Leveson model a stronger system for press regulation
We Irish love when others flatter us by imitation. We have actually not been bad at designing new regulatory or public sector structures.
This week Lord Leveson flattered the Irish model of press regulation by suggesting it could work in Britain albeit if some issues were first resolved.
In 2003 a legal advisory group established by then minister Michael McDowell recommended that our defamation laws be reformed and that a statutory press council be established. There was also much talk at the time from ministers about the need for privacy legislation.
Forced to act, press owners and the National Union of Journalists set about designing an alternative system themselves. They managed to persuade the government to accept, at least on an interim basis, a press council and press ombudsman system which, while press-funded, would be independent of the press in its operation.
The 13-member Press Council includes seven independent members appointed in the public interest, five representing the interests of media owners and one representing journalists.
However, the system is also anchored in legislation. As Leveson points out on page 1,708 of his report the “broad framework” for the Irish Press Council is set out in the Defamation Act 2009 and specifies “some fairly detailed requirements for the structure, coverage and operation of the Press Council”.
In fact in Ireland the Oireachtas passes a resolution to enable the Minister for Justice to certify by regulation that the Press Council is structured and will operate within the legislative requirements. Only the Oireachtas can reverse that certification.
Having undertaken the most comprehensive examination ever of the British press and found fundamental flaws in both its culture and regulation, Lord Leveson recommends that it be regulated in a manner similar to that operating in Ireland. While he doesn’t comment directly on the merits of the Irish system, Leveson, in detailing the system he proposes for Britain, by implication identifies both the strength and weaknesses in our system.
Leveson recommends that the press owners and journalists themselves take the initiative in organising the precise detail of the regulation system, as they did here.
He argues for a new press board with a truly impartial chair independent of the press and of politics, and suggests that the chair and other members of this board be selected by an independent appointments committee. This has been the case in Ireland since the Press Council was established in 2007.