23 March 2018
Lord Justice Leveson argued in his report on press ethics and standards that the press could not go on ‘marking its own homework' and that what was needed was independent regulation. Since the inquiry into press ethics and standards, the press has been characteristically vocal in arguing that any regulation backed by statute would be an outrageous chilling of their free speech and would allow government to meddle in the business of reporting news. It would, they say, effectively be akin to putting Joe Stalin in the editor's chair of our cherished national newspapers. The press's own proposal for a new self-regulatory standard was dismissed this week by Parliament, as it considered the proposal to be, as with the current press regulator the Press Complaints Commission, insufficiently independent. It would appear as though this rejection is popular with the public: according to the Privy Council letter announcing this rejection 19,000 people wrote to oppose the newspaper's proposed Royal Charter, while fewer than 150 individuals responded to a call from the Newspaper Society, to support it. It is anticipated that Parliament's version of the Royal Charter, which has the backing of all three major parties, will be given the seal of approval at the end of October, clearing the path for the press to set up a self-regulator that should be truly independent and fair — both for the public and for the media – and that will meet the standards recommended by Leveson in his report. But let's not imagine for a minute that the press will sit idly by while this goes ahead. It will be coming up with another fiendish plan to seek to ensure that no one else is allowed to mark its pretty poor homework for fear of a very serious rap over the knuckles if and when that homework is not up to scratch. And that this is the case is evidenced by the fact that national newspaper editors have already expressed dismay and a determination to continue with their own form of self-regulation, in spite of the government's position. Of course, if the press were prepared to act responsibly then it would have nothing to fear from an independent regulator as opposed to a puppet of its own making. The fact that it is fighting so hard to keep control of its own regulation is proof enough, were it needed, that the press is in dire need of an effective regulator to keep it in check. Withers Media & Reputation Management team will continue to monitor these important developments and keep you updated on this blog. Keep checking back for further updates and commentary.