By Evan Harris
On 8 July, sections of the press industry announced in a press release their plans to set up a self-regulator that is designed NOT to meet the standards required by the Leveson Report or by the Royal Charter agreed by all parties in Parliament.
This press release itself is evidence of the willingness of a small group of press proprietors – who are here claiming the right to define and police their own ethical standards – to distort, misrepresent and conceal the truth in pursuit of their objectives.
Here is an analysis of their claims and assertions. The words of the press release are in italics.
The newspaper and magazine industry today takes the first steps towards setting up the Independent Press Standards Organisation, the new regulator for the press called for by Lord Justice Leveson.
This false and misleading. It is not the new regulator called for by Leveson. He called for one to be set up that was compliant with his recommendations. This one is not and (see below) is not seriously claimed to be.
In his report, Leveson was very clear that it should be the job of the industry to address the failures of the past by creating a new regulator: “.. .by far the best solution to press standards would be a body, established and organised by the industry, which would provide genuinely independent regulation of its members….” (Leveson p. 1758)
This is selective quotation from the Leveson Report. The full quote (with omitted words underlined) is:
“By far the best solution to press standards would be a body, established and organised by the industry, which would provide genuinely independent and effective regulation of its members and would be durable.”
The next paragraph from Leveson crucially states: “It is important to be clear about what I mean by ‘genuinely independent and effective regulation’. My criteria for an effective regulatory regime set the broad framework. What I will do now is set out at a level of detail the minimum criteria that I believe it would be necessary to have in place in order to deliver against that broad framework.
In other words, Leveson made clear on pages 1758-9, that the press needed to produce a self-regulator that complied with some minimum criteria. The PressBoF system fails in multiple ways to do this. See here for the top 12 ways.
The draft constitutional documents published today begin that process by setting out the structure and rules of the new Independent Press Standards Organisation. The documents, drawn up by the Industry Implementation Group chaired by Paul Vickers, Group Legal Director of Trinity Mirror, will now be considered by all 200-plus newspaper and magazine publishers with a view to final agreement in the next few weeks.
The public and the victims have not been consulted at any stage. Presumably the authors of the PressBoF know that the public – their readers – will say that it is not on and will see their sub-Leveson regulator for the PCC Mark 2 which it is.
Meanwhile the independent Foundation Group chaired by Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, the former President of the Supreme Court, is already in position, ready to start the process of selecting the first members of the Appointment Panel for the new body.
The Foundation Group – which includes Sun journalist Trevor Kavanagh – can not rationally be called independent because it was appointed by the industry with the help of Conservative peer Lord Hunt, who in turn was appointed by PressBoF to run their PCC. No appointments process run by such a group could possibly conform to Leveson’s well-defined ideas of independence.
The initiative has the support of Culture Secretary Maria Miller, who told the industry at the end of May: “I would urge you… to continue with the work to set up the independent self-regulator as quickly as possible.”
In fact the Government wants the press to set up a regulator compliant with Leveson and thus with the 18th March Royal Charter approved by all parties in Parliament and backed by victims of press abuses. This regulator would not be. Therefore it is hard to see how the Government minister can have supported it.
The quotation they use does not appear to exist online but may be a paraphrased selective extract from a statement issued by the DCMS at the end of May. This is only found, curiously, in Pink News, which reports on 29th May.
On Wednesday, a Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson said to PinkNews.co.uk:
“Lord Justice Leveson was clear that we need to reform our system of press regulation. We have cross party agreement on a strong new system of voluntary self-regulation of the press, based on incentives, and without the need for statutory regulation. It is now for the industry to get on with setting up an independent, self-regulatory body.”
It was of course not mentioned by PressBoF that the DCMS statement was issued in response to the Lucy Meadows coroner’s verdict – where he called upon the Government to ensure that the press proceeded with implementing the Leveson Report.
“I will be writing to the government to consider now implementing in full the recommendations of the Leveson Report in order to seek to ensure that other people in the same position as Lucy Meadows are not faced with the same ill-informed bigotry as seems to be displayed in the case of Lucy.”
The establishment of the Independent Press Standards Organisation does not depend on approval of a Royal Charter, as the Prime Minister made clear to Parliament on March 18: “The Royal Charter does not set up a self-regulator; that is for the press to do.”
Again this is a selective quote, and not even accurate. The PM said at column 632 of Hansard
“..let me remind the House of the two key recommendations that Lord Justice Leveson made. First he said there should be a new powerful self-regulatory body that the press themselves had to establish—he was very clear about what that should involve and that the press had to establish it. Secondly, and crucially, in order that the press do not mark their own homework, he said there should be a recognition body to oversee the new system of press self-regulation”.
What did PressBof’s press release leave out of that statement?
First, the requirements – over 30 of them – that Leveson said that a new self-regulator needed to meet. The PressBoF self-regulator fails many of them. And second, the need for a self-regulator to be approved by the recognition body set up in the Parliamentary Royal Charter.
This is important as the Royal Charter approval process, which begins this week with the setting-up of the Privy Council sub-committee announced by Maria Miller, may take some months to complete. It is already eight months since Leveson delivered his report and the industry does not believe the public can be expected to wait longer before a new regulator is put in place.
If the public does not have an adequate regulator now, the responsibility lies entirely with the industry, as the Leveson Report makes painfully clear. And if there is delay in achieving what the judge recommended (which is designed to protect the public) then the responsibility lies squarely with the industry.
The documents published today follow the criteria set out in the Royal Charter put forward by the industry, which is the only proposal under consideration by the Privy Council.
This exposes the deception in the press release. This regulator is clearly not going to comply with the Leveson Report as required by the Parliamentary Royal Charter, but only with the PCC Mark 2 criteria laid out in the industry’s own proposed Royal Charter. This is soon to be rejected by the Privy Council in favour of the Leveson Parliamentary Royal Charter, so this whole exercise of PressBoF Royal Charter and PCC Mark 2 will be revealed as a waste of time.
In Part Two, we explore the claims of the newspaper industry to have implemented Leveson’s proposals in their plans for “IPSO”.
Dr Evan Harris is Associate Director of Hacked Off.