Thursday, 11 September 2014

Freedom of the Press

“Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.” – Thomas Jefferson
"Freedom of the press in Britain is freedom to print such of the proprietor's prejudices as the advertisers don't object to." – Hannen Swaffer
“The press, operating properly and in the public interest is one of the true safeguards of our democracy.
As a result of this principle which operates as one of the cornerstones of our democracy, the press is given significant and special rights in this country which I recognise and have freely supported both as barrister and judge. With these rights, however, come responsibilities to the public interest: to respect the truth, to obey the law and to uphold the rights and liberties of individuals. In short, to honour the very principles proclaimed and articulated by the industry itself (and to a large degree reflected in the Editors’ Code of Practice).

[...] There have been too many times when, chasing the story, parts of the press have acted as if its own code, which it wrote, simply did not exist. This has caused real hardship and, on occasion, wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people whose rights and liberties have been disdained. This is not just the famous but ordinary members of the public, caught up in events (many of them, truly tragic) far larger than they could cope with but made much, much worse by press behaviour that, at times, can only be described as outrageous.”

Extract from The Leveson Inquiry Report, Executive Summary- points 5-7

By JJ Marsh

Let’s hear that again, Lord Leveson...
“With these rights, however, come responsibilities to the public interest”
When news broke of murdered teenager Milly Dowler’s phone hacking in 2011, the volcano rumbling beneath press tactics finally erupted. Methods employed by newspaper management, editors, reporters and contracted employees were exposed not only as morally abhorrent, but beyond the law. The concept of self-regulation appeared a sham, and worst of all, sanctioned by the government.

The subsequent Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee hearing, the Leveson Inquiry and first of the phone hacking trials are over. And now?

As the focus on familiar faces and gossip about misconduct wanes, so does public interest. Exit News of the World, enter Sun on Sunday. Goodbye Coulson and Brooks, hello the next batch of Murdochini.

Story fatigue has set in before the most important decision of all.

What happens next to the British press?

Better? Worse? Or more of the same under different masks?

Press regulation is still to be agreed.

This is potentially a massive cultural shift in British history. An opportunity to put our house in order, uncouple press from politics and get the independence and accountability we deserve.

Where do we go from here?

The Royal Charter
Based on Lord Leveson’s proposals for an independent press regulation, approved by all parties and sealed by the Queen, The Royal Charter stipulates certain standards for self-regulation. Rejected by the biggest newspaper groups.

(Independent Press Standards Organisation) The favourite option for some sections of the newspaper industry. According to the Media Standards Trust, Ipso fails to meet 20 out of 38 of Leveson’s recommendations regarding self-regulators. Budget, rules, codes, sanctions and investigations would be directed by the Regulatory Funding Company – made up of the largest publishing groups in the industry.

(Independent Monitor for the Press) A press regulator independent of both newspaper owners and politicians. With the support of leading journalists and free speech campaigners regulated by a board elected by an independent panel. Committed to arbitration, a standard ‘kitemark’ and whistleblowing hotline.

Nick Davies

Guardian journalist Nick Davies broke the hacking story. I asked him how he felt about the outcome and its ramifications.

JJ: How far do you feel justice has been done? Not just in the courtroom, but in media reporting of the guilty pleas, sentencing and exposure of newspaper practices during the trial?

ND: Not much has changed. The amount of criminal activity in newsrooms has fallen to just about zero and will probably stay at that level for a year or two more. But, in the wider picture of media activity, Fleet Street continues to assume that it has the right to engage in aggressive falsehood and distortion in pursuit of its political or commercial agenda.

The misreporting of the end of the big hacking trial - specifically the pretence that the trial had ended with only one guilty defendant and also the claim that it had cost £100m - was typical of this.

JJ: We’re at an unusual kind of crossroads regarding the press, its regulation and its freedoms. After the Leveson inquiry’s recommendations, The Royal Charter, Ipso and the latest alternative, Impress, which route do you see as both safeguarding free speech and protecting the public in the long term?

ND: I think Leveson came up with a clever solution which would protect the victims of the media without threatening free speech.

Impress is an attempt to make that happen.

Ipso is an attempt to stop it happening.

JJ: Are you concerned about the funding of Ipso by the Regulatory Funding Company? Is this a case of ‘marking their own homework’ again?

