Lord Justice Leveson has called for a "genuinely independent and effective system of self-regulation" in his report published today, adding that it is "essential" that there be legislation to underpin this.
In the executive summary of his report, which follows a 16-month inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press, Leveson said he does "unhesitatingly agree with the prime minister, the deputy prime minister and the leader of the opposition who all believe the [Press Complaints Commission] has failed and that a new body is required".
Prime Minister David Cameron is due to make a statement later today in response to the report, in which Leveson adds "it is essential that there should be legislation to underpin the independent self-regulatory system and facilitate its recognition in legal processes".
Leveson stresses that "this is not, and cannot be characterised as, statutory regulation of the press".
"What is proposed here is independent regulation of the press organised by the press, with a statutory verification process to ensure that the required levels of independence and effectiveness are met by the system in order for publishers to take advantage of the benefits arising as a result of membership".What is proposed here is independent regulation of the press organised by the press, with a statutory verification process to ensure that the required levels of independence and effectiveness are met by the system in order for publishers to take advantage of the benefits arising as a result of membershipLeveson report
Outlining the purpose of this legislation, he highlights three points which it will "achieve", as quoted below:
- "First it would enshrine, for the first time, a legal duty on the government to protect the freedom of the press.
- "Second, it would provide an independent process to recognise the new self-regulatory body and reassure the public that the basic requirements of independence and effectiveness were met and continue to be met; in the report, I recommend that this is done by Ofcom.
- "Third, by recognising the new body; it would validate its standards code and the arbitral system sufficient to justify the benefits in law that would flow to those who subscribed; these could relate to data protection and the approach of he court to various issues concerning acceptable practice, in addition to costs consequences if appropriate alternative dispute resolution is available."
Addressing the issue of offering incentives for membership Leveson said he is "not satisfied" that the incentives proposed by Lord Black, chair of PressBoF, "would be sufficient or, in some cases (such as the proposal to limit press cards to members of the body) even desirable".
Leveson proposes an arbitration service which is "recognised and could be taken into account by the courts as an essential component of the system".It is essential that there should be legislation to underpin the independent self-regulatory system and facilitate its recognition in legal processesLord Justice Leveson's report
As a result, he argues, this "would then make it possible to provide an incentive in relation to the costs of civil litigation".
"If, by declining to be a part of a regulatory system, a publisher has deprived a claimant of access to a quick, fair, low-cost arbitration of the type I have proposed, the civil procedure rules could permit the court to deprive that publisher of its costs of litigation in privacy, defamation and other media cases, even if it had been successful.
"Similarly if a newspaper publisher who chose not to subscribe to the regulatory body was found to have infringed the civil law rights of a claimant, it could be considered to have shown wilful disregard of standards and thereby potentially lead to a claim for exemplary damages (which I recommend should be extended to these types of case)."
While Leveson describes Lord Black's proposal as an "improvement", he adds that it "does not meet the criteria that I set out in May".
Independent appointments panel
Other recommendations for a new regulatory body put forward by Leveson includes the establishment of an independent appointments panel "which could include one current editor but with a substantial majority demonstrably independent of the press".
He adds that the board and chair of such a body "should all be appointed by a fair and open process, comprise a majority that are independent of the press, include a sufficient number of people with experience of the industry who may include former editors and senior or academic journalists, but shall not include any serving editor or member of the House of Commons or government".
He also recommends the creation of a 'code committee' in which he suggests "serving editors have an important part to play although not one that is decisive". This committee would then "advise the new body".
Other proposals include a "purely voluntary pre-publication advice service to editors".
For journalists Leveson also recommends the establishment of a "whistle-blowing hotline", and says the new body should "encourage its members to ensure that journalists' contracts include a conscience clause protecting them".
Behaviour of the press
In reference to the behaviour of the press, Leveson adds that he has "no doubt that, to a greater or lesser extent with a wider range of titles, there has been a recklessness in prioritising sensational stories, almost irrespective of the harm that the stories may cause and the rights of those who would be affected (perhaps in a way that can never been remedied), all the while heedless of the pubic interest."
"Too many stories in too many newspapers were the subject of complaints from too many people, with too little in the way of titles taking responsibility, or considering the consequences for the individuals involved."
He adds, however, that "the majority of editors, journalists and others who work for both the national and regional press do good work in the public interest, as well as entertaining their readers."
Relationship between the press and police
As well as addressing the issue of press regulation, the report also looks at the relationship between the press and police, as covered by the inquiry.
In his recommendations Leveson calls for the term 'off-the-record briefing' to be "discontinued".
"The term 'non-reportable briefing' should be used to cover a background briefing which is not to be reported, and the term 'embargoed briefing' should be used to cover a situation where the content of the bringing may be reported but not until a specified event or time."
Relationship between the press and politicians
In reference to the last 30 to 35 years, and likely "much longer than that", Leveson concludes that "the evidence clearly demonstrates that the political parties of UK national government and of UK official opposition have had or developed too close a relationship with the press".
"Although this relationship has fluctuated over time, the evidence suggests there has been a perceptible increase in the proximity of the relationship over this period. I do not believe this has been in the public interest."
This has "contributed to a lessening of public confidence in the conduct of public affairs" he said, adding that this should not, however, "be interpreted as concluding that politicians have made express or implied 'deals' with press proprietors in a manner contrary to the public interest".