I’m just having a read of the Executive Summary of the Leveson Report. I’m lazy and not even reading all of the summary, just the bit at the back, the summary of the recommendations. These are some thoughts as they come to me.
The members of the Board should be appointed by the same appointment panel that appoints the Chair, together with the Chair (once appointed), and should:
(a) be appointed by a fair and open process;
(b) comprise a majority of people who are independent of the press;
(c) include a sufficient number of people with experience of the industry who may include former editors and senior or academic journalists;
(d) not include any serving editor; and
(e) not include any serving member of the House of Commons or any member of the Government.
No serving editors on the board. This is good. Serving editors not needed on the board, especially if there is someone else on the board with experience and understanding. Along with not allowing any serving MP/Government member, this helps to not only help the organisation be but be seen to be independent of government and the industry.
The code must take into account the importance of freedom of speech, the interests of the public (including the public interest in detecting or exposing crime or serous impropriety, protecting public health and safety and preventing the public from being seriously misled) and the rights of individuals. Specifically, it must cover standards of:
(a) conduct, especially in relation to the treatment of other people in the process of obtaining material;
(b) appropriate respect for privacy where there is no sufficient public interest justification for breach and
(c) accuracy, and the need to avoid misrepresentation.
How can anyone argue with that? That is already what the PCC claims to have.
The Board should require, of those who subscribe, appropriate internal governance processes, transparency on what governance processes they have in place, and notice of any failures in compliance, together with details of steps taken to deal with failures in compliance.
More transparency to show the newspaper is taking the code seriously. This is A Good Thing, too.
The Board should require all those who subscribe to have an adequate and speedy complaint handling mechanism; it should encourage those who wish to complain to do so through that mechanism and should not receive complaints directly unless or until the internal complaints system has been engaged without the complaint being resolved in an appropriate time.
Again, this is how it should be. Many papers will say they already do have an effective complaints procedure, but many regularly drag the process of a simple correction out for months.
The Board should have the power (but not necessarily in all cases depending on the circumstances the duty) to hear complaints whoever they come from, whether personally and directly affected by the alleged breach, or a representative group affected by the alleged breach, or a third party seeking to ensure accuracy of published information. In the case of third party complaints the views of the party most closely involved should be taken into account.
This is exactly what media-watchers have been calling for for years – the ability to have the papers given a bollocking when they smear whole swathes of people. The PCC didn’t take complaint unless it was from someone directly affected, which left the papers free to demonise whole communities.
It should continue to be the case that complainants are able to bring complaints free of charge.
Another Good Thing.
In relation to complaints, the Board should have the power to direct appropriate remedial action for breach of standards and the publication of corrections and apologies. Although remedies are essentially about correcting the record for individuals, the power to require a correction and an apology must apply equally in relation to individual standards breaches (which the Board has accepted) and to groups of people (or matters of fact) where there is no single identifiable individual who has been affected.
Again, groups of people. Currently, if you’re not named you can’t complain.
The power to direct the nature, extent and placement of apologies should lie with the Board.
No more burying an apology in the small print on page 94.
The Board should not have the power to prevent publication of any material, by anyone, at any time although (in its discretion) it should be able to offer a service of advice to editors of subscribing publications relating to code compliance which editors, in their discretion, can deploy in civil proceedings arising out of publication.
There. The new body “should not have the power to prevent publication of any material“. There is no pre-publication clearing of stories required, the status quo is maintained. The editor can get advice, but essentially would still be able to publish anything and then defend it afterwards. There will be no censorship.
The Board, being an independent self-regulatory body, should have authority to examine issues on its own initiative and have sufficient powers to carry out investigations both into suspected serious or systemic breaches of the code and failures to comply with directions of the Board. Those who subscribe must be required to cooperate with any such investigation.
The body could instigate investigations on it’s own accord. The PCC doesn’t investigate. It mediated. Badly.
The Board should have the power to impose appropriate and proportionate sanctions, (including financial sanctions up to 1% of turnover with a maximum of £1m), on any subscriber found to be responsible for serious or systemic breaches of the standards code or governance requirements of the body. The sanctions that should be available should include power to require publication of corrections, if the breaches relate to accuracy, or apologies if the breaches relate to other provisions of the code.
A regulator that has the power to impose penalties that actually have bite? That’ll be nice. Rather than just asking meekly to have an apology published, in words that don’t actually accept responsibility.
The Board should provide an arbitral process in relation to civil legal claims against subscribers, drawing on independent legal experts of high reputation and ability on a cost-only basis to the subscribing member. The process should be fair, quick and inexpensive, inquisitorial and free for complainants to use (save for a power to make an adverse order for the costs of the arbitrator if proceedings are frivolous or vexatious). The arbitrator must have the power to hold hearings where necessary but, equally, to dispense with them where it is not necessary. The process must have a system to allow frivolous or vexatious claims to be struck out at an early stage.
The body needs to be able to make it’s own decisions on whether a complaint is vexatious or frivolous. This is especially important if complaints are to be taken from third parties.
The role of recognition body, that is to say, to recognise and certify that any particular body satisfies (and, on review, continues to satisfy) the requirements set out in law should fall on Ofcom. A less attractive alternative (on the basis that any individual will not have the requisite authority or experience and will only be occasionally be required to fulfil these functions) is for the appointment of an independent Recognition Commissioner supported by officials at Ofcom.
Ofcom to certify that the regulator is independent. If Ofcom is good enough to ensure broadcast behaves itself, then it should be good enough to ensure the regulator is independent.
It should be possible for the recognition body to recognise more than one regulatory body, should more than one seek recognition and meet the criteria, although this is not an outcome to be advocated and, should it be necessary for that step to be taken, would represent a failure on the part of the industry.
Don’t like the regulator? Set up your own. The press are not stuck with a single regulatory body.
In passing legislation to identify the legitimate requirements to be met by an independent regulator organised by the press, and to provide for a process of recognition and review of whether those requirements are and continue to be met, the law should also place an explicit duty on the Government to uphold and protect the freedom of the press.
There. There it is. This paragraph is the engagement ring in the dogturd. This paragraph states what the legislation is meant to do – identify what makes an independent regulator, and enable it to have effective sanctions. Not dictate what the press can and cannot do, what it can and cannot publish. That is left to the regulator itself to decide, as long as the body is independent of the industry.
How much more of a safe guard does the industry want than for the law itself to state that the Government
needs has no choice but to protect the freedom of the press. It’s there, in black and white, the government wouldn’t be able to muzzle the press. What else does the industry want?
A regulatory body should establish a whistleblowing hotline for those who feel that they are being asked to do things which are contrary to the code.
The industry generally and a regulatory body in particular should consider requiring its members to include in the employment or service contracts with journalists a clause to the effect that no disciplinary action would be taken against a journalist as a result of a refusal to act in a manner which is contrary to the code of practice.
And there’s protection for the journalists themselves.
Well, so far so good. It gets my vote. An independent regulator that doesn’t have to answer to anyone except to Ofcom to ensure it is independent and not on what it does. A regulator that has the ability to impose proper sanctions. A regulator that can launch it’s own investigations. A regulator that is free to complainants, but can tell people to sod off if they’re complaints are not serious. A regulator that will have a law in place ensuring The Freedom of The Press.
The Government, legislating the right of journalists to investigate it. Surely that’s a journalists’ wet dream?