Editorial: Only a free press is democratic

Press regulation should be overseen by the courts, not by a state-appointed body

Related Topics

Now that the dust has cleared, we can see the battle lines, and a depressing sight they are. Although every combatant with any public-relations training starts by saying that we must not lose sight of the victims of press excesses, that is precisely what has happened. We have lost sight, too, of the important questions of the concentration of media ownership and of the trade-offs between the commercial interests of corporations such as Rupert Murdoch's and the political support of its newspapers.

Instead, we find that the lines have been drawn up on either side of the Rubicon, a nondescript stream that has assumed huge symbolic significance. The whole of the Leveson inquiry, its months of hearings, hundreds of witnesses and revelatory emails and texts, seems to have come down to one question: legislation or no legislation? On either side of this narrow divide, the two camps have retreated into defensive positions, and the idea that politicians and the newspapers might have a responsibility to ensure that the result is better journalism is in danger of being lost.

No doubt some newspapers are buoyed by the Prime Minister's late and expedient conversion to the principle of a free press. But they would be wrong to conclude from this that they can get away with a renamed and reconstituted Press Complaints Commission and self-regulation as usual.

Let us be blunt. Lord Justice Leveson did as good a job as could be done of seeking to correct historic misdeeds. He hardly touched on the "culture, practices and ethics" of journalism in the internet world, which were pointed up so strikingly by the crisis at the BBC over the misidentification of a Conservative peer as a paedophile. But that is no excuse for giving up the attempt to sort out the newspapers' part of the media world.

In sorting it out, we should be clear that the victims, however much we sympathise with them, do not have a veto. The law of the land cannot be decided by those who have suffered from the most extreme crimes. On that basis we would probably bring back hanging. And in this case, anyway, we believe that the victims can secure all the protections they seek for people in their position without the "statutory underpinning" that has become the battle line.

The Independent on Sunday believes that, if other newspapers are prepared to engage honestly and urgently with the task of a total overhaul of press regulation, it can be done without the need for a new law to give any arm of government a role. We urge the victims and others campaigning for statutory regulation to listen not to David Cameron, whose motives are suspect, but to Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty and an "assessor" for the Leveson inquiry, who dissented from the judge's conclusions in a little-noticed footnote on page 1,775. She says that press regulation should be overseen by the courts rather than by a government-appointed body such as Ofcom.

Unlike Harriet Harman, who was once legal officer to Liberty when it was called the National Council for Civil Liberties, Ms Chakrabarti understands how undesirable it would be to cross the Rubicon of state regulation.

Whatever the Prime Minister's motives, we hope that the press takes the chance that he offers to assemble – quickly – a system of regulation that would command the confidence of the general public. It can and must be done.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, HTML, JavaScript, CSS, MSSQL

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, HTML...

English Teacher

£21000 - £31000 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: English Teacher - So...

French Teacher

£21000 - £31000 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: French Teacher ? Sou...

Geography Teacher

£21000 - £31000 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Geography Teacher ? ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Photo issued by Flinders University of an artist's impression of a Microbrachius dicki mating scene  

One look at us Scots is enough to show how it was our fishy ancestors who invented sex

Donald MacInnes
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp  

Oscar Pistorius sentence: Judge Masipa might have shown mercy, but she has delivered perfect justice

Chris Maume
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album