The Leveson Inquiry into the Culture, Practice and Ethics of the Press
Live-Blog: Please publicise http://drakene.ws/leveson-report.
The Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition are now meeting for talks aimed at building a consensus approach to the Leveson Inquiry Report and its recommendations; ahead a general debate on the Report in the House of Commons on Monday.
I’m now signing off from this “live-blog” to read the report in a little more detail than I’ve been able to; but first here’s the reaction from the two main representative bodies for journalists:
The Chartered Institute of Journalists (of which I am a member) “broadly welcomes” the Report. “It was particularly heartened to hear Lord Justice Leveson ask Government to enshrine in law and promote the right to a free press, President Norman Bartlett said, “Lord Leveson overwhelmingly supported the evidence that we gave to his inquiry which cleared the vast majority of the press from the phone hacking scandal and that statutory legislation would not have stopped what went wrong.
“By joining the CIoJ our members already sign up to the Code of Editors and the standards it promotes and so we will look in detail at any changes.”
He said the Institute also welcomed the PM’s statement “in which he recognized the need for caution in implementing any legislation which might be used either, now or in the future, to regulate the Press.”
The National Union of Journalists has welcomed Lord Leveson’s recommendation for a “conscience clause“.
“From the outset of the Leveson inquiry, we demanded a conscience clause to safeguard journalists who object to being made to act unethically in the pursuit of a story”, General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet said, “The NUJ has been campaigning for years for a conscience clause in contracts of employment and we are delighted that Lord Justice Leveson has listened to the voice of journalists.
“The NUJ will now do all it can to ensure that when journalists stand up for a principle of journalistic ethics they have a contractual protection against being dismissed.”
The Evangelical Alliance (who were my employers from 1997 to 2000), says the Leveson Report fails to address moral issues: “A free and open press is a vital defence for our democracy, and we have much to be thankful for with our media. But the ruling classes are reluctant to engage with the Judeo-Christian moral framework that has traditionally informed our ethics, and so the liberal basis of our media will increasingly become a liberal bias.
“The irony is that many people go into journalism with a strong sense of morality and a desire to seek truth, only to find themselves under pressure to sacrifice their values to get a good story. Unless this golden opportunity is seized to address the root problem there will be more and more excuses provided to justify a slow but sure encroachment of the state into our media.”
Lord Hunt, Chairman of the Press Complaints’ Commission, congratulates Lord Justice Leveson “on a massive piece of work,” while stressing that he “does not agree on all of the conclusions”.
“We all agree that we must regain the trust and confidence of the British people to make sure that unacceptable, outrageous and illegal behaviour can never be allowed to happen again.
“I suggest that we all now digest this report and seek our common ground and then unite around it. Above all it is absolutely key that the result is a new regulator with effective sanctions and teeth, and independent from the Industry and from the Government.”
He is “not convinced” that “statutory regulation [which is not being proposed by Lord Leveson] would have prevented the horrors of the past,” he says, “What will prevent them happening again is getting the press to sign up to a fresh start and a serious improvement in Governance and culture.”
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, says: a second statement was unusual but as the Inquiry was established on a cross-party basis and there was a hope to continue on a cross-party basis it was important that the House knew what all the parties want.
“A free press does not mean a press that is free to bully innocent victims,” he said.
Ofcom has a key role in regulating content of broadcast media and he was yet to be convinced that it is best placed to take on this light touch role relating to the print media.
He believed Lord Justice Leveson’s proposal for self-regulation underpinned by statute was proportionate. He understood the entirely legitimate reasons why some MPs were wary of using legislation; but nobody had come up with an alternative.
Lord Leveson had considered the issue carefully and concluded that this was the only way.
The press does not operate in a lawless vacuum; it has to operate within the law, he says, welcoming the Report’s recommendation for a statute guaranteeing the freedom of the press.
The absolute worse outcome would be for nothing to happen at all, he said, saying he was “impatient” for change. He drew no hope from the “repeated failure of self regulation that we have seen over the past 60 years.”
“We have waited too long”, he said, saying the victims should not be forced to wait any longer.
Reactions from MPs to David Cameron’s statement:
Jacob Rees-Mogg: Thanks PM for “standing up to ancient liberties”; it is better to have an “irresponsible but free press than a state controlled but responsible press”.
