Leveson reaction: 'There is a huge opportunity here and we must seize it', says Lord Hunt

  • Lord Hunt: 'There is a huge opportunity here and we must seize it'
  • Hacked Off: 'The judge has rightly condemned the outrageous conduct of the press'
  • Index on Censorship: 'We are worried about the statutory-voluntary approach'

Lord Justice Leveson's recommendations for reform of regulation of the press sparked widely-varying reactions among journalists, politicians, campaigners and victims of intrusion.

Civil liberties group Liberty - whose director Shami Chakrabarti served as an assessor in the inquiry team - welcomed the principal recommendation of a more robust and independent press self-regulator, but said it was unable to back the last-resort alternative of compulsory statutory regulation.

Ms Chakrabarti said: "Leveson's main proposal makes sense for the public, press and politicians alike.

"The press sets up a robust body - independent of Government and serving editors - and earns legal protections from needless challenges in court. The public gets confidence of greater access to justice and redress when things go wrong.

"What nobody needs and Liberty cannot support is any last-resort compulsory statutory press regulation - coming at too high a price in a free society."

Head of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) Lord Hunt said: "I do not want the message to go out from this country that the UK is bringing in a press law but we do have to make a fresh start with a new body and that is what I'm going to reveal.

"I did sense that Brian Leveson wants the press now to get on with it. He embraced a free press. What we have to make sure now is the press do not let him down. There is a huge opportunity here and we must seize it."

He later added in a statement: "Sir Brian Leveson is to be congratulated on a massive piece of work.  Although I do not agree with all of the conclusions, I must praise him and his dedication and commitment.

"We all agree that we must regain the trust and confidence of the British people to make sure that unacceptable, outrageous and illegal behaviour can never be allowed to happen again.

"So we now need to find a way forward.  I suggest that we all now digest this report and seek our common ground and then unite around it.  Above all it is absolutely key that the result is a new regulator with effective sanctions and teeth, and independent from the Industry and from the Government.

"I have to say, however, that I am not convinced statutory regulation including supervision of press regulation by Ofcom would have prevented the horrors of the past.  What will prevent them happening again is getting the press to sign up to a fresh start and a serious improvement in Governance and culture."

Former Formula 1 boss Max Mosley, who successfully sued the News Of The World for privacy damages over claims that he was involved in a "sick Nazi orgy", said it would be "astonishing" if the Government did not implement Lord Justice Leveson's recommendations.

He said: "It certainly is a very thorough document and it's in many respects better than one could have hoped.

"It would make the situation much better than it is now and what he has done is more or less give the press what the Hunt-Black proposals would want, but underpinning with a statutory to make sure there's no backsliding and no cheating.

"The only real omission is that if you want to stop something coming out because you find that they are going to breach your privacy, you would still have to go to court to do that, which of course is very expensive.

"I think it would be astonishing if the politicians didn't implement the report because no responsible politician could allow the current situation to continue."

Campaign group Hacked Off, which has represented some of those complaining of unwarranted press intrusion, said in a statement: "We welcome this carefully prepared and thorough report.

"The judge has rightly condemned the outrageous conduct of the press in the recent years.

"The crucial point is the importance he places on the complete independence of regulation from politicians and from the editors and proprietors, who run the wholly discredited PCC.

"He has proposed a system of voluntary and independent self-regulation. The proposals made by the industry do not come close to this ideal. What is needed is a regulator which can properly and effectively protect the victims of press misconduct.

"He has recommended that this be backed by legislation to protect the public and the press.

"These proposals are reasonable and proportionate and we call on all parties to get together to implement them as soon as possible.

"The press must be given a deadline. The inquiry is over. Now is the time for action."

 Kirsty Hughes, chief executive of free speech group Index on Censorship, said: "Index urges that there is a serious, considered debate about Lord Justice Leveson's recommendations.

"We are worried about the statutory-voluntary approach to independent press regulation, which is similar to the Irish model, even if it is with oversight from Ofcom rather than politicians.

"However, we strongly welcome the proposal for cheap, effective arbitration, which Index on Censorship has led the way in advocating."

Lord Black of Brentwood said: "Lord Justice Leveson has issued a challenge to the press to establish a new, tough system of regulation. I believe that the plan that the industry has put forward goes a long way to meeting that challenge. In those areas where the report expresses concern – such as independence and appointments procedures – we will study his proposals and I believe respond positively.

