In Wake Of NewsCorp Scandal, UK Says Press Must Be Regulated… But Free… But Not Exactly

from the completely-independent,-except-for-all-this-other-stuff dept

Between the UK’s onerous libel laws, its insistence on “protecting” freedom of speech and press while attaching a million exceptions to this “freedom,” and the recent phone-hacking scandal that saw Rupert Murdoch’s papers crossing lines that even the most loathsome of hacky tabloids had yet to cross, one often wonders exactly what the hell is going on over there.

Apparently, a few people in the UK are wondering that as well. A nine-month inquiry into the “culture, practice and ethics” of the journalism business has yielded one potential solution, which should have quotes thrown around it immediately. paidContent reports that Lord Justice Leveson, who has been dealing with the issues surrounding the NewsCorp case, has a suggestion: independent regulation.

The UK government must legislate to establish a new press “self-regulation” body — independent of both publishers and politicians but overseen by media regulator Ofcom — because newspapers have “wreaked havoc” in the lives of innocents, says the nine-month inquiry report into the culture, practice and ethics of the business.

Lord Justice Leveson, who has been hearing issues including the “hacking” of mobile phones for news stories, said the existing Press Complaints Commission (PCC), comprised of newspaper editors, is “not actually a regulator at all”. And he has rejected news publishers’ alternative suggestion of binding themselves to ethical standards by commercial contracts.

Instead, he is advising the government to legislate the creation of a new independent body to promote “high standards” and safeguard individuals’ rights, run by a chair and a board who will hold publishers to a code.

It’s hard to imagine the words “legislate,” “independent” and “safeguard individuals’ rights” all working together peaceably. While certain newspapers certainly haven’t given the impression that they’re capable of holding themselves to ethical standards, it hardly seems like Plan B should be legislated into existence.

You also have to wonder which “individuals” are going to have their rights safeguarded. The use of injunctions (and the double-secret “Super Injunction“) and the general encouragement of powerful individuals to use very amicable libel laws to shut down criticism or exposure of uncouth behavior doesn’t really set the stage for protecting the rights of journalists. Leveson “addresses” this issue… by passing the buck to legislators.

Leveson is leaving the definition of that code and the implementation of the new body to whomever Prime Minister David Cameron, should he follow the recommendation, might appoint to set them up. But Leveson suggests the code should outline what constitutes “public interest” – a thorny topic on which newspapers and others often disagree.

Well, good luck with that. Those in the journalism field will certainly want to keep their rights safeguarded and those who prefer to tamp out criticism and unflattering reporting will certainly want to keep theirs “safe” as well. It all sounds very zero sum, which is probably why it’s being kicked down the road.

The Lord Justice is certainly correct that some newspapers have behaved reprehensibly. But it hardly follows that legislated “independent” regulation is the solution. Leveson wants to hand this over to Ofcom, which already regulates UK radio, telecommunications infrastructure and broadcasting standards. Certainly, Ofcom has the regulation experience, but it’s another egg in its already very loaded basket. Consolidation of regulatory power rarely turns out well. Levenson insists that this is not intended to grant the government control of the press:

“This is not, and cannot be characterised as, statutory regulation of the press. The legislation would not establish a body to regulate the press: it would be up to the press to come forward with their own body that meets the criteria laid down.

“The legislation would not give any rights to Parliament, to the Government, or to any regulatory (or other) body to prevent newspapers from publishing any material whatsoever.

“Nor would it give any rights to these entities to require newspapers to publish any material except insofar as it would require the recognised self-regulatory body to have the power to direct the placement and prominence of corrections and apologies in respect of information found, by that body, to require them.”

All well and good in theory, but the last paragraph is troubling. If this isn’t going to be a case of the government or its legislated independent regulator telling the press what to print, why the wording concerning “placement and prominence of corrections and apologies?” This sentence seems to indicate that certain individuals’ rights will be respected and safeguarded, if not more often, then definitely at a higher level. If papers offend the wrong person, someone will be there to tell them how much they should prostrate themselves, as well as where and in what font size.

Prime Minister David Cameron has responded… by kicking the issue right back.

