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Leveson findings revealed: ‘This is not statutory regulation of the press’

PUBLISHED: 14:15 29 November 2012

Lord Justice Leveson with the Report from the Inquiry into the Culture, Practices and Ethics of the Press, Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

Lord Justice Leveson with the Report from the Inquiry into the Culture, Practices and Ethics of the Press, Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

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 with carrying out an inquiry and publishing 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.

Summing up his 16-month inquiry, Lord Justice Leveson said this afternoon: “The evidence placed before the inquiry has demonstrated, beyond any doubt, that there have been far too many occasions over the last decade and more (itself said to have been better than previous decades) when these responsibilities, on which the public so heavily rely, have simply been ignored.

“There have been too many times when, chasing the story, parts of the press have acted as if its own code, which it wrote, simply did not exist.

“This has caused real hardship, and on occasion, wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people whose rights and liberties have been disdained.

“This is not just the famous but ordinary members of the public, caught up in events (many of them truly tragic) far larger than they could cope with but made much, much worse by press behaviour that, at times, can only be described as outrageous.”

Spelling out his proposals for ensuring such behaviour could be dealt with in future, the judge dismissed the idea that they could be described as statutory regulation.

“What is proposed here is independent regulation of the press organised by the press, with a statutory verification process to ensure that the 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,” he wrote.

“In the light of all that has been said, I must recognise the possibility that the industry could fail to rise to this challenge and be unable or unwilling to establish a system of independent regulation that meets the criteria.

“I have made it clear that I firmly believe it to be in the best interests of the public and the industry that it should indeed accept the challenge. What is more, given the public entitlement to some accountability of the press, I do not think that either the victims or the public would accept the outcome if the industry did not grasp this opportunity.”

He suggested that, “in that regrettable event”, Ofcom could be “required to act as a backstop regulator for those not prepared to join such a scheme”.

“It would be a great pity if last-ditch resistance to the case for a measure of genuine independence in oversight of standards or behaviour by the press, or the intransigence of a few, resulted in the imposition of a system which everyone in the industry has said they do not want, and which, in all probability, very few others would actually want to see in place.”

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