Culture Secretary Matt Hancock has revealed the Government will carry out a UK-wide review of press standards on data protection, including in Northern Ireland, for the first time.
A clause was added to the Data Protection Bill in the House of Commons this afternoon which will require the Information Commissioner to carry out a statutory review of media compliance with the new law within the next four years.
Hancock said the review will cover the whole of the UK, but Democratic Unionist Party MP Ian Paisley Jr said it would have particular importance in Northern Ireland because the country’s media had not been investigated as part of the Leveson Inquiry.
Hancock said: “We are going to require, through new clause 23, for the Information Commissioner to conduct a statutory review of media compliance with the new law over the next four years and alongside that review we propose to have a named person review the standards of the press in Northern Ireland.”
Asked by Paisley if it would be fair to characterise that as a “Leveson for Northern Ireland”, Hancock responded: “How you can characterise it is as a review aligned with the new clause 23 which we’re bringing in for the whole country specifically to look into effects in Northern Ireland.
“But the crucial point is this. We will make sure through the review in new clause 23 that the future of the press is both free and reasonable, that their behaviour is reasonable, yet that they’re not subject to statutory regulations.”
Some Labour MPs criticised the appearance of favouritism for Northern Ireland, with Labour’s Liam Byrne saying: “I want to know whether the press regulation system we are setting up takes account of what we have learnt about the sins of the past.
“I don’t think those sins should be buried, forgotten, and walked on by – unless of course you are lucky enough to live in Northern Ireland.”
However, Paisley said: “I should make it clear that Northern Ireland press were exempt from the proper scrutiny by Leveson and that’s why they feel aggrieved, and that’s why many members who had their phones hacked, like myself, and others who were completely ignored by all of that process, now perhaps we have the chance of having fairness going forward because quite frankly there’s been no fairness up until this point.”
When Byrne said he was listening “jealously” and hoped the same privileges could be secured for the rest of the country, Paisley responded: “I understand the new clause 23 applies to the whole of the United Kingdom. I live in the whole of the United Kingdom.”
Byrne said that although Paisley may have been assured by the review process offered by Hancock, “we on this side of the house are not”.
Paisley also praised the fact Hancock promised an “actual inquiry going forward” rather than the consultative process referenced in Ed Miliband’s amendment calling for a Leveson Two-style inquiry into data protection issues in the media.
MPs also agreed to add a clause to the bill requiring the Information Commissioner to publish information on how people can get redress if they have a complaint, and create a statutory code of practice for journalists setting out standards on data protection.
Picture: Parliament TV