Hacked Off has never proposed a model of regulation. We started by campaigning for a public inquiry and when it came along we took the view that it was up to the inquiry to make a suggestion, once it had heard all the evidence. We believe strongly, however, that Britain needs effective regulation that is independent of both the government and the press industry. Here are six kinds of regulation that figure in the current debate.
This is what we have had in various forms since 1953. Despite successive failures which prompted successive inquiries and recommendations for tougher regulation, the press has always been allowed to go on acting as judge and jury in its own courtroom. They write the rules and they decide when to enforce them and when to look the other way. The Press Complaints Commission was toothless and had no way of making the industry learn lessons from its mistakes. Self-regulation has failed.
In this model the press is answerable to a body it doesn’t control, staffed and led by people who are appointed without industry involvement. Such a body might seek to act in the interests of the public rather than the press, but would it have teeth? How would it get the big newspaper organisations to participate, and how could it make them pay fines when those were incurred?
REGULATION WITH STATUTORY RECOGNITION
This is the ‘Irish model‘ of regulation. The Republic of Ireland has an ombudsman and a press council, and this arrangement is recognised in their Defamation Act, which also gives certain legal advantages to members. It works in Ireland but would it work in Britain? The Irish system doesn’t have any fines and it is overseen by their minister for justice, and neither of those would be acceptable in Britain. There is also the matter of clout. The British newspaper groups are very big and powerful, and they will surely need a powerful body to oversee them.
REGULATION WITH STATUTORY UNDERPINNING (OR A STATUTORY BACKSTOP)
This could have various forms, but one idea is that a law would be passed creating a regulator, giving it a remit and making it clearly independent of government and of the industry, with independent appointments arrangements. The law might also say who had to be members and it might provide the authority to levy fines. Members would either fund it or help fund it through a levy. In a different version, the regulator could be a self-regulator, but it would be subject to inspection by a body created under statute which would ensure it met standards set down in the law.
This term describes a body functioning entirely under statute, probably funded by the state and generally answerable to parliament or to a minister. This might describe the BBC, which is answerable to parliament and funded by the state-endorsed licence fee. No one has proposed this kind of regulation for the British press.
The direct management of the press by the government, enabling full pre-publication censorship – as practised in Zimbabwe and North Korea.