Industry endorsement is “essential” for the success of a new press regulator, the Irish press ombudsman has told the Leveson Inquiry.
Professor John Horgan – who has independently overseen the Irish Press Council since 2007 – said today the uptake of the new system by publications was vital.
He told the inquiry: “It depends on the robustness of the measures that are put in place to ensure redress, and it depends on the whole-heartedness of the endorsement and uptake of these by the newspaper industry themselves. Those two things are absolutely essential.”
Horgan advocated the independence of the body – from the industry and government – along with clear incentives for publishers to join and the introduction of an appeals system.
He added: “[Appeals] would be valuable in any system in which people are attempting to counterbalance the necessary freedom of the press and the freedom of expression, with a system that gives people who are the object of press attention some reasonable redress.”
The ombudsman told Lord Justice Leveson his role “demystified” the power of the press for those wanting to complain and had led to the improvement of internal complaints-handling mechanisms in newspapers. The judge has been exploring the potential for an introduction of a similar figure in a new UK regulator.
On statutory underpinning, Horgan said: “The statutory recognition of the [Irish] Press Council – and the various elements associated with that – were at first seen by some of the UK titles as being the thin end of a very big wedge in relation to statutory regulation.
“But all those concerned persisted really on the basis, not least of the fact that they felt that it wasn’t the thin edge of the wedge, and could argue that case as they saw it, fairly convincingly. To have a press council in Ireland, without the participation of those UK-based, but Irish published, newspapers would be pointless to a large degree.”
He added: “The seismic shift that has taken place, because of the establishment of the council and of my own office, is that although the industry has created, with the involvement of public interest individuals, a code of practice, that that code is administered by myself and the council. So on matters such as the definition of the public interest that is not a matter for the newspapers. They may advance it in defence of something that they’ve done, but the final decision on that is taken by myself or on appeal by the council.”
Journalists must have voice in new regulator, says CCMR
Limiting the remit of self-regulation to editors and owners is “extraordinarily arrogant”, the Leveson Inquiry has heard.
Angela Phillips – chair of the ethics committee of the Coordinating Committee for Media Reform – said today journalists should be properly represented in a future regulatory body and told the inquiry she was “astonished” Lord Black and Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre recommended limiting press cards to reporters from accredited publications.
She added: “I think that whatever we end with here, it has got to support ethical journalism, while at the same time trying to curb what I can quite happily call unethical journalism. They tend to be quite often done by two different groups of people.
“I think it would be a pity if we end up with changes that are very slight because the only people who really matter are the editors of the very biggest newspapers. Because we have to keep reminding ourselves that they are the problem. Why do we expect them to be the solution?”
Phillips gave evidence with CCMR chair Professor James Curran, who said only a robust response from the Leveson Inquiry would change the concentration of power in the media.
He said: “If we take the press with which we are particularly concerned, we have a situation where you have major press oligarchs who make tacit deals with government, who at the behest of small number of people can move into coalition with government or launch a jihad had against government.
“People draw upon information from different sources. But that doesn’t obliviate the point that a concentration of fire power within particular sectors has enormous political clout and enormously influences the nature of British politics.”
The CCMR proposal recommends publishers owning a 15 percent share of a given market should make sure journalists and editors have a voice in the organisation. It also wants companies to contribute to a trust funding public interest journalism by individuals or small start-ups.