Editorial: Time for the media to find a compromise on Leveson recommendations

The sluggish progress that has followed the Inquiry risks worst possible outcome

Share

How best to supervise the media, while retaining its independence, is no small challenge. But the stalemate that has greeted the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry cannot continue, even so. Such sluggish progress is not only grist to the mill of those that would claim the press has only its own – unscrupulous – interests at heart. It also risks the worst possible outcome: the arbitrary imposition of a regulatory regime with chilling consequences for free speech.

It is for this reason that this newspaper – along with the Financial Times and The Guardian – is calling for a concerted media effort to find a workable solution. That is not to suggest that the crux of the debate is not of vital importance. The Independent would make the case in favour of an active and untrammelled fourth estate as strongly as any. Talk of a new regulator “underpinned by statute” has lost perspective, however. Even reasonable half-way measures are characterised as press freedoms eroded and democratic principles laid waste.

Not so. The scheme put forward by Lord Justice Leveson does, indeed, go too far. The judge advocates a supervisory system overseen by the broadcast watchdog, Ofcom – itself under direct government control – that would place potentially alarming powers in the hands of ministers. But a return to the toothless self-regulation of the discredited Press Complaints Commission, after recent revelations of endemic malpractice, is hardly more desirable. A middle ground must be found.

The plan for a more muscular “Recognition Panel”, created via Royal Charter, is just that. True, a charter requires legislation (albeit of just a single clause) – hence the resistance from those against statute of any kind. The law would not pertain to the media, though; it would merely authorise the regulator. And the need for a parliamentary super-majority to make any changes would, in fact, be a brake on ministerial meddling.

There are aspects of the plan which need more work. The phone-hacking scandal, and the Leveson Inquiry that followed, have shone an unforgiving light on the media’s ability to be its own judge and jury. It is therefore imperative that the panel include neither editors nor former editors among its numbers. At the same time, the imposition of more punitive fines on organisations refusing to sign up to the panel’s code of conduct should be scrapped. Tempting as it is to use such a mechanism to encourage participation in an otherwise voluntary system, the concomitant curb on free expression is too high a price.

There is, then, much still to discuss. But the priority now must be for the industry’s – justifiable – role in shaping its own regulatory future to move out of the shadows. Thus far, talks have been conducted behind closed doors only, creating the damaging and wholly erroneous impression that there is something to hide. There is not. Accordingly, it is time for the media to set out its position more clearly.

To continue with the current modus operandi would be counter-productive. Campaigners in favour of statutory legislation are already calling for a rejection of all “press-led” initiatives and the immediate adoption of the Leveson proposals. Meanwhile, frustrated parliamentarians are wrecking otherwise good laws by adding unrelated media-regulation clauses in an attempt to force through draconian measures by the back door.

Britain needs a media watchdog that protects individuals and press freedoms alike. That means the industry building bridges and hammering out a compromise – and doing so in public. Time is running out.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior DBA (SQL Server, T-SQL, SSIS, SSAS) London - Finance

£30000 - £33000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior DBA (SQ...

Business Anaylst

£60000 - £75000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: Business Anal...

Senior Project Manager

£60000 - £90000 per annum + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Global leading Energy Tra...

Associate CXL Consultant

£40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the nation on the country's Independence Day in New Delhi, India  

With Modi talking tough and Sharif weak, the India-Pakistan love-in could never last

Andrew Buncombe
At the time of the investigation Patrick Foster published a statement on Twitter, denouncing the “unnecessarily heavy-handed police investigation”  

Long-term bail allows lazy police and prosecutors to leave cases to gather dust

Oliver Wright
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment