a new regulatory system backed by law.
• Legislation to underpin a “genuinely independent and effective system of self-regulation” for the press
• Press had ignored its own code of conduct in a way that had “wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people” on far too many occasions over the last decade
• Legislation would provide “an independent process to recognise the new self-regulatory body and reassure the public that the basic requirements of independence and effectiveness were met”
• Report says politicians of all parties had developed “too close a relationship with the press in a way which has not been in the public interest”
• He said there had been a “recklessness in prioritising sensational stories”, irrespective of the harm that may be caused
Lord Justice Leveson’s report sets out proposals for the establishment of an independent regulatory body for the press, set up by the press itself, but underpinned by legislation and “verified” by statutory regulator Ofcom.
The judge said he was “confident” his recommendations provided a model for independent self-regulation which will protect both the freedom of the press and freedom of speech along with the rights and interests of individuals, and insisted it was not an attempt to introduce legislation on the issue.
The new body – to replace the Press Complaints Commission – would have the dual role of promoting high standards of journalism and protecting the rights of individuals. Legislation passed in Parliament would allow its
activities to be recognised in legal processes and provide for its independence and effectiveness to be verified by a body such as Ofcom.
Under Leveson’s proposals, the chair and board of the new body must include a majority of members who are independent from the industry, and should not include any serving editors, MPs or government ministers.
They would include a “sufficient” number of members who have experience of the media industry, who could be former editors and senior or academic journalists.
The chair and board would be selected by an independent appointments panel, which could include one serving editor, but with a substantial majority who are demonstrably independent of the press. The body should:
• Hear individual complaints against members about breaches of standards and order appropriate redress, while encouraging individual newspapers to embrace a more rigorous process for dealing with complaints internally;
• Take an active role in promoting high standards, including by exercising the power to investigate serious or systemic breaches and impose appropriate sanctions;
• Provide a “fair, quick and inexpensive” arbitration service to deal with any civil law claims against its members.
Lord Justice Leveson said it was not for him to set out detailed recommendations for how the new regulatory body would conduct its affairs. But he suggested that it should also:
• Establish a code committee to carry out an early review of the existing Press Complaints Commission code of conduct for journalists;
• Equip itself to deal with complaints, even where legal action is a possibility;
• Provide warning notifications to the press in respect of people subjected to unwanted intrusion;
• Issue guidance on the interpretation of the “public interest”, and make clear that this should be taken into account as decisions on stories are made;
• Provide a voluntary pre-publication advice service to editors on how public interest may be interpreted in particular cases;
• Encourage the press to be as transparent as possible on the sourcing of material;
• Establish a whistleblowing hotline for journalists who feel they are being asked to act in an unethical manner, and encourage publications to include “conscience clauses” in staff contracts protecting them if they refuse.
Lord Leveson recognised the danger that newspapers and other publications may refuse to sign up to his new regulatory body.
But he said that the statutory underpinning provided by legislation would permit the courts to recognise the arbitration processes set up by the new body, providing an incentive for publications to belong.
Media organisations could be penalised for failing to sign up to the new body’s low-cost arbitration procedures by having costs or exemplary damages awarded against them in court cases, he suggested.
As a last resort, Ofcom could be asked to step in as a “backstop” regulator for publications which refuse to join the new scheme.
Lord Leveson sought to allay concerns that his proposals might give the state control over the press.
“Despite what will be said about these recommendations by those who oppose them, this is not, and cannot be characterised as, statutory regulation of the press,” he said.
“What is proposed here is independent regulation of the press organised by the press, with a statutory verification process to ensure that the required levels of independence and effectiveness are met by the system in order for publishers to take advantage of the benefits arising as a result of membership.”
The legislation would “enshrine, for the first time, a legal duty on the government to protect the freedom of the press… provide an independent process to recognise the new self-regulatory body and reassure the public that the basic requirements of independence and effectiveness were met… [and] by recognising the new body, it would validate its standards code and the arbitral system sufficient to justify the benefits in law that would flow to those who subscribed”.
Lord Leveson also wanted protection for individual journalists who came under pressure to act unethically. He suggested that a special hotline be set up by the new body for journalists to call anonymously if they are pressurised.
The judge also raised concerns over plurality of ownership in the media, particularly the issue of Rupert Murdoch’s domination of the national press, with four papers owned by his News International.
The law lord, who headed the 16-month inquiry, also concluded that politicians and the police had both got too close to the media and needed to change their practices.
But he reserved his harshest criticism for the press, particularly tabloids which he accused of “recklessness in prioritising sensational stories”.
LEVESON IN NUMBERS
97 days the inquiry sat for over eight months.
168 News of the World’s age when it shut down.
1% of the population who could afford to sue for libel according to former Formula 1 boss Max Mosley who successfully sued the News of the World after it claimed he took part in a “sick Nazi orgy”.
1,404 meetings David Cameron had with the media during his four years
and five months as Opposition leader.
17 times Rupert Murdoch said “sorry” during the last
three hours of his evidence to the inquiry.
11,000 the number of pages of names and telephone numbers detectives seized from private investigator Glenn Mulcaire when he was arrested.