The director of the Media Standards Trust has appeared at the Leveson Inquiry to discuss a two-tier proposal for press regulation.
Dr Martin Moore – also a founder of the Hacked Off campaign – gave evidence today following proposed plans from the Press Complaints Commission, the Press Board of Finance and the National Union of Journalists.
He said: “What we’ve tried to do this time, and I think others have as well, is to demonstrate that actually there is a significant spectrum which, if you put on the one hand statutory regulation and on the other hand voluntary self-regulation, there a significant number of possibilities in the middle, which are better than the existing system and don’t go nearly as far as statutory regulation.”
The Media Standards Trust proposal, called A Free and Accountable Media, sets out a plan for self-regulation, with large media organisations – defined under the Companies Act 2006 as having over 50 employees or annual £6.5 million revenue – having to exceed a set of criteria and be approved by independent auditor set up under law. Moore said submissions from Lord Black of PressBoF and PCC chairman Lord Hunt were “insufficiently different” to the current regulatory system.
He added: “I think it’s insufficiently independent. I think it’s insufficiently robust. And I think the incentives that have been proposed are regressive and potentially in some cases dangerous for journalism.
“We talked to lawyers about the use of commercial contracts, most of them felt that the contracts were, in these circumstances, not really suitable and would necessarily need to be crowbarred into being used.”
The proposed system obliges large news organisations to join an independent self-regulatory organisation, that ensures the system works by establishing a backstop independent auditor recognised in statute, introduces basic internal complaints mechanisms and transparent compliance mechanisms within large news organisations, and protects free speech by imposing no regulatory obligations on anyone but large news organisations. It also recommends a public interest defence in law to protect investigative journalism and support self-regulation.
Moore said it was important large organisations set up internal compliance and complaints mechanisms and joining an external self-regulatory system. The auditor – or Backstop Independent Auditor – would then oversee organisations to ensure standards are upheld, with powers to sanction and fine. He said the public needed an independent body that accepts, resolves and offers redress for complaints.
He added: “We wanted to provide a system and an environment, an ecology, where actually one could see this lasting for 10, 15, 20, 30 years because it would be flexible enough to allow for other self-regulatory organisations in the future.”
Asked by inquiry counsel Robert Jay QC why the proposal excluded smaller organisations, Moore said the main purpose of regulation is to deal with “disparities in power” and individuals were more able to deal with smaller news outlets when making complaints about accuracy.
He said: “The problem, particularly in the case of phone-hacking, as we’ve seen, is that because not only was there no regulation, but there was the impression that there was regulation, some of these practices did become routine and institutionalised and it got to the stage where the police were and are going into newsrooms and arresting journalists and taking material – and part of the purpose of regulation is to prevent that happening.
“In that sense it is to protect journalism and to protect journalists from the strong arm of the law. Regulation and particularly regulatory codes ought to be both consistent with and supplementary to the law and part of the purpose of a regulator would be not only to make journalists extremely clear of the code and of law.”
He added: “I think we have to recognize that not only is there precedent in other industries, there is a precedent in the press, and we are working from the basis of experience of 60 years looking at what has and what has not been effective.”
You can read more on the Media Standards Trust proposal here. The report, co-authored by Dr Moore and Dr Gordon Ramsay, was written in consultation with an advisory group consisting of chair Anthony Salz (Executive Vice-Chairman of Rothschild, formerly Vice Chairman of the BBC Governors), Professor Steven Barnett (University of Westminster, formerly specialist adviser to the House of Lords select committee on Communications), Martin Dickson (Deputy Editor, Financial Times), Carolyn Fairbairn (formerly director of strategy at the BBC and ITV), Richard Hooper (founding deputy chairman of Ofcom and the first chairman of Ofcom’s Content Board), Professor Stewart Purvis (City University, formerly Chief Executive and Editor-in-Chief of ITN, President of EuroNews, and Ofcom Partner for Content and Standards) and David Yelland (partner at Brunswick Group LLP, formerly editor of The Sun).
Submissions and evidence to the Leveson Inquiry from the Media Standards Trust can be found here.