Leveson model a stronger system for press regulation
In what has proved the most controversial aspect of his report politically, Leveson recommends that while voluntary and independent, the new system in Britain should be anchored in legislation and include some means of certifying that in its make-up and operation the press board conforms with the requirements of the legislation.
The regulation system detailed by Leveson in his report differs from the Irish model in three important respects, however.
Leveson says that a minority of the press board should include “people with experience of the industry who may include former editors and senior or academic journalists” but he recommends this should not include any serving editors. In contrast the Irish Press Council currently includes a managing editor of this newspaper, the deputy editor of Independent Newspapers and a member who was managing editor of the Daily Mail until last year.
In his report Leveson notes that the Press Council here deals only with individual cases but has no power “to conduct on its own initiative investigations, and has no specific remit to tackle serious or systemic problems”.
He recommends that the proposed press board in Britain should allow people other than those directly affected to make complaints. He also recommends that the board have authority to examine issues on its own initiative.
Third, while the only sanction available to the Irish Press Council is to require errant publications to prominently publish its decisions, Leveson recommends that the press board have the power to impose fines of up to a maximum of £1 million or 1 per cent of the publication’s turnover, whichever is less.
In a statement to mark the publication of the Leveson report, the chairman of the Press Council Daithí Ó Ceallaigh, while recognising that no system of regulation could be perfect, expressed satisfaction “that the experience of the structures which had existed in Ireland since 2007” demonstrated that Ireland had “a firm foundation on which to build for the future”.
Ó Ceallaigh’s statement suggests that the Press Council recognises that although much has been achieved there is still room for improvement. It should, and no doubt will, look at the Leveson report as a road map.
While it includes basic tenets of the Irish model, the Leveson model is a stronger system. The lack of power to initiate its own inquiries, the inability to levy fines and the inclusion of serving editors are weaknesses in our Press Council.