“For the first time, we would have crossed the rubicon of writing elements of press regulation into the law of the land.

“We should, I believe, be wary of any legislation that has the potential to infringe free speech and a free press.

“In this House – which has been a bulwark of democracy for centuries – we should think very, very carefully before crossing this line.”

I believe the PM has misspoken. He must have meant “any additional legislation that has the potential to infringe on free speech and a free press.” I would certainly hope the outcome of the NewsCorp unpleasantness wouldn’t result in more limitations to the UK’s very limited speech and press. If anything defeats unpleasant speech, it’s more speech — not more regulation.

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Comments on “In Wake Of NewsCorp Scandal, UK Says Press Must Be Regulated… But Free… But Not Exactly”

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Zakida Paul says:

Regulation of the press is not the answer to these problems because regulation is NOT protection against shoddy journalism. The BBC is the most regulated media outlet in the country and that did not stop recent mistakes made by Newsnight.

As far as illegal activity like phone hacking is concerned, there are already laws in place that are supposed to guard against this sort of thing. These laws did not stop the News of the World so does anyone really believe that regulation of the press would fare any better?

The only regulation should be self regulation and there should be measures in place to deal with those who break the journalistic code. Politicians should never interfere with the press.

Jake says:

Re: Re:

As far as I can make out, Newsnight’s only mistake was choosing not to break the Jimmy Savile story because they felt there wasn’t enough hard evidence to back up the accusations made against him. “Slandering” Lord McAlpine turned out to be a result of a victim of sexual abuse identifying his abuser from a photograph and being told the person he’d picked out was Lord McAlpine, which was a barefaced lie; the police have yet to explain that.

Wally (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yes, but the incident with Lord McAlpine was a HUGE accointabitly problem for the BBC who in fact isn’t well known for that kind of cockup. Don’t get me wrong, but the BBC should be held accountable on fact checking when it comes to reporting news. Part of the reason the case with Lord McAlpine was so shocking to me is that the BBC almost never makes a mistake.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

And they are being held accountable by millions of britons, do you think people resigning from managerial posts are not good enough?

The manager screwed up, made and apology in public and resigned is that not enough?

I see you want blood and if it doesn’t happen it will never be good enough.

For all intent and purposes this was as good as having jailed the people responsible for allowing that to happen, but it was without the need to create new laws that could find their way in censorship, without wasting tax payer money or having to use excessive force to do anything.

In fact, the BBC is now in the same position that they put the Lord there, so it seems they paid in kind, but that is not going to be enough for you is it?

Laura says:

Re: "Regulation" =Kick the crime down the line!

Are we to believe that the offering of the Prosecuter is anything other than the bending over of the legal system for the sake of the blackmail they themselves may suffer if the Rupert Murdock family is allowed to go underground and return through some other corporation face plate.

Considering the Prosecutor has not disclosed any information that the phone companies have provided to tell just exactly who, when, how, each of the phones used by the Murdock’s and their agents, the inquiry isn’t even half discovered.

Any and all of the phone logs are saved and all of the ways anyone connected to any source can be annylized through computer analogs very easily. There’s enough of a smoking gun over this to consider that the Murdocks have been black mailing elected leaders and CEOs all over the world…There’s enough to consider that they profitted through such intrusions into privacy, had malicious intent, and did in many cases harm, intimidate, and bribed their way into their current status as a huge size of the world’s media. To those who much has been given, much is expected”, to those who abuse the power of the media with such arrogance, let the prosecutor consider that the justice he is afraid to offer through legal consequence is more of an undoing than any blackmail he fears. To appease the Murdocks abuse of power is no less than that of Hitler. All breaks in the law are theft, theft of the truth, and theft of privacy are sacred to the strength of respect to humanity and any Republic it hopes to achieve. Rupert Murdock believes he is above the law and this Prosecutor must be tempted to prove Murdock correct.

Wally (profile) says:

Press vs. Papparazzi

I’ll tell you honestly that this issue really puts me into a quandary. Freedom of Press usually means accountability in finding the truth behind an event and balancing out opinions and facts of those involved. If these proposed regulations in the UK involve outlawing incidents where Kate Midfleton’s bare breasts showing up in a tabloid or where J.K. Rowling finds a note inside her daughter’s school bag asking for an interview…yeah there good.

