Lord Leveson's report is right to focus on the failings of press regulation, but is wrong to believe that the government's media regulator Ofcom should oversee a new self regulation model. A free press is vital to a free society and a properly functioning democracy. Once statutory regulation of the press comes in, no matter how far removed from politicians, it will call into question the integrity of the system, and lead to pressure for greater intervention in the future.
The Leveson Report exposes that self regulation of the press has been a myth. Not only did the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) fail to protect the victims of phone hacking or of the press intrusion that trashed the life of an innocent man like Chris Jeffries, but it didn't give them sufficient redress. The main reason for this is that it does not have the power. The PCC has not been a regulator, rather just the handler of complaints. It has no powers to investigate, discipline or fine members for breaches of its code. It is not even required that all of the national newspapers are signed up to it. These things have to change, and that change can be made without the requirement of statutory regulation of the media. It is now up to the media owners to show they are willing to take up the challenge of creating this new self regulatory model.
It is vital that a new self regulatory model has independence of operation from the media owners and the powers to launch its own investigations. The phone hacking scandal exposed the real weaknesses of the current model of regulation because there were plenty of warnings about the scale of the problem.
Over 300 journalists had, according to the Information Commissioners report in 2006, been involved with the illegal trade in confidential personal information, but no rigorous industry wide investigation was launched by the Press Complaints Commission or other industry body because none existed with the power to act in this way. At News Corporation, all of the documents that suggesting knowledge of the use of practices like phone hacking extended beyond a single rogue journalist existed within that company. The Culture, Media and Sport House of Commons Select Committee inquiry that I was part of uncovered these documents, but in future they should be within the reach of a new industry regulator.
Lord Leveson has also reported that the former Media Secretary, Jeremy Hunt handled the bid by News Corporation to buy the remaining shares in BSkyB with "fairness, impartiality and transparency". This flies in the face of Ed Milliband's assertion that Jeremy Hunt had been a "backchannel" for the Murdochs.
The Leveson Report addresses how people might seek redress if they are unfairly treated by the newspapers, but this does not extend to what people might say about each other in parliament. Mr Milliband should apologise for this remark, but perhaps this is another example of why politicians shouldn't be the ultimate arbiters of what newspapers should and shouldn't be able to write.
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