Hacked Off and Media Standards Trust host debate in the House of Commons

The future of press regulation must be swift and cheap for the public, several parties have agreed in a debate at the House of Commons.

Hugh Tomlinson QC and former FIA president Max Mosley put forward proposed regulatory systems to an assembled audience at a Hacked Off and Media Standards Trust event last night.

Lord David Hunt, current chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, joined the debate to briefly discuss his plans for reforming the self-regulatory body, saying he wanted to look to the future and “build on the best of British journalism”. Hunt has been discussing his developing proposal, a contract based system, with interested parties after consulting with national newspaper editors in December last year.

He added: “I have a blank piece of paper… Now we need to create a regulator for the first time. This is why I’ve been speaking to a lot of people about freedom of the press”.

Tomlinson said his proposal, with the working title of the Media Standards Authority, had been compiled from a series of round table debates with journalists, pressure groups, academics and lawyers. He advocated an independent voluntary body with incentives for publishers to join, with a statutory underpinning.

He said: “There should be a preliminary stage of adjudication before cases are taken to the courts… This is a crucial incentive to the media as it would be swift and save hundreds and thousands in legal costs.”

Tomlinson said his body would be inclusive, allowing bloggers and online publishers to join, and although more expensive than the PCC not as costly as a fully-fledged tribunal system.

Mosley, who was the subject of a News of the World expose in 2008, said a rule-making and rule-enforcing should be separated in a future body, and that statute would be needed to ensure the latter is effective. He called his system “rough-and-ready” but free, as most people cannot afford to take cases to court.

He said: “I don’t believe you can have a voluntary system because a lot of people won’t want to be a part of it, especially on the internet.”

Tomlinson emphasised the practicalities of forcing publishers to join regulation, and said it would “essentially involve the licensing of newspapers”. He said his proposal sought to provide a mixture of “carrots and sticks” to encourage people to join the system.

He added: “Our proposals both advocate a swift and cheap system.”

Both Tomlinson and Mosley have formally submitted their proposals to the Leveson Inquiry. Lord Hunt has promised to provide his findings to the inquiry in the near future.

The full proposal for the MSA and further details can be found here.

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Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

March 1, 2012 at 5:54 pm

Tomlinson makes a lot of money out of representing celebrities in privacy cases. So why he – or you – think a system he advocates would appeal to newspapers/journalists, per se, is difficult. I think they would suspect that he and his ilk start from a position that business would still be lucrative.

And quite aside from anything else about him, Max Mosley’s background is one of imposing ever-changing regulation on F1. I wouldn’t have thought that made him a good go-to source for a cost-effective system that would last for many years, whatever the sphere.

Otherwise this story is pretty broad brush and light on detail as to how their system would actually work in practice.

But licensing newspapers is a pretty awful concept. And the whole carrots and sticks thing, in whichever facet of life, from benefits to possible new media regulation, tends almost always to be more stick than carrot.

I accept that what went on at some NI publications was beyond the pale – and probably illegal – but I have a terrible feeling that we will end up with a less free press at the end of this process.

This story and its protagonists, with their own self-interest, just confirm that.

jan frankreply
March 2, 2012 at 6:16 am

How about setting up a professional body to control the activities of journalists, along the lines of doctors, lawyers, architects? A body which issues a licence to write and publish articles (and this would include bloggers) on condition of reasonable behaviour.

Doctors, lawyers and architects have set up professional bodies to deal with complaints from the public, and indeed, occasionally members of the profession who step out of line have the licence to practice their profession withdrawn.

And the journalist, faced with the proprietor (or editor) of a newspaper that leans on him to write something that would injure a member of the public could reply “That might cost me my licence”. That proprietor, if he persisted, might himself be put on the black list, with, as a result, that no reputable licensed journalist would work on that paper.

Mick Griffinreply
March 4, 2012 at 11:02 pm

There should be a right of reply whereby the subject of a newspaper article can apply to an independent tribunal for a right to reply to a disputed story. If the complaint is upheld,they are granted a right to reply in the offending newspaper and the reply is given the same prominence as the original story. This will ensure that freedom of speech is enhanced ,not censored.

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