The Press, by definition, is supposed to be accountable about people and events in the world they report. Members of the press regularly risk their livelyhoods, go to great lengths to get their stories, and report it accurately whilen pinning in their own opinion about them or how it makes them or the public feel. Blogs, such as this one, tend to voice the opinion of their writers, who also get their information without violating the basic rights of others.

The Paparazzi regularly violates privacy rights and send toadies out with very little pay to do their bidding. They are intrusive in every way, shape and form. They are cowardly and sometimes have a mofia mentality towards those they report on, often using blackmail as a weapon or tool to get what they want from you…regardless if it is true.

It’s one thing to put forth a story about an event that makes you feel one way or the other about an event and potentially risk your life extracting the truth. But when you encroach upon the rights of others to get what you want, you are no member of the press…and the problem is that the ladder of these two is being confused with the term “Press”.

On those ground alone, regulation of the paparazzi claiming to be members of the press is most definitely needed.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Press vs. Papparazzi

Big problem with that: Define ‘paparazzi’.

Because I get the feeling how you would define it would be rather different from how it would be defined by say, someone in a position of power that doesn’t care to have any dirty dealings made public.

Now I agree if someone is breaking a law to get a story, they need to be punished, but they’re already breaking current laws doing so, so there’s no need to add another layer to it.

Wally (profile) says:

Re: Re: Press vs. Papparazzi

Paparazzi in the US basically interferes with the private daily lives of famous people on the US. It’s kind of a bad thing when a famous person out in Los Angeles or Hollywood can’t go about their lives. In the UK and the Europeon Union, from what I’ve heard, the pervasive nature of those claiming up be members of the press is getting out of hand. The idea I think should work is to be able to protect members of the press. Accountability can be an issue, but that’s also either involving free speech and press. The point is simply that there needs to be a way to punish those that break the law.

I’m reminded a lot of what J.K Rowling said and I stand by what she defines as paparazzi….an invasive intrusion blackmailing organization to get what they want.

Most responsible members of the press don’t use blackmail. Yes pressure is involved to get a reaction of change to the public and to report the views and opinions of said public at times. Also, the personal privacy of people also has to be considered.

Some of the laws are already in place to a degree, but the Paparazi get around it by citing “Freedom of Press” and the fact that the privacy rights if others gets severely overlooked. One has to only look at the death of Princess Diana to see what I mean.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Press vs. Papparazzi

A polite note asking for an interview is not a crime and should never be, it is also not in my opinion invasion of privacy, it is sneaky yes, but should never be elevated to the status of a crime because the fraking law is a hammer it should deal only with the egregious behavior which people could not live with it.

Further regulation of paparazzi is also regulation of photography that can be used for censorship purposes, probably unnecessary because we already have laws that deal with people who cross the line.

gab4moi (profile) says:

Re: Re: Press vs. Papparazzi

What the hell? A NOTW scumbag staulks Rowlands daughter, finds her schoolbag and inserts a note demanding an interview… What part of this ‘sneaky’ procedure do you find acceptable? Or do you think hacking access and leaving messages on a murdered childs mobile phone, encouraging police and the parents to believe her still alive, a ‘sneaky’ but legitimate deal as well?

A legislated independent authority investigating the filth that Murdoch and his cowards and their like have perpetrated as or soon after it occurs is a rational, equitable and ethical measure… exactly why Cameron and his haw haw lapdogs won’t do it, they are in bed with the barons, and with the sheets pulled up to their pale,skinny, chinless tory craws…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Press vs. Papparazzi

The guys are paid to stalk everybody and find ways to talk to people or even compel people to do so and so long they don’t do it outside current laws what is the real problem?

Murdoch broke the law, wiretapping people without consent from authority or the other party is already a crime, making use of force to compel people to talk is a crime but apparently you want to make it being insistent a crime too.

Did anybody molested Mrs. Rowlands children?
Where they in danger of a psycopath papparazzi? which by the way is why restraining orders where invented in the first place.

