By Joseph Watts, Political editor
Thursday, November 29, 2012
Lord Leveson has used his long awaited report to call for a powerful new body to oversee the press in Britain.
The judge was tasked to carry out an inquiry and publish a wide-ranging report into the ethics of newspapers after the phone hacking scandal broke.
The document argues the body should be independent of the press in its personnel, with no serving newspaper editors sitting on it, but would be established by the industry itself.
Meanwhile he said there would have to be some new legislation to establish the body’s powers, though he claimed this would not amount to government control of newspapers.
He wrote: “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.
“What is proposed here is independent regulation of the press organised by the press, with a statutory verification process to ensure that 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 new body would have the power to dictate how newspapers should make printed apologies, but would not have the power to prevent the publication of any story.
Meanwhile it would also have the power to run investigations and levy fines up to 1pc of a paper’s turnover or up to £1m.
Lord Justice Leveson praised local newspapers in his report, saying their contribution to local life was “truly without parallel.”
He said that, while complaints were made about accuracy and other issues in regional titles, the criticism of culture, practices and ethics of the press raised during the inquiry did not affect them.
Lord Justice Leveson pointed out the challenges facing the regional press generally with advertisement revenues under pressure.
He said: “As to the commercial problems facing newspapers, I must make a special point about Britain’s regional newspapers. They are all under enormous pressure as they strive to re-write the business model necessary for survival. Yet their demise would be a huge setback for communities (where they report on local politics, occurrences in the local courts, local events, local sports and the like) and would be a real loss for our democracy.
“Although accuracy and similar complaints are made against local newspapers, the criticisms of culture, practices and ethics of the press that have been raised in this inquiry do not affect them: on the contrary, they have been much praised. The problem surrounding their preservation is not within the Terms of Reference of the inquiry but I am very conscious of the need to be mindful of their position as I consider the wider picture.”
Today, Adrian Jeakings, president of the Newspaper Society and chief executive of Archant, publishers of the East Anglian Daily Times and Ipswich Star and weekly titles, said: “The UK’s local media had nothing to do with the phone hacking scandal which prompted the Leveson Inquiry but we have been all too aware that hundreds of responsible regional and local newspapers would inevitably be caught up in any resulting new system of press regulation.
“We therefore welcome the Leveson Report’s praise for the important social and democratic role played by the local press, his acknowledgement that the criticisms of the culture, practices and ethics of the press raised in this inquiry were not directed at local newspapers and his recommendation that the regulatory model he proposes should not provide an added burden to our sector.
“However, local newspapers have always been vehemently opposed to any form of statutory involvement or underpinning in the regulation of the press, including the oversight by Ofcom proposed in the report. This would impose an unacceptable regulatory burden on the industry potentially inhibiting freedom of speech and the freedom to publish.
“We believe the industry is in a position to establish the sort of tough new system of independent, accountable press regulation with the power to investigate wrongdoing and levy fines envisaged by the report. All major news publishers – and some internet news providers – have indicated they will join such a system provided there is no statutory backstop. In practice, this independent self-regulatory system would almost certainly be stronger and more effective than any statutory model could ever be and could be put into place very quickly.
“Newspapers are ultimately accountable to their readers and must abide by the laws of the land. But, as the Prime Minister has today acknowledged, a free press cannot be free if it is dependent on and accountable to a regulatory body recognized by the state.”
For the full story see tomorrow’s paper.