The British press has repeatedly gone beyond the bounds of civilized behaviour, Max Mosley has said.
The former head of the Federation Internationale de l’Autormobile (FIA), who gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry for the second time today, was the subject of a sting by the News of the World and won a privacy case against the newspaper in 2008.
In a written statement, Mosley criticised sections of the industry for breaking the law and adopting a “bullying and dishonest approach” to legal challenges. He also said justice for defamation and privacy breaches was denied to most of the population because of legal costs.
Mosley, who in his previous evidence discussed his privacy case, this time put forward a proposal for a press tribunal for handling disputes and a ‘Press Commission’ to replace the current Press Complaints Commission. He told the inquiry the press should be allowed to make rules for regulation with outside help.
He said: “I think keeping [the bodies] separate then overcomes any suggestion of state control of the press, because the only thing you’d need a statute for would be the body to enforce the rules.
“We need the public to be involved in making the rules but then [the regulator] can be a non-statutory body, provided there is a statutory body to stop breaches of the rules.”
The tribunal would be given powers to define the public interest, provide a public interest defence for journalists, impose a requirement for prior notification on story concerning medical details, sexual and family matters, and be given powers under the Harassment Act. It would be funded by a levy on publications with circulations above a set level and fines – which could equal 10 percent of group turnover.
He added: “Let’s take an extreme case. The pursuit of the McCanns in the Daily Express… At a certain point the tribunal, had it existed then, would have said to the Express, ‘This is not acceptable’ and imposed a significant fine if it had continued – the fine would have been very significant indeed – and undoubtedly [Northern & Shell owner] Mr Desmond would have given orders to stop.”
He also suggested tweets, social media posts and blogs should be covered by a press regulator.
Concentration of media ownership to blame for press malpractice
Concentration of media ownership has produced the problems emerging in the industry over the last year, the Leveson Inquiry was told by Steven Barnett, the professor of communications at the University of Westminster.
Barnett said the inquiry was a “transformative moment” in British public life and called on Lord Justice Leveson to consider media ownership when making recommendations.
In his written proposal Barnett said corporate culture determined cultural output, including drama and comedy programmes, and plurality issues go beyond politics and current affairs.
He told the inquiry BSkyB spent £1 million in legal fees last year trying to rebuff regulatory enquiries by broadcast regulator Ofcom, citing this as an example of unaccountable corporate power being used to generate greater control. He said that last year the company’s £6.6 billion revenue almost exceeded those of the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 put together.
He recommended that the discretion for initiating an inquiry – of the kind ordered by Vince Cable and later Jeremy Hunt into the BSkyB bid – should be shared by minister and Ofcom, and that final decisions on mergers should not be left to politicians alone.
The inquiry also heard from Dr Damian Tambini of the London School of Economics, who recommended a press council jointly formed by owners and journalists, with public representation.
He told the inquiry: “Privacy violations provide a huge amount of resource. They provide front pages, which sell newspapers. No economist, as far as I know, has actually valued that, but if you have a self-regulating body [it] might have the value of keeping statutory regulation at bay.”
Lord Justice Leveson replied: “That might be the sole entire common interest of everybody [in the industry], keeping statues away.”