This indignation is like huff and puff all air and no substance, no real substance.

What it does though is give ammunition to the enemies of freedom to attack and erode even further the bases of a free society.

Wally (profile) says:

Re: Re: Press vs. Papparazzi

Ok, let’s have this scenario hit home. I stalk your 8 year old daughter. Watch her every move. Follow her route home from and when she’s not looking, I slip a note to you demanding an interview or else you get a negative showing of yourself on the front page of our news paper. Does that spell it out for you AC?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Press vs. Papparazzi

As long as you don’t do anything else this is not a criminal matter and should not be.

It can be creepy yes, but not a problem to be solved using a hammer, this is not a nail to be driven into the glass of freedom of speech because you feel uncomfortable is that clear enough for you dude?

jameshogg says:

When will my country learn? Congress shall make no law!

I tried asking this question on the BBC website and did not get a single answer: those asking for more regulation need to name one law this report is calling for in the way of protecting civil liberties that is not already in place right now.

If anything, we need less regulation: superinjunctions that stop women from calling out on their cheating husbands, disgraceful libel laws that allow Roman Polanski to sue Vanity Fair from France, jail time for offensive Twitter comments (but papers or websites who reproduce the offensive comments get no jail time), restrictions on religious criticism especially with Islam, and thought (sorry, “hate”) speech bans that treat bomb-scarred war veterans like children by shielding their eyes from the supposedly horrendous image of burning poppies. All of this has to stop right now.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: When will my country learn? Congress shall make no law!

See, I have a problem with this: because News International abused their privileges, I would argue that there should be a legislation-backed, independent body, from which no politician has the right to intervene.

The problem with the PCC is that it has the same level of bite as a newborn baby – that is, very little. So whilst I understand the cries of “Freedom of the Press”, that is not what Leveson is recommending – he’s recommending a new body, backed by legal framework, that has the power not only to levy considerable fines on newspapers, but also has enough ability to make the Press not ignore its wishes. And I’ll be honest here, that’s a very tight rope to walk.

One thing I’m damn sure of, is that Call-Me-Dave isn’t doing this to benefit the public – he’s doing this so that his buddies don’t get into trouble. Because if I were Leveson, I would definitely consider making sure that everyone with a case of “amnesia” at the inquiry from Murdoch down had been clean as a whistle, and those that hadn’t would be sold down the river for a good stint in the Scrubs.

jameshogg says:

Re: Re: When will my country learn? Congress shall make no law!

There’s a mistake in what you imply. Freedom of expression is not vulnerable to attack solely from state politicians or tyrannical dictators. It is also open to attack from the public community. The whole point about freedom of expression is that it gives the speaker the ability to insult anybody they like based on any grounds they like. The fact that the public would disapprove is not a good enough excuse to silence the speaker. This is why even the views of racists, homophobes, sexists, fascists, and just downright disgusting opinions need to be not just protected, but given extra protection due to the collective impulsive backlash to shut them up.

And this is because the rest of us with our more civilised states of mind would still benefit from the horrible speech. I come from a background in skepticism and pro-enlightenment, and one thing you learn is that science, or the pursuit of knowledge in general, is not just about finding out what is true as a matter of fact, but also what is false as a matter of fact. The knowledge that racism, for example, is a lie is something that is vital for humanity, and in order for humanity to be educated the best it can in regards to the issue you must allow racists to speak their minds so that we know what to resist. If they are silenced for whatever reason, it means that a society becomes that little bit more ignorant of the evils of this world and also harder to resonate with people outside the society who really do suffer at the hands of racist ideology.

This independent body that is being proposed is just an extension of something I already disagree with, which is Ofcom. That I fully understand. But I don’t buy the original proposition; I cannot stand the idea that people regularly send in complaints to Ofcom based on the fact that a T.V. show is too offensive, putting a degree of censorial pressure on all T.V. media to “play down” and be polite. Where I come from, that’s a very contemptible attitude to be having. It’s the ideology of a society that wants a quiet life and does not want to face up to serious issues overseas. The whole point of free expression is that being offensive is a necessity.

