Independence and effectiveness will be key to any system of media regulation, says Hugh Tomlinson QC
The Leveson Report should propose a system of media regulation that promotes and protects the right of the media to publish information on public interest matters and the right of the public to receive it.
The new system should balance between the expression rights of the press with and the rights of individuals to privacy and reputation. It should guarantee the right of the public to accurate information on matters of public concern. It should provide a mechanism for the swift and cost-effective resolution of disputes involving the media.
The key features of a system of media regulation that achieves these objectives are independence and effectiveness. The new regulator should be independent of both the Government and the press. This independence should be guaranteed by statute.
In order to be effective, large newspaper publishers must be subject to the new regulator. There should be a turnover or circulation threshold – above that threshold a publisher should be subject to regulation. In relation to smaller publishers the regulatory system could be voluntary, but there would be incentives to join.
In this system regulated publishers would have important advantages over others. They would have additional defences in libel and privacy actions. Most importantly, they would have the benefit of a compulsory system of alternative dispute resolution. Anyone who wanted to sue them would first have to use the regulator’s system of adjudication. This would improve access to justice and save the press millions in legal costs.
This system would not involve statutory control of the press. It would involve a statutory guarantee of regulatory independence. The independently regulated press would be free to be raucous, irreverent and challenging to those in power. But the regulator would ensure that it was fair, accurate and not unnecessarily intrusive. This would strike a proper balance.
Hugh Tomlinson QC is a barrister at Matrix Chambers