ND: As a reporter, I would be very worried about working for a newspaper which signed up to Ipso as currently constituted. Like its predecessor, the PCC, Ipso is vulnerable to the influence of the industry, for example via the RFC.

But what is really worrying is that Ipso has far greater power than the PCC.
I do not want the likes of Paul Dacre [The Daily Mail] and Trevor Kavanagh [The Sun] marking my homework, particularly if they have the power to investigate my work and to impose large fines. If Ipso had existed in this form while we were publishing the original hacking stories, they would have been able to kill us off.

JJ: How do you react to statements on press freedom such this:
Isn’t the 6am knock on a journalist’s door the mark of a totalitarian state?
(Daily Mail)
The role of a free press is to hold the government to account. It should not work the other way round.
(The Times)
On The Royal Charter] a slippery slope towards state regulation and a complete mistake.
(Labour MP Kate Hoey)
... a sad day for press freedom in the UK.
(Index on Censorship)
Despots will take heart from Britain beating the press
. (
Daily Mirror)

ND: The Leveson report was the object of a massive campaign of misreporting, which began before it was even published with newspapers paying for advertisements warning that Leveson was going to call for state regulation of the press. Aggressive fiction.

There is nothing totalitarian about arresting a journalist who has committed a crime - the totalitarianism would be to arrest him for doing his job.

There is no proposal for the government to hold the press to account.

There was some criticism of Leveson which was born of a genuine anxiety that his proposal in some way at some time could be distorted into something dangerous. That really was about trying to guess the future. I understood the anxiety but I don’t share it.

Beyond that, the bulk of the criticism was dishonest propaganda from the kind of newspapers who made the Leveson inquiry necessary in the first place.

JJ: In your piece describing the trial, you use the phrase “the dominance of corporation over state”. Has anything changed? Is it likely to in the future?

ND: The more the state is ‘rolled back’, the more powerful corporations become. The more powerful corporations become, the more they roll back the state. There’s no sign of it stopping.

Nick's book, Hack Attack: How the Truth Caught Up With Rupert Murdoch, is published on 31 July.

The Press Regulation Timeline

With grateful thanks to Hacked Off for permission to reproduce
1953  Four years after a Royal Commission told the press to start regulating itself, nothing had been done. Only the threat of legislation forced them to create the General Council of the Press. Withdrawing his private member’s Bill, C.J. Simmons MP told the Commons: ‘I give warning here and now that if it [the Council] fails, some of us again will have to come forward with a measure similar to this bill.‘

1962  A second Royal Commission told the press self-regulation wasn’t working and proposed steps to make it effective: ‘We think that the Press should be given another opportunity itself voluntarily to establish an authoritative General Council . . . We recommend, however, that the government should specify a time limit after which legislation would be introduced.‘

1977  The third Royal Commission on the Press urged radical reform of the Press Council and said that if nothing was done parliament should act. The report said: ‘We recommend that the press should be given one final chance to prove that voluntary self-regulation can be made to work.’

1990  Parliament backed the Calcutt Committee recommendations for radical change to self-regulation, including the establishment of an effective Press Complaints Commission. Papers were given a ‘year of grace’ to make this work and the Home Secretary, David Waddingston, told the Commons: ‘This is positively the last chance for the industry to establish an effective non-statutory system of regulation.’

1993  The Calcutt Review concluded that the PCC was ‘not… an effective regulator of the press’. It recommended a Press Complaints Tribunal backed by statute. A Major government with a slender majority failed to implement this and the PCC continued.

2011  In the Commons in July 2011, speaking after the revelation that Milly Dowler’s phone had been hacked, David Cameron said: ‘I accept we can’t say it’s the last chance saloon all over again. We’ve done that.’

2012  The Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press held public hearings throughout 2011 and 2012, with the Inquiry report published in November 2012.

2013  The Queen sets her seal on the Royal Charter on Self-Regulation of the Press. The Charter creates the Recognition Panel, to which any regulator can apply for recognition under the Charter.

2014  The newspaper industry, in defiance of the Royal Charter and against the wishes of the public, is set to launch IPSO, a son-of-PCC. IPSO does not meet 20 of the 38 recommendations made by Lord Justice Leveson in relation to press self-regulation.

Watch closely.

State-controlled media is a scary prospect.

So is a media-controlled state. 


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