Leveson gives clearest hint yet on press regulation plans

New regulator must be independent of government and press

Redress for 'those who can't afford to litigate'

Leveson is looking to Ireland's press watchdog as a possible two-tier model

Lord Justice Leveson has given his strongest indication yet of the measures he believes are needed to tackle problems in the press in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal.

He told the inquiry yesterday he wanted a body that was independent of the establishment and of the press.

Measures to improve systems of redress for the public and a mechanism for intervening before damaging stories are published are also being considered.

He said: "Whatever comes out of this must be independent of government, independent of the state, independent of parliament but independent of the press.

"It has to have experts in it, it must command the respect of the press but also the general public. I would like to think about a system that provides redress, particularly to those who can't afford to litigate.

"It's got to be speedy, it's got to be effective, it's got to achieve a result."

Lord Justice Leveson said he had been contacted by transgender, disabled and immigrant groups who complained that under current rules they were not able to make a collective complaint about any article they felt was unfair or untrue.

He also signalled he will look for some way of solving the problem of prior notification to stop the problem of newspapers failing to contact the subject of a story for fear of being slapped with an injunction.

"There has to be some way of drawing a line," he said.

Lord Justice Leveson said he wants a mechanism of swift resolution for privacy and libel cases.

Dismissing claims he plans to gag the press, he added: "I have absolutely no interest in imperilling the freedom of expression of the Press."

Irealand's two-tier model

Lord Leveson is looking to Ireland's press watchdog as a possible two-tier model for an overhaul of media oversight in Britain.

The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) has travelled across the Irish Sea to hold talks with its counterparts the Press Council of Ireland and the Press Ombudsman.

The Irish oversight bodies were set up just four years ago as an alternative to costly court battles.

Daithi O'Ceallaigh, chairman of the Press Council of Ireland, which is independent of both government and media, revealed Lord Hunt of Wirral, chairman of the PCC, had been in Dublin for discussions centred on the potential outcome of the Leveson Inquiry.

"Quite a lot of material and matters were discussed at that meeting," he said.

"The fact that they came here at all - and those discussions - reflect the fact that (Lord) Leveson himself and a number of the witnesses at the inquiry in Britain have already publicly expressed their interest in the origins, the structure and the functions of the Press Council and the Press Ombudsman in Ireland."

Lord Hunt along with one of his senior officials met with both O'Ceallaigh and Professor John Horgan, Ireland's Press Ombudsman.

Remarking on the revelations, Dublin's Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte said the burgeoning Press Council had worked better than expected in Ireland.

"I have to say that remains my view and I'm not that surprised that Leveson is looking at the particular architecture that operates here," he added. "Those discussions will be interesting."

The Irish complaints bodies were set up with a two-pronged approach to media regulation in 2008.

The Press Ombudsman deals free-of-charge with complaints from the public, considers whether they are valid, and then acts to resolve them through conciliation.

Where conciliation is not possible, the Ombudsman will make a decision based on the Code of Practice for Newspapers and Magazines.

He has the option of referring "significant or complex complaints" directly to the Press Council for decision.

Prof Horgan said a system of first referring complainants to the newspaper involved has resulted in improvement in dealing internally with complaints with fewer complaints needing resolution.

Complaints which are not resolved satisfactorily by the Ombudsman can be referred to the 13-member strong Press Council drawn from the public and the media industry.

It is charged with upholding of the Code of Practice for Newspapers and Magazines and the press freedom, and operates with the support and co-operation of newspaper and magazine editors and journalists.

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