"However,  there is no need to subject the new regulatory body to the statutory regime of Ofcom in order to achieve this.  Any form of statutory press control in a free society is fraught with danger, totally impractical and would take far too long to implement.”

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: "“From the outset of the Leveson inquiry, we demanded a conscience clause to safeguard journalists who object to being made to act unethically in the pursuit of a story.

“The NUJ has been campaigning for years for a conscience clause in contracts of employment and we are delighted that Lord Justice Leveson has listened to the voice of journalists.

“The NUJ will now do all it can to ensure that when journalists stand up for a principle of journalistic ethics they have a contractual protection against being dismissed.

“Now is the time to build a solid framework that gives journalists the confidence and the security to put their head above the parapet and take a stand for ethical journalism.

“A journalist should always have the right to refuse assignments and no journalist should be disciplined or suffer detriment to their career for asserting his or her right to act ethically.

“The new independent self-regulatory body should ensure that journalists’ contracts include a conscience clause.

“The NUJ welcomes Lord Justice Leveson’s support for a free press and independent regulation of the press - independent of both government and of the industry.

“We’re also pleased that the recommendations include civic society involvement and the recommendation that the new body needs an independent chair and board appointed in a fair and transparent process. The board should include the voice of journalists, through the NUJ. We explained to Lord Leveson, in our unique position as the media trade union recognised by the inquiry as a core participant in his hearings, that NUJ workplace organisation is not simply the vehicle for putting together pay claims and campaigning for jobs, terms and conditions. It is also the means through which journalists can raise issues of concern on ethical matters, bullying and editorial pressure.

“The NUJ supports the recommendation that the new body should accept third party complaints, provide incentives and tackle prejudicial or pejorative references to race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or physical or mental illness or disability.

“It is disappointing that Lord Leveson has not made recommendations in relation to media ownership and plurality - it is significant that the unfolding scandal at News International happened in a company with a 35.15 per cent share of the market and in a workplace where the NUJ has been effectively blocked by Rupert Murdoch for years. 

Steven Heffer, Chair of Lawyers for Media Standards (and solicitor for over 100 victims of phone hacking and other press abuse) commented: “I welcome Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations for a new truly independent regulatory body, backed up with legislation – and with teeth. I hope the prime minister and the party leaders will now confirm their determination to bring this swiftly into law without further delay.

"The scaremongering from certain parts of the press has proved to be unwarranted (there is no suggestion of state regulation) and Leveson has made it clear that the Hunt/Black proposals favoured by the industry does not come close to the regulation needed.

"The ball is now firmly in the politicians’ court, as Lord Justice Leveson has made clear.”

Adrian Jeakings, president of the Newspaper Society and chief executive of Archant, said: "The UK’s local media had nothing to do with the phone hacking scandal which prompted the Leveson Inquiry but we have been all too aware that hundreds of responsible regional and local newspapers would inevitably be caught up in any resulting new system of press regulation.

"We therefore welcome the Leveson Report’s praise for the important social and democratic role played by the local press, his acknowledgement that the criticisms of the culture, practices and ethics of the press raised in this inquiry were not directed at local newspapers and his recommendation that the regulatory model he proposes should not provide an added burden to our sector.

"However, local newspapers have always been vehemently opposed to any form of statutory involvement or underpinning in the regulation of the press, including the oversight by Ofcom proposed in the report. This would impose an unacceptable regulatory burden on the industry, potentially inhibiting freedom of speech and the freedom to publish.

"We believe the industry is in a position to establish the sort of tough new system of independent, accountable press regulation with the power to investigate wrongdoing and levy fines, envisaged by the report. All major news publishers – and some internet news providers – have indicated they will join such a system provided there is no statutory backstop. In practice, this independent self-regulatory system would almost certainly be stronger and more effective than any statutory model could ever be and could be put into place very quickly.

"Newspapers are ultimately accountable to their readers and must abide by the laws of the land. But, as the Prime Minister has today acknowledged, a free press cannot be free if it is dependent on and accountable to a regulatory body recognized by the state."

Media Standards Trust director Martin Moore said: “Lord Justice Leveson has called the press’s bluff and challenged them to go back to the drawing board and come up with a genuinely independent plan for self regulation.”

Acting chair Baroness Helena Kennedy says: “No-one can complain that this limits freedom of expression. The real question is can the press finally make itself properly accountable.”

Trustee Roger Graef says: “After all the abuses that we have seen and heard in the inquiry, this is a sensible, measured and pragmatic response.”
 

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