The National Union of Journalists has urged Lord Justice Leveson not to waste a “golden opportunity” to reform the press.
Michelle Stanistreet – NUJ general secretary – told the Leveson Inquiry proposals by Press Complaints Commission chairman Lord Hunt and Lord Black, of the Press Board of Finance, would only maintain the status quo.
She said: “It seems to us that this is nothing more than an attempt by the vested interests of the owners and editors, to have a continuation of the status quo and obviously it’s in their interest that that would be the outcome of this inquiry, but it would be a monumental waste of a golden opportunity for change and a waste of everybody’s time here.”
The general secretary said the proposals amounted to “nothing but more of the same”. A joint statement prepared by Stanistreet and Professor Chris Frost, of Liverpool John Moores University, criticised the “industry-fostered” structure of the PCC for leading to the body’s failure.
Frost told the inquiry: “Lord Hunt in his evidence said editors set the standards and they’re leaders. I have to say they’ve not shown a very good lead over the last few years and that’s partly because they’ve been able to bully our members into doing what they see as commercially appropriate rather than what they see as good journalism.”
The NUJ proposal calls for a statutory underpinning. Stanistreet told the inquiry the union believed it was wrong for publishers to be able to opt in or out of regulation and compulsory membership would be the only way to achieve change.
She added: “We heard yesterday from Lord Black if we see any form of statutory involvement, whether its underpinning or regulation, that members of the industry would up sticks and leave the country and set up elsewhere, so in terms of relying on their goodwill to be part of a new process, if it’s a voluntary process, I would have doubts… making it a compulsory process seems to me the only sensible, pragmatic way forward.”
She later told the judge: “You’ve made it very clear that you have no intention of doing anything akin to the jeopardy of putting press freedom in peril, and that doesn’t have to be the choice before us.”
Frost said several methods – including assessing circulation, turnover and VAT registration – could be used to decide which organisations should fall under the body, allowing smaller organisations to carry the kitemark of the system.
On complaints, he said: “[They] could come from individuals, they could come from groups, but those should be entertained by the new body to look at how they line up against the code and practice that I was talking about so they could say ‘Well, good practice in these types of stories would be…’ and the PCC does do a little bit of that, although not as much lately as it has done in the past.”