While the Leveson Inquiry report is expected later on this autumn, Inforrm takes a look at the news about Lord Justice Leveson’s expected recommendations, and any rumour and spin surrounding the outcome of the nine-month public inquiry into the culture, practice and ethics of the press.
In the course of promoting her new novel, author JK Rowling has spoken about her evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, heard back in November 2011, saying she had to think “long and hard” about which privacy invasions to refer to in her statement. She told the BBC:
“It was a big deal giving evidence to Leveson, because you’re in that paradoxical position of trying to stick up for your privacy whilst slightly invading your own privacy. There were a couple of things that didn’t go into the statement, because even though they represented some of the worst things that had happened to me at the hand of the press, or my family, I would have been invading my own privacy quite seriously to talk about them. So that’s the odd thing about an inquiry like this.”
The Guardian speculated over the potential outcome of the Leveson report as media editor Dan Sabbagh put forward a case for broadcasters and internet news providers falling under an independent regulator, as well as the print press. He said:
“Bringing in Sky, ITV and Channel 4 (or is it ITN?) and Yahoo News might help lower the overall costs of the replacement for the PCC. And, most attractively of all, the presence of large players from outside the press would ensure that a new regulator wouldn’t become another rightwing stitch-up, perpetuating the PCC pattern of Tory chairs and backroom deals. Now there’s a hope.”
Sir Christopher Meyer unburdened himself in a Huffington Post blog, discussing the pictures of Prince Harry and the Duchess of Cambridge, in respective states of undress, that have been splashed across the national and international press this month.
Meyer, former chairman of the PCC and one of several senior media figures to appear before the inquiry, praised the British press for (largely) leaving the pictures alone, saying this demonstrates a statutory underpinning for regulation is unnecessary. After pondering the logistics of regulating invasive photographs being published on the internet, Meyer then turns his hand to criticising the inquiry for focusing on phone hacking, which he calls “an irrelevant distraction”. He added:
“Let’s leave it where it belongs: with a series of police investigations costing tens of millions of pounds and absorbing the efforts of almost two hundred officers. The notion that an investigation of this scale should be the business of a press regulator is plain daft. While I admire the ingenuity of some of the elaborate ideas put before Leveson for strengthening regulation, statutory or otherwise, none of them would have spotted phone-hacking, still less nipped it in the bud.”
It seems Meyer is keen for Leveson to focus on regulation online but suggests the inquiry’s outcomes should focus on a regulator as a “seal of good housekeeping.”
“Is it too far-fetched to envisage a PCC Plus (call it what you will), embracing print and online content, where voluntary submission to a Code of Practice and its disciplines is both ethically and commercially advantageous?”
Free speech campaign group Index on Censorship latest magazine features Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, respected blogger Guido Fawkes and Hacked Off’s Martin Moore discussing their hopes for the post-Leveson press. Rusbridger urges public interest journalism be protected while the culture and ethics of the press is cleaned up, Guido says it would be a sad day for press freedom but good for his business if “draconian privacy laws and politically correct standards” are enforced on the press, while Moore says large corporations have a right to free speech but should have mechanisms in place to justify privacy intrusions.
Writing in the same magazine, the Sun’s associate editor Trevor Kavanagh calls for Leveson to do “as little as possible”. He said:
“So what should Lord Leveson do? Preferably as little as possible. We do not need to be licensed like dogs and gun owners. Nor a professional body like the General Medical Council or the Law Society, neither of which have covered themselves in glory. Prior disclosure is the kiss of death for important stories.”
Kavanagh called for a more robust PCC with a conciliation arm, to protect newspapers from paying out large cash settlements. He added:
“In America, under the First Amendment, citizens are free to say what they like, even if it offends — except shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre. In Europe, privacy laws allow the rich and powerful to conceal corruption — and they are spreading here like noxious weeds. Judging by Lord Justice Leveson’s response to his own experience of an investigative press, he leans towards the European system. If so, it won¹t be his legacy that is consigned to a footnote. It will be the hard-won, centuries-old and almost irreplaceable tradition of a truly free press.”
Steve Coogan revealed Nick Clegg had privately told him – and others representing the Hacked Off campaign – that the Liberal Democrats could split from the Tories over the Leveson recommendations. The actor, speaking at the Lib Dem Party Conference, told the media:
“My guess is that most people will give tacit lip service to what Lord Leveson proposes. But what we might see is tactical obfuscation. Nick Clegg said he was not bound with his Coalition partners to act in unison on this. The Liberal Democrats can take their own position.”
“We are all in favour of press freedom. We want a healthier press. We don’t want to curb their freedom – we just want them to behave in a more responsible and accountable way.”
Coogan was part of a group representing Hacked Off, led by former Lib Dem MP Dr Evan Harris and founder Dr Brian Cathcart, including phone hacking victim and journalist Joan Smith and NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet.
Coogan said he hoped the inquiry’s recommendations could be included in the 2013-14 Queen’s Speech.
Labour MP Paul Farrelly said Leveson LJ may be invited to make an appearance before the Commons culture, media and sport select committee once his report is finalised, speaking at a Hacked Off event on September 17. As reported in the Guardian, he said:
“We might have Lord Justice Leveson in front of us at the select committee to see why his model is better than others in the industry.”
The committee is expected to summon current PCC chairman Lord Hunt, who has also put forward a new model for press regulation (which can be viewed at the Leveson Inquiry website).
Meanwhile, the committee’s chairman – Conservative MP John Whittingdale – criticised the inquiry for straying beyond its remit. He told BBC Radio 4’s the Media Show that the judge had invited those with a grudge against the press to air their views in public. He also urged the Prime Minister not to immediately accept the inquiry’s recommendations. During the interview on September 13, he said:
“[Lord Justice Leveson] has encouraged anybody who has a grudge against the press over many years to come and unburden themselves in front of him, and as a result he has been looking at things which just seem to be a long way from what he was meant to be doing. Things like the question of Page Three girls. That’s a controversial issue but you don’t need a judicial inquiry to look into that.”
Natalie Peck is a journalism lecturer at London South Bank University, and a PhD candidate researching privacy law and public figures at the Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism, City University London. She is @nataliepeck on Twitter.