James Morris: A free press is dependent upon a responsible press; calls for a new “culture of responsibility”.
Greg McClymont: Is the PM aware of Lord Leveson’s conclusion that Alex Salmond appeared ready to lobby on behalf of Rupert Murdoch [on the BSkyB bid] and that, had the government aceeded, any decision would have been unlawful.
Robert Buckland: Does PM agree it is for Parliament to debate principle of underpinning and whether Ofcom is appropriate regulator?
Thomas Docherty: Can the PM confirm that there will be no smearing of Lord Leveson while cross party talks continue?
George Eustice: Is the Defamation Bill, going through Parliament with the support of the press, an example of statutory regulation?
Willie Bain: Don’t the victims deserve us as parliamentarians to put in place regulatory system underpinned by statute.
John Hemming: Should the Department of Culture, Media and Sport be renamed the Ministry of Truth
Andrew Miller: Doesn’t some of Leveson’s other recommendations balance the PM’s concerns about widening Data Protection Act?
Alun Cairns: Concerned that statutory underpinning could lead to statutory regulation by the back door.
Jeremy Corbyn: Concerned about media ownership and an “extreme concentration in the hands of a very small number of people”; also concerned also about the distribution system.
John Leech: Lord Justice Leveson has “called time on the last chance saloon” – isn’t a right balance between incentives and disincentives to make self-regulation work.
Katy Clark: Is legislation required to break up media ownership?
Angie Bray: More people getting news online – bigger threat to media industry
Paul Flynn: Isn’t the great shock of this report the revelations of very close relations between press, the police and politicians.
John Baron: Most people in this country feel they can’t get access to justice because of a legal system which is too costly – what can be done to put this right?
Simon Danczuc: Will victims be satisfied with the PM’s response?
Andrew Bridgen: Successive Labour governments have made no process on change isn’t it surprising they are now making so much noise on the issue.
Sheila Gilmore: Grave concern about BSkyB takeover and how narrowly it didn’t take place. Will the government act on this promptly.
Julian Huppert: Calls for an updated part of Data Protection Act to be implemented.
Barry Gardiner: The PM is on record as saying he would implement Leveson as long as it wasn’t “bonkers” – why does the PM consider statutory underpinning to be bonkers.
Mark Reckless: Does PM recognise that there are lessons for CPS for failing to refresh understanding of law before advising the Director of Public Prosecutions on phone hacking.
Meg Hillier: Would PM consider the potential impact of investigations in cross party talks – points out that most investigative journalists are freelance.
Bob Blackman: Spent 12 years working for BT – “culture of compliance” swept through BT after shock of being described by Ofcom as a non complying body. He asks whether this is the time for a “culture of compliance” to sweep through the media.
Michael Meacher: Lord Leveson says the new regulatory body appointment panel should be elected independently – who does the PM think should draw up list of nominations and make the final choice?
Peter Bone: Congratulates the PM for his “courage in not doing the popular thing” and standing up for the freedom of the press. He asks the Government not to leak announcements to the press before Parliament.
Luciana Berger: Asked about plans to protect media plurality
Harriet Baldwin: The News of the World no longer exists; and not all papers are like the News of the World. She praises the Malvern News and Worcester Gazette and asks whether it is proportionate for MPs agents to have to record meetings with local newspaper editors.
John Denham: PM asks House to reject Leveson central recommendation because it is “too difficult to do well”; wouldn’t it be better to have sat down and discussed how we could do this.
Andrew George: The PM praised the courage of press “victims” – does he also accept their wishes?
Paul Farrelly: Does the PM agree that press should be able to veto appointment of chair of regulatory body (Lord Black’s model)
Connor Burns: A bill requiring government to safeguard freedoms of the press would be “utterly alien to the traditions in this country.”
John McDonnell: Can we get cross party support for recommendation for “conscience clause” in journalists’ contracts
Philip Davies: We can’t “farm out decisions” to people who are unelected and unaccountable.
Angus Robertson: In addition to full debate in Scottish Parliament, calls for cross party discussions about how recommendations could be implemented in Scottish law.
