Blogging the Leveson Inquiry: Paul Dacre goes on the attack
Marta Cooper: Blogging the Leveson Inquiry: Paul Dacre goes on the attack
12 Oct 11

The hazy terrain of press regulation formed the core of discussion at this morning’s Leveson Inquiry seminar.

Eve Salomon, chair of the Internet Watch Foundation, kicked off the session by making the case for self-regulation, arguing that the PCC’s successor should be an enhanced model that both raises standards and deals with complaints. Salomon argued the current Press Complaints Commission is merely a mediator,and that having investigative powers that would characterise it as a regulator. Referring to the phone-hacking scandal, she added that “no amount of regulation” will deter criminals.

Daily Mail editor-in-chief Paul Dacre was scathing, his speech attacked the “anarchic” internet and “elite” journalists who have “disdain” for tabloids, Dacre said the press is already “on the cusp of being over-regulated” due to the courts’ use of the Human Rights Act.

Though Dacre largely defended the PCC — he maintained it was “not a failed organisation” — he did concede that it needed reforming in order to regain public trust, and claimed it had “blunted the Sunday papers’ ability to find sensational stories.”

Any notion of licensing journalists or imposing fines was condemned; of “experts” in favour of licensing reporters, Dacre said: “my own view is they should emigrate to Zimbabwe.”

He added that the press are better behaved now than in the 1970s, during which time “harassment was rule rather than exception.”

Dacre went on to reveal that his newspaper, as well as its sister titles the Mail on Sunday and Metro, will introduce a corrections and clarifications column on page 2 of the paper next week. Currently no other tabloid runs such a column.

Will Moy of independent fact-checking organisation Full Fact followed Dacre, noting that, while some newspapers and journalists are “excellent” when confronted with mistakes, they are the “exceptions”. Citing the Daily Express’s twisting of house price quotes, Moy added that “newspapers cannot be trusted to regulate themselves”, arguing that a regulator was “essential.”

He did see potential for “indirect regulation”, such as a readers’ editor, and added that the PCC needs to have more effective sanctions for dealing with repeat offenders. The readers’ editor of Observer, Stephen Pritchard, also made the case for more internal news ombudsmen, arguing that they could enhance trust (there are currently only two of them in the UK, at the Guardian and the Observer).

Later, the role of corporate governance in maintaining standards was discussed. Labour life peer Lord Borrie made the case for stronger ethical standards, arguing that they should not merely be “something that slips off the tongue of chairman at the annual general meeting.” Non-executive director of Channel 4, Stephen Hill, spoke in favour of “scrupulous” corporate governance, while Trinity Mirror‘s Sly Bailey argued that “no system of corporate governance” was bomb-proof: it could not stop a determined  wrongdoer, but may “minimise wrongdoing.”

Damian Tambini, a lecturer on media policy and regulation at the London School of Economics, said it was unhelpful to oppose statutory regulation as a sort of “ogre”, noting that self-regulation might need statutory back up. Cardiff University journalism professor Ian Hargreaves also noted that we cannot compel individuals to join a system, and can only “create a system that’s so good most people want to be part of it.”

For Index CEO John Kampfner, the challenge of the Leveson Inquiry will be “setting out strength of corporate governance and ensuring that regulation doesn’t chill speech.” He added that any future regulation must not lead to any “excess of caution that damages investigative journalism.”

Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson.

Click here for the full text of John Kampfner’s speech at this afternoon’s session of the Inquiry.