Reaction to Lord Justice Leveson’s calls for the introduction of a new media watchdog to eliminate the “sub-culture of unethical behaviour” of the press has been overwhelming since the findings of the Leveson Report were made public this afternoon.
Since then The Drum has spoken to Independent on Sunday editor, John Mullin, former Scotsman editor John McLellan, and NUJ spokespeople, Michelle Stanistreet and Seamus Dooley. Here The Drum complies the latest media reaction as it reaches us.
Tom Mockridge, chief executive officer of News International, the company at the forefront of much of the criticism levelled by Lord Justice Leveson said that it was 'grateful' to him for his report, which he said it would study. "As a company we are keen to play our full part, with others in our industry, in creating a new body that commands the confidence of the public. We believe that this can be achieved without statutory regulation – and welcome the Prime Minister’s rejection of that proposal. We accept that a new system should be independent, have a standards code, a means of resolving disputes, the power to demand prominent apologies and the ability to levy heavy fines. We have spent 18 months reflecting upon these issues and are determined to move on as soon as possible with others in our sector to set up a new body that will ensure British journalism is both responsible and robust," he added.
Adrian Jeakings, president of the Newspaper Society and chief executive of Archant, was keen to stress that the “UK’s local media had nothing to do with the phone hacking scandal which prompted the Leveson Inquiry” but welcomed the Leveson Report’s “praise for the important social and democratic role played by the local press”.
However Jeakings added that the Newspaper Society was “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” adding that this “would impose an unacceptable regulatory burden on the industry potentially inhibiting freedom of speech and the freedom to publish.”
Jeakings continued that the Newspaper Society believed that the industry was “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” and that “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.”
Jeakings concluded: “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.”
A Trinity Mirror spokesperson briefly commented: “We welcome the publication of the Leveson report. We will be reading it in detail and will comment once we have had a chance to review its recommendations.”
Jane Wilson, CEO,CIPR, said: “Like it or not, we need an uncensored media in which to make our case and to gain a right to reply”.
Wilson continued: “Following Lord Leveson’s recommendations, the press must to now seize the opportunity to build a strong, innovative and robust independent regime of self-regulation, committing itself as an industry which protects and promotes the highest of standards of journalism. If they do it will negate any argument for the necessity of statutory regulation and protect the fundamental freedoms we all have an interest in maintaining. I believe this should be done through a new, independent non-statutory successor body to the Press Complaints Commission.”
According to Wilson this new body should be “about more than complaints” and needs to “build on previous models of regulation, covering media standards and ethics, and be supported by a strong, non-statutory code of practice for journalists, which places an emphasis on professional development.”
She added: “Crucially, any new body tasked with regulating media activity must understand and support the role that ‘blogs’ and other social media play as outlets for individual freedom of speech and expression.”
Wilson told The Drum that Lord Leveson’s Report showed that “active steps must be taken to rebuild public trust and confidence in the professional standards of the press” and that independent regulation “must also address the integrity of their relationships with groups such as politicians and other public servants and balance of power between the press and private individuals in light of the clear abuses laid out in the report.”
Concluding that “accountability to clear and publicly agreed and available standards is the only way to rebuild public trust in journalism”
Taylor Wessing LLP's Niri Shan and Mark Dennis said Lord Justice Leveson's proposal for an independent system of self-regulation underpinned by legislation had "cause controversy and divided opinion, and even split the coalition government".
Shan and Dennis added that Leveson's Report "does not appear to specify" what exactly this proposed legislation would say, but that it would likely "set out the 'legitimate requirements' for the new self-regulatory body" and "establish a 'recognition body' to check and clarify that the regulator meets with the statutory criteria set out for it".
However, Shan and Dennis raise concerns over Leveson's preference towards using Ofcom commenting "Ofcom is a statutory regulator; it has an active role in content regulation for the communications industry. The media is unlikely to want a statutory regulator from a different, heavily-regulated area overseeing its own self-regulatory body.
"Also, Ofcom's Chair is appointed by the Government, and as such it is not independent of Government control."
Concluding that there "may well be many people who - like Cameron - believe that statutory underpinning is unnecessary for the proposed regulator to work effectively."
The ISBA, the voice of British advertisers, explained to The Drum that it has “cautiously welcomed” the outcome of Lord Leveson’s Report.
ISBA’s director of public affairs, Ian Twinn, commented: “Advertisers are great believers in self-regulation, we know it works. We hope that the debate over whether this is or is not ‘statutory’ regulation does not distract from the need for the press to show a united front, support the new proposals and make them work and show that statutory intervention is not needed.”
Bob Wootton, director of media and advertising at the ISBA, added that “Leveson has shown clearly what many of us have felt; the PCC has not met public expectations to be fair and effective,” concluding that the ISBA would now “look at these proposals very carefully and support our media partners in the press to help in any way we can to make this work.”
Sarah Bazaraa, solicitor at law firm Pannone, also commented on today’s report saying Leveson’s proposal if implemented could “make it quicker and cheaper for claimants to bring legal actions against media organisations through an arbitration process, rather than through the courts”.
Bazaraa adds that “it is clear from his report that that what Lord Justice Leveson is not proposing is state control or statutory regulation. However, what he is recommending is that there be enshrined in law for the first time a legal duty on the Government to protect the freedom of the press,” and that “Lord Justice Leveson has said that the statutory body should oversee the independent regulation of the press with a statutory verification process to reassure the public that the required levels of independence and effectiveness are being met”.
She concluded that the “extent to which these proposals will be implemented remains to be seen” and that further debate on the proposals will be needed to “ensure the correct balance is struck between the freedom of the press and the rights of the individual.”