Speaking at a ‘Voice of the Listener and Viewer’ conference In London this morning I had the luxury of expanding the 70 word Leveson update I posted yesterday into a three minute version:
‘We have never had press regulation in the UK before. What we have had is a body set up by the newspaper industry –the Press Complaints Commission is the latest version- which has tried to mediate between complainants and newspapers. That is a useful function but it is not regulation.
It was the current Chairman of the Press Complaints Commission,Lord Hunt, who surprised his predecessors ,who had always said that the PCC was a regulator, by declaring that it had never been.
At the start of this debate there was a range of options;
At one end –you might call that the libertarian end- just keep an industry-run complaints handling body,remembering that in the U.S. they don’t even have that. If you’ve got a complaint against a newspaper there you take it up with them directly or go to court. There is nothing in between.No regulator.
At the other end of the range, the Ofcom model, regulating newspaper content in the same way as broadcasting.
Both those options have effectively been rejected,hardly anybody spoke up for them.
And we are left with two in the middle of that scale and they represent a consensus that regulation is needed, and by a regulator I think there is also a consensus that by this we mean a body which will decide if the Editor’s Code has been broken and impose sanctions of some kind on those responsible for serious breaches of the code.
The choice on the table now is between:
On the one hand a system of regulation where membership would be voluntary, where decisions would be enforced by the law of contract –specifically a five year contract signed by newspapers -and where the backstop would be a body called Pressbof run by the newspaper industry (this is known as the Hunt-Black plan). Critics of this plan say-among other things-that it is not truly independent of the newspaper industry and that newspapers can effectively buy themselves out of the contract they have signed if they don’t like the way the regulator has turned out.
On the other hand, regulation which would not be voluntary for large media groups because it would be required by law, where decisions would be enforced by the members and the backstop would be a body called an ‘independent backstop auditor’, created by parliament (that’s the plan from the Media Standards Trust which I helped to prepare,there are other similar versions from other organisations).Critics of this plan say that this system would not be independent enough of government because if you give parliament a say in even creating a backstop auditor that will be the thin end of the wedge towards more political involvement in press regulation.
Lord Justice Leveson has seen both plans and cross-examined their supporters and their critics . Now he we await his version. Perhaps we should see what he says.
I know it is a revolutionary thought to read something before we attack it or defend it but I commend this course of action to you.’