Peter Lilley: Phone hacking and bribing the police are against the criminal law yet Lord Leveson’s recommendations go down a different route.
Keith Vaz: Welcomes commitment to Stage Two of Inquiry and urges resources be provided to police to complete their investigations (which could take up to three years)
Rob Wilson: Should the Labour Party apologise for “disgraceful and unfounded allegations” about Jeremy Hunt “that the Leveson Inquiry found to be utterly false.”
Sir Gerald Kaufman: Intrinsically opposed to state-regulation – if Rubicon is not to be crossed isn’t it up to the press to implement Leveson recommendations fast.
Dr Therese Coffey: Highlights “smears” against former Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
Chris Bryant: (amid shouts of “apologise” for his previous claims about the Prime Minister) says Lord Leveson reserves greatest criticism for political class. If we don’t act there will be more innocent victims.
Tim Farron: Calls for “rational and balanced approach” and suggests system similar to that in use in Ireland.
Nigel Dodds: We can’t forget the victims; support freedom of the press but there does need to be proper redress for those who are wronged.
David Davis: Welcomes PM’s reluctance to implement statute – it wasn’t police or judges but a newspaper which brought issue to light.
Dame Joan Ruddock: The PM in is response is splitting the House, it would be a dereliction of duty not to implement Leveson recommendations. she urges him to reconsider.
John Whittingdale (chair of Culture select committee): Welcomes statement that question of statutory underpinning is a question Parliament “needs to consider very carefully”.
Ben Bradshaw: Without legislation how can you prevent a newspaper walking away from new regulatory system.
Simon Hughes: Lord Justice Leveson says “it is essential that there should be legislation to under-pin self regulation system” – Does the PM accept that “essential” is a very powerful word.
Frank Dobson: The PM can’t pick and choose the parts of the Report he likes, he should accept all the recommendations.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind: Asks PM to look very objectively as to whether an Act of Parliament would enhance the credibility of new regulatory body in the eyes of the public.
Jack Straw: Impossible to deliver independence required by press and enforcement options without statutory backing.
Sir Peter Tapsell: Problems caused by foreign owners who don’t like Britain.
Opposition leader Ed Miliband says: “We should put our faith and trust in Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations” – and he regrets that David Cameron doesn’t yet agree.
A free press is essential to a functioning democracy. It must be free to hold the powerful to account, he said, but he does not want to live in a society where innocent victims could have their lives treated in the ways exposed by the Report.
He says there has been a consistent failure of politicians to respond to public concerns about the press – “now is the time to put that right.”
The Report is “measured, reasonable and proportionate” and his party supports the “principles set out and central recommendations” of the report.
Lord Justice Leveson has genuinely listened to what the press has said. He has acted with utmost responsibility and the press should now do the same.
Welcomes offer on cross-party talks, but “they must be about implementing the recommendations; not whether we implement” and called for legislation to be introduced in the next session of Parliament (May 2013).
There can be no more last chance saloons, he said.
Prime Minister David Cameron says the government is committed to part two of the Inquiry, which can only commence once current police investigations and any prosecutions are completed.
He calls for apologies from those who suggested a “deal” was done between News International and the Conservative party regarding the go-ahead for News Group’s bid to take over BSkyB in return for positive pre-election support for the party; or the decision to appoint then-Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt to take over the decision from Vince Cable.
He welcomes media proposals for a replacement PCC but agrees that current plans do not go far enough. He accepts Leveson principals and says onus is now on the press to deliver them.
We “must consider very carefully” proposals for changes to the Data Protection Act giving protection to how journalists handle personal data; but says he is instinctively concerned about the implications for investigative journalism.
He has “serious concerns and misgivings” over suggestions for statutory under-pinning of the new regulatory body, based on “the principle, practicality and necessity.”
“I am not convinced that statute is required to achieve Lord Leveson’s objectives”, saying other options are available.
He will meet the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Opposition leader Ed Miliband immediately after the statement to begin cross party discussions.
Lord Leveson has delivered a 23-minute speech to launch the four-volume, 2,000-page report of his Inquiry, stressing that this was the “seventh time in less than seventy years [that] there is a new report commissioned by the Government dealing with concerns about the press… No one can think it makes any sense to contemplate an eighth.”
