Newspaper groups, including the publishers of the Daily Mail, Telegraph and Daily Express, have delivered closing submissions to the Leveson Inquiry over the past two days.
Today, the lawyer acting for Associated Newspapers said newspaper editors will challenge a new press regulator “at every opportunity” if they are excluded from decision-making.
Jonathan Caplan QC, representing Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday publisher, said the group supported an industry plan for self-regulation proposed by Lord Black, chairman of the Press Standards Board of Finance, the body that funds the current Press Complaints Commission.
He said: “There is a real danger if editors are forbidden to participate in the new system they will seek simply to challenge it at every opportunity, which is clearly undesirable.”
The lawyer said the publisher also opposed the introduction of a statutory definition of the public interest, as decisions should be a “matter of judgment” best decided by the courts.
He said: “It is sadly inevitable that human errors will be made, and no regulatory system will ever change that… What matters is that a regulatory system should do what it can to prevent mistakes happening an in conjunction with the law provide access to meaningful forms of redress to those affected.”
He added: “My clients feel that we have heard too few speaking up for the popular press. Instead, the vacuum has been filled by people with axes to grind, prejudices to air, some ideological scores to settles, and some undoubtedly see this inquiry as an overdue opportunity to take the popular press and its content in hand.”
Telegraph Media Group supports self-regulation
Gavin Millar QC, representing the publisher, said yesterday the Press Complaints Commission had “not evolved fast enough” but argued for a self-regulatory body. He said the press could end up subject to “regulatory burdens flowing from statutory interventions” that internet news providers would escape.
Millar said: “The Telegraph does not want to be subject to a form of regulation which is opposes in principle, that is regulation following statutory intervention, when it does not require to be regulated in this way because it has achieved high standards under the current system. The same point can be made, no doubt, by many other newspaper publishers.”
He added: “The proposal put forward by PressBof [Press Standards Board of Finance]…may not be perfect, but it does not add to those concerns. It’s a work in progress and will doubtless be refined and improved. By contrast, we’ve not seen any proposals formulated by the inquiry, or by Parliament itself, and that is inevitably and necessarily a matter of concern for us.”
Lord Justice Leveson said he “didn’t understand” TMG’s opposition to statutory underpinning.
He said: “All I can say is looking at the experience of the last 50 years, I’ve seen no evidence of Parliament wanting to get more involved and to go further than the press has been prepared to go…They’ve not been straining at the leash to impose ever more rigorous statutory interventions.”
He reassured Millar he was not planning to recommend a statutory body in the mould of broadcast regulator Ofcom.
He said: “I’d be very surprised if I went down a route that sought to recommend a system that replicated Ofcom. I would be very surprised if I reached that conclusion.”
Millar said TMG were concerned once the “door is open” to statutory intervention, the industry would be in a difficult position.
He added: “The key point from our perspective is that the industry will willingly commit to making these proposals work. This is the best starting point for a new system of regulation. No regulation through a mechanism about which the industry, almost without exception, is sceptical, has the same sort of chance of success.”
Earlier in his submission, the lawyer said strict financial and editorial governance systems make it “impossible” for Telegraph reporters to act illegally.
Millar said journalists working for the Telegraph and the Sunday Telegraph would not be able to pay private investigators or bribe officials. Neither of the titles were mentioned in the files of Steven Whittamore, the private investigator whose national newspaper clients were exposed by the Operation Motorman investigation.
TMG carried out an internal inquiry last year, going back to 2005, and found no journalists had been involved in phone hacking.
Millar added: “The Telegraph was and remains appalled at the revelations about phone hacking which led to this inquiry being established. Such activities are a very long way removed from the responsible journalism in the public interest which the Telegraph strives to provide to its readers.”
TMG executive Murdoch MacLennan told the inquiry in January this year, Telegraph journalists “live by” the Press Complaints Commission Code.
Express and Star: There should be “no current editors” on a future press regulator
James Dingemans QC – acting for Northern & Shell, which includes the Daily Star and the Daily Express – said the newspaper industry was too small to be seen as independent and serving editors should not sit on a regulatory body. He recommended appointments to the body be subject to similar rules as judicial appointments.
He said: “There should be no current editors on the regulatory body. This is an industry which is still too small to enable persons to be seen to be independent. Whether they are or not is in some respects not the thing, but [they need to] be seen to be independent of the bodies which they are regulating.”
“So far as individual titles are concerned, and it’s no secret that those that I represent are not current members of the PCC, it is again too small that animosities, or perceived animosities, and loyalties, or perceived loyalties, could undermine what could otherwise be a proper functioning body.”
He later added: “The constitutional significance of the free press is such that the body appointing the persons to the regulatory body should have protections equivalent to those governing the appointment of the Judical Appointments Commission.”
Dingemans said the body should have power to deal with standards in order to draw a “further dividing line” between a system of appointments and serving editors.
The Northern & Shell submission stated any system providing for speedy, binding and final resolutions would be attractive to publishers. It also recommended accessibility and the consideration of costs for individuals complaining to newspapers, as well as the publications. Dingemans told Lord Justice Leveson it was vital regulation covered the interent as well as the print media.
The lawyer said society was benefited by a “press fearless of politicians [rather] than the press fearful of politicians” and said an attractive voluntary system would work best.
Lord Justice Leveson said: “I would like them neither to be fearful of the other, but each to recognise that the other is doing an important job in our democracy.. or is that too much to hope for?”
Dingemans replied: “I suspect, Sir, you would find that in the evidence before you.”
The submission pointed out there was no evidence to suggest phone hacking or computer hacking was carried out by the Daily or Sunday Express, the Daily Star or the Daily Star Sunday, or at OK! Magazine. Dingemans argued that privacy was an important consideration in Lord Justice Leveson’s final recommendations.
He said: “You have to deal with the fact of the different categories of people their approaches to privacy… in our submission there are people who provide details of their private life which others consider to be far too much information – and that you can see from some of the magazines and social media – and there are some people who are happy and content with good press coverage, even where it is intrusive, but are then very unhappy with negative press coverage particularly where it is intrusive, and there are others who are very protective about their privacy full stop and end of story, but people don’t always stay in the same categories, and of course the difficulties of trying to identify that have formed the backdrop to some of the cases before you.”
He later added: “There has been shown a stunning lack of judgment to the extent that it might engage the criminal law, and I say no more about that, about where lines can properly be drawn between the public interest in acquiring news and privacy.”