Tough independent self-regulation would be the best proposal Lord Justice Leveson could put forward, says Niri Shan
I believe that the continuing freedom of the press should remain the most important outcome of Lord Justice Leveson’s proposals when the first part of his report is published this Thursday.
Having said that, change is necessary to restore the public’s confidence in the press. In my view, a stronger media regulator could achieve this without the need for statutory regulation and I hope that will be the outcome of the report.
Lord Black of Brentwood, chairman of the Press Standards Board of Finance, with the support of Lord Hunt, chairman of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), has proposed a self-regulatory solution, backed by contract law.
This would involve a new independent self-regulatory ‘regulator’ made up of a trust board, a complaints committee and an investigations panel. Lord Black suggests that the regulator would ensure compliance with ethical standards, monitor governance within newspapers, investigate where there has been a systematic breach and impose sanctions. The sanctions would include fines of as much as £1m.
These proposals seem to offer a genuine and workable solution. The majority in the regulator would be independent of government and media interests, which would lend it public credibility. The sanctions would have impact, unlike those of the PCC. The regulator would have flexibility to respond to a fast-moving media landscape, with which statute could struggle to keep up.
The regulator’s powers would derive from the contract between it and its member companies. This would deal with problems such as Northern & Shell not being a party to the PCC.
Statutory regulation runs too great a risk of unacceptable restriction on press freedom. Dr Jurgen Kronig, head of the Foreign Press Association, has also warned that “it would send a dangerous signal to the world if this nation chose now to introduce such controls. It would send a disastrous message to countries around the world.”
For this reason, tough independent self-regulation must be the best proposal.