And now we are saying we want to extend this principle to newspapers and magazines? Where any kind of mildly provocative dissent is condemned by a mob of people who were already determined to be offended? Come on. Get serious. I’m not going to be told by a bunch of uneducated loonies that they are good enough to tell me what I can and cannot read. I’m not a child.

Anonymous Coward says:

The media shouldn’t be given new regulations just because they’re the media. Media companies should be held to the same regulations as every other business, including unethical behavior like hacking telephones. I’d imagine a corporation would get in a rather large amount of trouble if it was found to be regularly hacking the e-mail accounts of various members of the government.

wavettore says:

TV media and newspapers will never tell you that an Israeli firm had placed the explosives that brought down the 3 buildings in NY on 9/11. ICTS was the only security firm in charge for the twin towers and building 7 (most people still do not know about this building that fell without being hit by any plane or other). ICTS was also the security company in charge for all airports that had allowed the highjack planes on 9/11 to depart. The work force of ICTS was the only one people to have access at night inside the 3 buildings and to allow Israeli agents to place those explosives inconspicuously before 9/11. Israeli agents were in fact arrested nearby on 9/11 transporting large amount of explosives in a white van (Chevrolet 2000) but they were later released by the Bush administration. Not as a coincidence, the same day, on 9/11 2001, and at the same time a CIA operation called Able Danger, was reproducing a military exercise that was supposed to mimic an attack by few planes crashing on buildings. Now our thought goes to George W. Bush, son of a former head of CIA, George H. Bush, who still holds the line in that agency.
But all this was never reported by the media, in the hands of Zionists.
The future of the World depends on what we make of 9/11.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Nor would it give any rights to these entities to require newspapers to publish any material except insofar as
it would require the recognised self-regulatory body to have the power to direct the
placement and prominence of corrections and apologies
in respect of information found, by that body, to require them.”

As I read it, is about making sure that any apologies are more visible.
So if your are libelled on front page in 20point the apology is not in 8pt on page 27 under the thumb

Anonymous Coward says:

this is typical of the UK. changes have to be made as long as those changes dont change anything!
it’s also typical of Cameron. he instigated the inquiry but now doesn’t want to implement the recommendations. what is the point of that? might just as well have allowed Murdoch and the arse holes that work(ed) for him continue doing the same thing. as for Murdoch himself, he didn’t receive anywhere near the punishment he should have. it was his business. regardless of who he put in charge, he was still ultimately responsible for all that happened. being kept in the dark about certain practices is no excuse!

J says:

I’m a big fan of techdirt, but I think you are misrepresenting what is being proposed, which is not surprising considering the FUD that newspapers are publishing about this issue. The Leveson proposals are not to further curtail the free press, but to allow for any independent regulator established by the press to be be certified as being truly independent and acting in the public interest. The idea is not to force newspapers to be subject to this regulator, but to provide sufficient incentives so that they are encouraged to do so. Furthermore, the as the proposals would include incentives and mechanisms for parties to use a fast, fair and affordable arbitration service as well as a specific establishment of the right to a free press in statute, and this would help the press be free whilst also helping to protect potential victims of the press.

Anonymous Coward says:

I think people are worrying unnecessarily. Lord Leveson has not proposed any sort of regulation which would allow the government or politicians to muzzle the press or to dictate what they could or could not print.

From the BBC website (, the proposed new law:

Create a process to “validate” the independence and effectiveness of the new self-regulation body
Validate a new process of independent arbitration for complainants – which would benefit both the public and publishers by providing speedy resolutions
Place a duty on government to protect the freedom of press

Would not:
Establish a body to regulate the press directly
Give any Parliament or government rights to interfere with what newspapers publish.”

In other words, he’s proposing something like (1) a new industry watchdog to replace the PCC, and (2) a statutory watchdog which double checks that (1) is living up to its own standards. Most other professional organisations and industries have this sort of arrangement.

As I understand it, the new system would be optional for most organisations anyway. Only the very largest (EG The Times, The Guardian) would be compelled to join the new system.

There is a lot of misinterpretation going on out there!

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