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

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Today is a bigger Shabbes than usual in the Jewish world because it has been chosen to launch the Shabbos Project  

Shabbes exerts a pull on all Jews, and today is bigger than ever

Howard Jacobson
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker