The big corporate papers are encouraging the idea that the result of the general election means the end of the Leveson process. Although this claim is hardly surprising given their wild-eyed desperation to avoid any form of meaningful accountability, it is wrong.
Here are five reasons to be confident that independent, effective press self-regulation along the lines recommended by the Leveson Inquiry is on its way.
1. The process of implementing the Leveson recommendations through Royal Charter is well under way, and though it is slow it is relentless. Because it is scrupulously designed to be free of political interference (Sir Brian Leveson being devoted to the principle of freedom of expression) there is little that any government can now do to impede its progress. An independent self-regulator, IMPRESS, has announced its intention of seeking ‘recognition’ under the Charter, and it will offer a service meeting the standards set out in the Leveson Report. It will also open the door for the first time to low-cost arbitration in libel and privacy cases, as Leveson recommended. This will be a historic breakthrough both for access to justice in the UK, but also for the freedom of journalists from ‘chilling’ by wealthy litigators exploiting the extremely high cost of court proceedings.
2. The Prime Minister has personally promised many times to see the process through. It is true that the Conservative party was unusual in failing to include this promise in its election manifesto, but David Cameron has given his word. Under oath at the Leveson Inquiry itself he declared (three times) that in his view the test of whether a press regulation system was adequate was whether it satisfied victims of press abuses such as the McCanns and the Dowlers. (Both families insist only a Leveson-standard system will do.) He told the Spectator that the issue would not be resolved unless the press regulator complied with the Royal Charter. And he told Parliament when urging it to back the Royal Charter:
‘If this system is implemented, the country should have confidence that the terrible suffering of innocent victims, such as the Dowlers, the McCanns and Christopher Jefferies, should never be repeated. My message to the press is now very clear: we have had the debate, now it is time to get on and make this system work.’
3. It is the settled wish of the overwhelming majority in this country that the Leveson recommendations should be implemented. This is shown by a long and uninterrupted succession of opinion polls, of which the latest can be seen here. Every party in both Houses of Parliament and in the Scottish Parliament backed the Royal Charter. The prominent victims of press abuses whose experiences made the Leveson Inquiry necessary have backed it. Hundreds of leading figures in the world of free expression – journalists, writers, actors, human rights lawyers, comedians, television presenters, film and theatre directors and academics – have backed it. (On the other hand, trust in the national press is at rock-bottom levels).
4. The corporate national press has learned nothing and its behaviour will now only get worse – something that society as a whole will not tolerate. Abundant evidence shows that the Murdoch, Mail, Mirror, Telegraph and Express papers are not remotely sorry for the outrages that led to the Leveson Inquiry and have taken no steps to ensure they will not be repeated. On the contrary, they believe they must be free to behave just as badly they did before, abusing, bullying, intruding upon and lying about British citizens as and when they wish, and then covering up for one another. In the modern world, however, their cover-ups are no longer effective so further crises are inevitable – sadly and disgracefully, so far as victims are concerned. (It is worth noting here that although the Mirror papers said they were sorry for hacking phones, a judge last week found that the apologies were mainly designed to secure legal advantage.)
5. The corporate papers look to the so-called Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) as their saviour, but it is a lame duck with no future. It took about 15 years before the old Press Complaints Commission (PCC) was generally acknowledged to be a sham and after that all the lies and all the boasting of the industry could not save it. IPSO has taken over precisely where the PCC left off – at rock bottom in public esteem. And a press that so few people trust is never going to be able to convince this country that its pet ‘regulator’ is anything other than the PCC with a few cynical cosmetic adjustments. The idea that IPSO is capable of forcing Rupert Murdoch’s Sun and Paul Dacre’s Daily Mail to change their practices is laughable.