Editorial: A new press watchdog must be independent

Related Topics

In the past few weeks and months, as the temperature has risen and the atmosphere become ever more febrile, this newspaper has resisted the urge to suggest to Lord Justice Leveson what he should recommend in his report. Indeed, the Editor said as much on Saturday, maintaining it was pointless at this stage to second-guess the judge, that it was better to wait and see. But over the weekend, the pressure intensified, with lobbying from all quarters.

From the outset, we have recognised the need for the Leveson Inquiry. We have issues with its remit, which we felt was made deliberately wide so as to remove the spotlight from the issue of hacking and payments to public servants, and, given his links to former senior News International executives, from David Cameron. We believe that while the illegal accessing of voicemails and bribing of officials were being investigated – finally – by the police and had become the subject of criminal prosecution, the Inquiry should not have begun its hearings. Entertaining and occasionally revelatory as they were, the Leveson sessions were lacking in that they did not directly and forensically address the malpractices that had prompted the furore leading to the Inquiry's creation.

However, while it was flawed – and it did not fully explore subjects such as the pervasive influence of the PR industry on the press and the parliamentary lobby, both of which it was entitled to do – Leveson undoubtedly lanced a growing, increasingly painful, boil. Some elements of the press had behaved badly and did so with impunity – either because the self-regulatory mechanism, the Press Complaints Commission, was not up to the task or because politicians and law enforcers did not want to know.

Confidence in the press had sunk following cases such as those of the McCanns and Christopher Jefferies, none of which involved hacking or bunging police officers. Yes, there were rogue elements among journalists and their managers, which have now been exposed and whittled away. But there were too many examples of members of the public being wronged, too little admission of wrongdoing and not enough self-imposed corrective reform, provoking a breakdown in trust and credibility.

Change was required and Leveson may prove to be the architect of that new template. That's if his proposals are accepted fully. The signals from Westminster are conflicting: the fact is nobody can begin to gauge for certain what will occur until he reports.

We have always appreciated that Leveson may call for a press regulatory framework reinforced by statute. To the extent that this paper would have little to fear from the minimal involvement of Parliament, we are not fiercely hostile. We would be if MPs and peers went beyond statutory underpinning and were able to determine what we can and cannot do.

That said, the entire principle of legislated press regulation, however light, leaves us with foreboding. In short, it is not something we desire. In our view, while the current PCC is broken, it does not mean that self-regulation should be rejected altogether.

There is scope for a new, tough self-regulator – one with the power to proactively investigate and to fine. By contracting to join this replacement for the PCC, titles would be able to avail themselves of a fast-track arbitration service to settle defamation disputes – one that was cheaper for them as well as for the complainant.

So far, what we've described is the proposal of Lords Black and Hunt, and accepted by a number of newspapers. But where The Independent, The London Evening Standard, The Guardian and Financial Times differ from them is that we do not feel the Black/Hunt model is sufficiently independent. Time and again, it comes up in criticism of the existing arrangement that the PCC is too linked to its newspaper members, that the body is not only self-regulating but self-serving.

For that distrust to be removed, the new regulator must be seen to be independent – that means no one serving on it should be appointed by those organisations that fund it. The chairman should not have strong ties to a member group and should be selected under the Nolan rules enshrining the independence of top public appointments. Neither, in the interests of achieving true independence, will the current system of the regulator's funding being overseen by a separate body comprised of representatives from the newspaper groups be allowed to continue.

The best way of guarding against MPs and peers interfering in press regulation in the short term or at a distant date in the future is to avoid statute completely. That means establishing a self-regulator that passes every test on independence. It is achievable – but for that, some of the industry's grandees must recognise that the status quo has to be scrapped.

And that means completely – a compromise that sees newspaper groups retain their grip fools no one.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, centre, attends a news conference at Chigi Palace in Rome  

Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

Andrew Grice

When a small amount of desk space means the world

Rebecca Armstrong
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own