Given that leaking was one of the main reasons for an inquiry into press standards, how surprising it was to discover that despite its nature, none of Lord Justice Leveson's 2000 page report was leaked to the media before its publication. Even the press were going to have to wait until 13:30 this afternoon before sneaking a peak, it seemed. However, we now know what Lord Justice Leveson recommends, and luckily for the press, he has advised on the construction of an independent self-regulatory body, rather than legislative statuary regulation in order to ensure a balance between data privacy and the freedom of the press.
The reasons behind the Leveson Inquiry are, of course, down to serious intrusions of privacy following poor press conduct. Phone hacking and misuse of sensitive news, especially regarding the Dowler and McCann families radically increased public distaste in media conduct. In addition, Jude Law, Sienna Miller and Charlotte Church were just a few celebrities who were compensated after it emerged that they had all fallen victim to phone hacking. The desire is to find a balance between press freedom and individual privacy without crossing a line. It was, therefore, up to Lord Justice Leveson to propose just how that could be done.
For many journalists, statuary regulation has always been viewed as a no-go. Official legislative intervention is seen as an invasion into press freedom which could dramatically affect the content of many broadsheet papers. As it happens, Lord Leveson today recognised that the press are a vital witness to events and have a powerful place in society. He went on to state that press freedom "should not be jeopardised", although he also stressed that evidence had shown the press code of conduct had been ignored. Thus, Lord Leveson outlined a number of recommendations in order to ensure that high standards of journalism can be maintained whilst simultaneously protecting the public interest. In context, Lord Leveson stated that the Press Complaints Commission had failed and that changes needed to be made. Lord Leveson has called for the formation of a new independent self-regulatory body which does not constitute statutory regulation of the press, but would instead urge publishers to voluntarily sign up to a new board which would ensure the balance between press freedom and data privacy. Interestingly, he recognised that relations between politicians and the press have been "too close", and further criticised the government and police in their actions over the phone hacking scandal in 2006.
Question is, where do the government stand on the report? Announcing that Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg would announce separate statements in response to Lord Leveson's address hinted that there could be further cracks in the coalition. It was stressed to the media not to read too much into the decision, however, if you are going to make such an unusual move and open up the option of offering a different view, then ultimately the government is paving the way for further speculation over the coalition's future.
As expected, one could interpret the response from David Cameron and Nick Clegg as a clear split in their relationship. Speaking in the Commons, Cameron accepted Lord Leveson's principles and acknowledged that relations between politicians and the media had indeed become too close and "not in the public interest". However, he largely rejected the idea of implementing legislation by law, instead stating that the press themselves could find other ways of supporting investigative journalism and press freedom, whilst protecting the vulnerabilities of the general public. This is where it became clear why Cameron and Clegg had planned to speak separately. Nick Clegg, in stark contrast, stood in the Commons speaking of his support for stronger press regulation. Clegg stated that the "absolute worst outcome would be for nothing to happen at all", specifically clashing with Cameron's response. Interestingly enough, Clegg's response largely concurred with Ed Miliband's view on Lord Leveson's proposals. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats accepted that Lord Justice Leveson's principles should be considered to be implemented by law, perhaps a question which will be present in future party manifestos.
What has become clear is that Lord Leveson's report regarding the future of press regulation and conduct has turned into a key political debate that could radically change governmental relations. Leveson's ambition of gaining a political consensus to his proposals has been rejected by David Cameron, a move which could in turn lead to future political complications. Given this, it looks ever more likely that Labour and the Lib Dems could quite possibly come together to defeat David Cameron and the Conservatives when the next general election is called.
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