He urged that the cross-party consensus that established the Inquiry continues so that the recommendations and next steps could be done “treated with same cross-party spirit.”
He said the report should speak for itself: “Nobody will be speaking for me about its contents, either now or in the future. The ball now moves back into the politicians court. They must decide who guards the guardians.”
He reiterated at the beginning of his speech that his Inquiry was sparked by “public revulsion about a single act – the hacking of a mobile phone of a murdered teenager”; and expanded to cover the culture, practices and ethics of the press and its conduct in relation to the public, the police and politicians.”
He described his inquiry as “The most concentrated look at the press this country has ever seen”, pointing out that in nine months “337 witnesses gave evidence in person and the statements of nearly 300 others were read into the record.”
So, what did he have to say?
After his initial remarks, he moved on to praise the role the press plays in society: “I know how vital the press is: as guardian of the interest of the public, as critical witness to events, as the standard bearer for those who have no-one else to speak up for them. Nothing in the evidence I have heard or read has changed that view.
“The press, operating freely and in the public interest – is one of the true safeguards of our democracy. As a result, it occupies a privileged and powerful place in society.”
He said the power carried responsibilities to the public interest, but “as the evidence has shown, without doubt, on too many occasions, those responsibilities, along with the Editors’ Code of Conduct, which the press wrote and promoted, have simply been ignored. This has damaged the public interest, caused real hardship and, on occasion, wreaked havoc in the lives of innocent people.”
Recommendations: the press
“Almost everybody accepts the PCC has failed in its task… There must be change, Lord Leveson said, adding: “Not a single witness proposed that either government or politicians should be involved in the regulation of the press; neither would I make any such suggestion.”
He said there were “problems that need to be fixed” in relation to civil and criminal law and data protection; and suggested that exemplary damages should be available in “all media torts, including breach of privacy.”
But he said that while there were errors in the way the original police investigation and subsequent reviews into phone hacking allegations were carried out, “putting a policeman in every newsroom is not desirable.”
Law enforcement opportunities were limited because of “the privileges the law provides to the press,” including the protection of sources, Lord Leveson said.
He called for “a genuinely independent and effective system of self-regulation of standards with obligations to the public interest;” but rejected the contractual-model proposed by PCC Chairman Lord Black, saying it “does not come close” to delivering “regulation that is itself genuinely free and independent both of the industry it regulates and political control.”
He fell short of outlining what the new regulatory body should be, saying it was for the press to decide, but warned: “Any model with editors on the main board is simply not independent to anything like the degree required to warrant public confidence. It is still the industry marking its own homework.”
He said the independent regulatory body must promote high standards of journalism and protect both the public interest and the rights and interests of individuals. “It should set and enforce standards, hear individual complaints about its members and provide a fair, quick and independent arbitration system to deal with civil law claims.”
He said legislation should be introduced to “enshrine a legal duty on the government to protect the freedom of press” and to provide an independent process to recognise” the new independent regulatory body.
Lord Leveson said the benefits to the press of such a system were easily recognisable: the decisions of the regulator could create precedents that could help the courts deal with claims against the media; and the free arbitration system would provide a “powerful argument for costs” should a claimant decide not to use it or if a newspaper was not a member of the new scheme.
While editors would not be able to serve on the new body, they would be able to serve on a code committee that would draw up the code that newspapers and journalists would need to work to.
“This is not and can not reasonably or fairly be characterised as statutory regulation of the press”, Lord Leveson said, “I am proposing independent regulation of the press, organised by the press itself with a statutory process to support press freedom, provide stability, and guarantee for the public that this new body is independent and effective.”
The Police and Politicians
Lord Leveson said he had “not seen any evidence to suggest that corruption by the press is a widespread problem in relation to the police,” he had none-the-less identified a number of issues that he recommends should be addressed.
Regarding politicians, he said the “overwhelming evidence” was that “relations on a day to day basis are of robust good health and performing vital public interest functions of a free press in a vigorous democracy.”
He said day-to-day interactions caused no concern; but there were problems with the “particular type of lobbying conducted out of the public eye through the relationships of policy makers and those in the media who set to gain or lose by the policy being considered.”
