This week it was reported that the editors of the national newspapers had made great strides towards accepting the vast majority of Leveson’s recommendations. The Guardian reported that the broadsheet and tabloid editors ‘agreed at a breakfast summit to 40 of Leveson’s first 47 proposals – paving the way for the creation of a new regulator with powers to levy fines of up to £1m’.
The Independent reported that ‘Over breakfast, Fleet Street agrees to accept most of Leveson plan’. The Financial Times said that ‘About 20 editors from broadsheets and tabloids have set aside their differences and agreed to implement most of the 47 Leveson recommendations’. The BBC reported ‘[Editors] are understood to back 40 of the 47 proposals, including a body with the power to impose fines of up to £1m’.
Much of this reporting was based on a leaked document from the meeting, held over breakfast at the Delaunay restaurant in central London, which was published by The Guardian.
The information in this document is limited and, given we do not know the degree to which it is fully representative of the views expressed at the breakfast, should not be assumed to be authoritative. However, given that the meeting was not public and there were no reporters there to document what happened, it is all we currently have to rely on, as the reports cited above indicate.
Based on an analysis of this document the editors did not agree to ’40 of 47’ of Lord Justice Leveson’s regulatory recommendations, they agreed to 21, or 23 if you count the partial acceptances. Some of these 23 are substantive and, if put into practice, would mean significant changes and improvements to the way in which the press is regulated. However, this represents less than half of Leveson’s 47 recommendations, and many of those ignored or rejected are integral.
On the attached excel document each of the Leveson recommendations is recorded (as worded in the Executive Summary) down the left hand side. The recommendations as set down in the Delaunay document are then noted to their right. These do not always correspond exactly to the Leveson recommendations so aspects that are missing are highlighted in red. The Delaunay decisions are then copied beside that. There are some notable discrepancies:
- 10 Leveson recommendations missing from memo: 23-27, 29-33
- There is no number 6 in the memo, but there is an unnumbered recommendation between 27 and 28, so these cancel out
- One recommendation (31 in the memo, corresponding to Leveson recommendation 40) has no mention of acceptance or non-acceptance
- In 3 cases, one Leveson recommendation is expanded to two in the memo (Leveson 7 = Memo 8+9; Leveson 34 = Memo 25+26; Leveson 45 = Memo 36+37). In the cases of Leveson 7 and Leveson 45, this is because only part of the recommendation was accepted, and part not accepted.
Where the Leveson recommendation is considered ‘Acceptable’ but the associated note dilutes or rejects the Leveson recommendation it is not counted as accepted. To give four examples:
Leveson Recommendation 3: ‘Appointment panel should have “substantial majority” of independent members, one person with understanding of the press and no more than one current editor’.
Leveson made this recommendation having strongly objected to the idea that the industry should have a veto over the appointment of a chair: “Overall, however, I have serious reservations about the independence of the appointment process for the Chair of the Trust, and about the role of the Industry Funding Body throughout this model [the Hunt/Black plan]. I believe that sufficient independence cannot be achieved while the industry has a veto on the appointment of the Chair, has the right to define the standards and has the right to define the sanctions available.’ [emphasis added] Para 8.10, p1650
Editors’ response: ‘ACCEPTABLE. Current proposal is for 2 lay people and 2 industry people on panel. We could accept two lay people, plus one ‘with industry expertise’ and one serving editor, but would argue for decisions to be unanimous’.
In other words, the industry wants to maintain the veto that Leveson specifically recommended against. This is therefore, not an acceptance but a rejection.
Leveson Recommendation 6: ‘Funding for the system should be settled in agreement between the industry and the Board, taking into account the cost of fulfilling the obligations of the regulator and the commercial pressures on the industry. There should be an indicative budget which the Board certifies is adequate for the purpose. Funding settlements should cover a four or five year period and should be negotiated well in advance’.
Leveson expressed deep concern that the PCC’s independence was compromised by its limited funding and the control of that funding by the Press Board of Finance. Giving authority to the Board and ensuring stable funding was critical, Leveson wrote, to the independence of the new body.
Editors’ response: ‘ACCEPTABLE – BUT there must be a break clause so that either side can instigate a review if circumstances change’.
In other words, the industry accepts but then undermines Leveson’s recommendation that there needed to be stable funding. This so dilutes the recommendation that it is equivalent to a rejection.
Leveson Recommendation 8: On code standards, including specific standards of conduct, respect for privacy, and accuracy.
This contains Leveson’s minimum standards that any code ought to include, since the code ‘articulates the boundaries between journalism, its subjects and its readers’.
Editors’ response: ACCEPTABLE. Code Committee to look at changes once reconstituted While this suggests acceptance, one outcome of the Calcutt report, and a significant reason for Calcutt’s subsequent rejection of the PCC as a viable body, was the misinterpretation of its Code Committee of his code recommendations. Provisional acceptance of that Leveson’s recommendations will be ‘looked at’ cannot, as history shows, be taken as acceptance.
Leveson recommendation 16: ‘The power to direct the nature, extent and placement of apologies should lie with the Board.’
This was a direct response to the evidence that showed what most people want is a fast and fair apology that has equivalence to the original article.
Editors’ response: ‘ACCEPTABLE. Code already stipulates corrections and apologies must be agreed by the regulator’.
This is not an acceptance; it is a rejection. Leveson says that the new body should be able to tell newspapers the ‘nature, extent and placement of apologies’. Yet the editors have reverted to the existing situation where the PCC negotiates what and where an apology would be.
In addition to the recommendations that are either directly or indirectly rejected by the editors, there are ten that are missing from the Delaunay document. Some of these are related to recognition, others are related to membership.
This includes #23, that ‘A new system of regulation should not be considered sufficiently effective if it does not cover all significant news publishers.’ It also includes #24 that The membership of a regulatory body should be open to all publishers on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms, including making membership potentially available on different terms for different types of publisher’.
The editors have not, therefore, accepted most of the regulatory recommendations in the Leveson Executive Summary, they appear – based on the Delaunay document – to have accepted just less than half.
This analysis was done by Martin Moore and Gordon Ramsay based on the document published by The Guardian that, it reports, recorded the outcomes of the meeting held at the Delaunay restaurant on Wednesday 5th December 2012.
This post was originally published on the Media Standards Trust Blog and is reproduced with permission and thanks