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Leveson Inquiry Press Regulation

Leveson press regulation latest: Reaction from Roy Greenslade, John McLellan, Michelle Stanistreet, Jim Chisholm, Hugh Grant, Eamonn Byrne, Chris Connelly, David Speedie, Liz Vercoe, Susan Cantor

By Angela Haggerty, Reporter

October 10, 2013 | 8 min read

The wrangling over regulation of the UK press industry is continuing following the Privy Council’s rejection of the newspaper industry’s alternative charter proposal. Subsequently, Prime Minister David Cameron indicated that alterations could be made to the cross-party Royal Charter in a bid to get the press industry on board. The Drum contacted some industry figures to find out their views on the latest developments.

Roy Greenslade, professor of journalism, City University London

Now that the Privy Council has rejected the newspaper industry's Royal Charter we must ask whether it was wise for the government to use a secretive, medieval and monarchical body controlled by serving politicians. It was bound to smack of state involvement in controlling the press and therefore alarm publishers. It was David Cameron's political fix and it has become unfixed.I'm not being unduly republican when I say that press freedom should not be enshrined in a document "granted" by a monarch. With the greatest of respect to the Queen it has nothing to do with her. And I suspect she agrees, wanting no part in a controversy. Cameron and the other party leaders should think again. But they won't. They are stuck with the charter plan, which will be bitterly opposed by most newspaper publishers.Comment extracted with permission from Roy Greenslade's latest London Evening Standard column

John McLellan, former editor of the Scotsman

I can understand the Prime Minister's political difficulty with accepting the system of self-regulation proposed by the industry but that does not mean it is a bad system. What we propose is far tougher that the Press Complaints Commission ever was, with the prospect of fines and a new investigative arm. But it would remain self-regulation, which after all was a key component of the Leveson recommendations. Any system cooked up by politicians, which only politicians could control and change would not be self-regulation; it would be state control of the press. A healthy, free press will always push boundaries, will upset and annoy people and, yes, might break the law. That is as it should be. It is an essential component of a confident and robust democracy and I would have thought that any British politician worth their salt would die in a ditch to protect it. And as we have seen with Damian McBride's helpful revelations, those inhabiting the world of politics are not slow to use the press when it suits them. We should remember that the British Press is already shackled by statutes in so many ways - the Regulation of Investigative Powers Act, the Data Protection Act, the Defamation Act, the Bribery Act, I could go on - and any further state intrusion is, in my view, unnecessary given what the industry is proposing. Of course the industry will wish to consider any adjustments the Prime Minister wishes to make to the government's charter proposals and negotiations very much remain open, but as it stands I can't see any way in which the industry will sign up to anything which puts ultimate control of press regulation into Westminster's hands. There is a long, long way to go but the priority for us is to get our system of effective and genuine self-regulation up and running and for it to prove its worth.

Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ)

The industry's alternative charter has not been adopted because it flies in the face of the spirit of Lord Leveson's recommendation for an organisation independent of the industry. The NUJ does not believe a Royal Charter is the best way to set up authority for a press regulator, but we gave the original charter guarded support after cross-party agreement was reached. It is essential to improve the ethics, culture and practices of the industry by including a conscience clause for journalists in the Royal Charter. By adding this provision it would give journalists the opportunity to refuse unethical assignments while having contractual protections against being dismissed for taking a stand for ethical journalism.

Jim Chisholm, media advisor in over 40 countries for more than 20 years

So the Privy Council has rejected the newspaper industry’s well thought through proposals for the much-needed improvement in press regulation. Lords Black and Hunt, supported by Trinity Mirror’s Paul Vickers, and his steering group, have delivered a fine response to an enquiry that was unnecessary.Since 2010, Britain’s ranking on the World Press Freedom Index has plummeted from 19 to 29; worse than Costa Rica, Poland and Jamaica. The government’s determination to still seek a compromise is commendable. Otherwise the UK’s reputation as a leading proponent of press freedom will be damaged

Hugh Grant, actor and director of Hacked Off

The victims of press abuse, among whom I do not include myself, people like the McCanns or the Dowlers or Christopher Jefferies, consider that any further compromise would be a betrayal of the promises made by the secretary of state and, above all, by the prime minister to them. The prime minister is now betraying those victims and betraying his own promises.

Eamonn Byrne, former director of the World Association of Newspapers

I wish it would go away and Cameron’s accommodation idea is just the out we all need. Sadly, and despite the explosive media developments of the 21st century, some editors take their self-appointed role as defenders of all that is good and pure in the world far too seriously, thank god they are not in the least bit self important and pompous or then, where would we be?

Chris Connelly, journalist, editor and broadcaster

Having a free press is an awfully messy proposition. A lot of publishers, editors and reporters crossed over the stupid line years ago. It would be comforting to be able to rein them in. There’s no doubt that left to their own devices some will be dishonest, cruel and worse, but not all. Effective regulation can only come from those who hold the purse strings. Bad behavior must be bad for business, but it’s up to the culture, that is, the consumers to enforce the standards. It is delusional to imagine that some new law can relieve this headache. It will only make things worse.

David Speedie, director of Carnegie Council US Global Engagement Programme and former Scotsman political writer

Quite apart from any other merits of the case, the timing after the “Hackgate” accusations is exquisitely bad, and gratuitous. The obligation of the government is to protect victims, not abusers. Over here in the United States some 250 years ago, one of our greatest Presidents, Thomas Jefferson, famously observed that if forced to choose between a free legislature and a free press, he would choose the latter. This, however, is not the “free” press he envisaged - free, as Hugh Grant eloquently puts it, to "monster the innocent".

Liz Vercoe, editorial consultant and former News of the World, Telegraph and Sunday Mirror writer

I just don’t believe a press regulatory body given a Royal Charter is the answer. It won’t improve journalism. Journalism is not a profession. It’s an imperfect trade and its job is to tell the many what the few already know. At its best it’s about shining a light on bad people doing bad things whenever other agencies, for whatever reason – inadequacy, corruption, malevolence – aren’t bothered. There hasn't been enough debate about the individual regulations/restrictions that will become fixed by Royal Charter or their possible unwanted effects. The Prime Minister must continue to get the two sides closer together.

Susan Cantor, principal and COO of Thinktopia and Online Media Awards 2013 judge

Brand democracy has several core equities; chief among them is free speech and a free press. No one would argue that this sometimes results in hatemongering, the promotion of lies and abuse of authority. But as an American, there is nothing I hold dearer that the freedom of expression that these core tenets afford my fellow citizens and me. Benjamin Franklin famously said, “In those wretched countries where a man cannot call his tongue his own, he can scarce call anything his own. Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.” Despite the good intentions of the Leveson inquiry to right the egregious wrongs of the British press in recent years, any limitations on free speech and a free press are dangerous. "Leveson stays tight lipped amid a week of hot air and battle lines being drawn" - click here to read the view of former news editor of The Observer, Sunday Telegraph and Daily and Sunday Mirror, Chris Boffey, on the recent appearance of Sir Brian Leveson in front of MPs.
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