This led to the “understandable perception that the power of the press to effect political fortunes may be used to influence that policy.” This concern “repeatedly resulted in opportunities being missed to respond to legitimate public concern about press behaviour.”
He said the press were “entitled to lobby on its own interests” but politicans had a responsibility “to ensure that decisions taken are seen to be based on the public interest as a whole.”
Media lobbying must be “open and transparent”, he said, saying that a “good start would be for those steps towards greater transparency to be taken in relation to press lobbying about this report.”
He concluded by stressing the need for a “plural media with genuine diversity of ownership, approach and perspective.”
The competition authorities should “have the means to keep levels of plurality under review and be equipped with a full range of remedies to deal with concerns”.
OK, here we go: less than half-an-hour to go before we find out what Lord Leveson has to say. With a report said to be 2,000 pages long, it will be several days before the full impact of his report is known – despite the best efforts of those reporters who have been locked in a room with advance access to it.
Here’s my initial thoughts:
Much of the run-up to the report’s release has been an unseemly debate about whether press regulation should be state-controlled, under-pinned by statute, or an enhanced form of self-regulation.
At this stage nobody knows what Lord Leveson will recommend, but the campaign groups have been lining up their tanks for some time in readiness for the battle ahead; although it would be more accurate to say some of the parties have been firing missiles at each other before war has been officially declared.
Leaving aside that much of what has been complained about leading up to the setting up of the Leveson Inquiry was activity that was illegal; and therefore a matter for the police to properly investigating and, where appropriately, prosecute, the current system of self-regulation is not fit for purpose.
And, to be frank, none of the previous systems of regulation has been good either. How many rounds are we hacks entitled to drink in the last-chance saloon?
The existing Press Complaints Commission this week showed why it needs replacing in an adjudication about the Farnham Herald. It ruled that the paper did not breach privacy clauses in the Editor’s Code when it identified the victim of an assault using information publicly visible on the man’s Facebook page. So far so good – if you publicly identify yourself as a person involved in a news story you can’t complain when a newspaper reports this fact.
But where (in my not so humble opinion) it erred, was when it said that the newspaper was entitled to publish a photograph taken from the man’s Facebook page. No, it was not. There is no copyright in facts (and so identifying a man who has publicly identified himself is perfectly legitimate); but there is copyright and intellectual property rights in photographs. Newspapers do not have a right to publish photos taken from Facebook, Twitter, blogs, or elsewhere online without the permission of the copyright holder – regardless of whether or not, as the PCC said in this case, “The photograph had been used to illustrate his injuries and had not been taken out of context.”
The problem with the existing Press Complaints Commission is that it only exists to uphold its published code – and if a legitimate complaint (theft of a person’s IP and breach of copyright) isn’t part of the code then the PCC doesn’t want to know. And when code breaches have occurred it seeks to find a “reconciliatory” conclusion; when what complainants want is a short sharp judicial kick!
It is very likely that the complainant in this case would be able to obtain satisfaction through the courts. But that is a costly solution open only to the rich. Press regulation must provide an avenue for people to seek redress when their rights are breached; and however that is done, it must be done in a way which promotes a Responsible Press while not impinging on our understanding of a Free Press.
One thing we do know is that both the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister will be making statements to the Commons later this afternoon. This is the first time that this has happened since the formation of the coalition government. Parliament doesn’t officially recognise parties – there is Her Majesty’s Government and there is Her Majesty’s Official Opposition.
In practice, however, parties are recognised and when the Lib Dems were an opposition party the Speaker would come to the relevant front-bench Lib Dem spokesperson to speak after the official opposition had spoken in response to statements. Now they are in government, the party’s deputy leader Simon Hughes can pretty much guarantee that he will be called to ask supplementary questions or respond to debates, but not with as much precedence as when the party wasn’t in government.
But that isn’t what will happen today: The House of Commons’ Order Paper lists the Deputy Prime Minister’s statement after the Prime Minister’s statement. This means that David Cameron will make his statement with a response from Labour leader Ed Miliband and other MPs; and then Nick Clegg will make his statement with responses from Labour’s deputy leader Harriet Harman. The Speaker will need to carefully manage the process as MPs, theoretically, could seek to speak in response to both statements.