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Leveson 'Chill' Factor Will Become a 'Freeze' Factor

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LEVESON REPORT
PA

In the debate over media regulation, it's easy to dismiss the protestations of the press as mere self-interest. And if we are realistic, then of course there is self-interest at play in their response. Such self-interest is natural, and normal, and perfectly legitimate.

Newspapers should be able to defend themselves as much as any other individual or organisation when the state threatens to interfere in their lives and business interests.

But just because self-interest is there, it doesn't mean that the objections of the press are wrong. What has been quite remarkable since the prime minister did his u-turn on press regulation is how support has moved away from the Hacked Off lobbyists, and towards those concerned that the PM's 'dab' of legislation does indeed cross the Rubicon - that what is being proposed is neither proportionate nor wise. That it smacks instead of politicians belatedly responding in kind to the Telegraph exposé of their expenses a little while ago.

That it is revenge best served with a dash of Leveson.

I think that the public relations industry has an interesting angle on this whole debate. It is no coincidence that the countries with the most developed and sophisticated PR industries - the UK and the US - are also those with arguably the most long-standing commitment to a free press. And, indeed, with strong and unbroken commitments to democracy.

But that doesn't mean that our relationship with the press is always a comfortable one. For every PR person happy with a newspaper's reporting of their activities, there is probably another who is unhappy. For every communications professional who thinks their views have been reported accurately, there are others who think journos just haven't understood.

And on behalf of the PR industry, the PRCA has challenged the newspaper owners on their plans to charge for accessing freely-available web-links, via the High Court, the Court of Appeal, and most recently the Supreme Court. So, while we would happily call ourselves friends of the newspaper industry, we are certainly critical ones.

The dangers my industry see in what politicians are currently proposing are threefold:

First, that creep is inevitable. The politicians' stated objectives to target only large media outlets is unsustainable in a social media world, where any one of us can become a publisher armed only with a laptop.

Second, that having started with what the PM might now call a 'dab-plus', politicians will be unable to resist the temptation to add more legislation. That this is merely the beginning, not the end point of state regulation.

And finally that the chill-factor, always present in any self-regulating environment, will become a freeze factor instead. That the dual threats of extra regulation and exemplary damages will hobble the press from reporting without fear.

Nobody would argue that the press has covered itself in glory over recent years. Indeed, it appears in many cases to have covered itself in criminality. But when politicians give themselves the power to regulate the media, a Rubicon has indeed been crossed.

Around the Web

Leveson Inquiry - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Brian Leveson - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Leveson Inquiry

Leveson' s liberal friends bring shame upon the left - The Guardian

BBC News - Press regulation deal 'is still possible'

Leveson: Don't be frightened by the state » Spectator Blogs

Leveson report: draft Royal Charter for proposed body to ... - Gov.uk