Campaigners deride editors' proposals as a charade
Campaigners pushing for regulation of British newspapers have called an offer by editors to implement practically all of the Leveson inquiry’s recommendations – bar any form of legislation – a charade.
The editors, offering to put in place Leveson’s “broad proposals” quickly, committed to fines, cheap arbitration of complaints, investigation powers for a new body and tougher powers to dictate the size and prominence of apologies.
However, they will not accept inspection of the new complaints system by a state regulator every two years to ensure that it remains up to mark, or that such a regulator would have powers over papers who refuse to sign up to the new body, arguing that this would interfere with press freedom.
Accepting that a new code of conduct for reporters is necessary to replace one that was sufficient in ambition, but not sufficiently obeyed, the editors insist that its drafting cannot be left to people outside of the trade.
The Hacked Off campaign, noting that Leveson said legislation was “essential”, said “everything else is pointless” unless a new body’s independence from the press and its long-term performance is guaranteed.
So far, nearly 150,000 people have signed a public petition demanding state regulation, though prime minister David Cameron – partly on principle, and partly because of pressure from newspapers – is still trying to avoid it.
“It is a charade for the politicians and the editors to get together and pick out some of the recommendations and say these are acceptable, or not and take out the heart and soul out of Leveson,” said Hacked Off spokeswoman Natalie Fenton.
Meanwhile, editors refuse to accept that off-the-record briefings with police should be banned, or that reporters should lose a public interest defence in cases where they are alleged to have broken data protection laws.
Regulation was supported by House of Lords peer Baroness Hollins, whose daughter Abigail Witchalls was paralysed after she was stabbed in the neck by an attacker when she was out walking with her son seven years ago.
There was harassment by the press on until two years ago, said Baroness Hollins. Some reporting was sympathetic, but the majority was neither accurate nor ethical, she said.
Meanwhile, Scottish politicians have agreed on an expert group to report on the implications of Leveson for newspapers there, including the possibility that it would set up its own regulator, as it can do under devolution.