Leveson – what the papers say
Padraig Reidy: Leveson - what the papers say
30 Nov 12

Friday’s newspapers gave an interesting glimpse into how the next few months of negotiation on the future of press regulation will go.

The Telegraph’s leader headline said everything you needed to know: “Let us implement the Leveson Report, without a press law.”

The Times (£) was in conciliatory mode, complimenting Lord Justice Leveson’s report as an “impressive achievement”. Importantly, the paper, target of some scorn as part of Rupert Murdoch’s News International group, noted that it was up to the press to quickly move towards independently implementing some of Leveson’s recommendations, thus avoiding a new law on the press:

The industry now needs to come together quickly to agree how independent regulation will work. It also needs to consider how to guarantee its independence…

With a flourish at the end of his press conference Sir Brian announced that “the ball moves back into the politicians’ court”. In fact it is the press that needs to act. The judge has made it painfully clear that the status quo has failed. The press, not Parliament, must act.

Stablemate the Sun was similarly supine:

MUCH of Lord Leveson’s report on the Press makes sense.
The Sun does not argue with his call for a sharper independent regulation of newspapers and many of the proposals within it.
The onus is now on the newspaper industry to come up with robust and muscular proposals for the independent regulation that can prove there is no need for the new law recommended by Lord Leveson.
The Sun is convinced this can be achieved. We have already pledged complete co-operation with a new independent watchdog that would have vastly stronger powers than the discredited Press Complaints Commission.

The Mail, while remaining quite gentlemanly about Sir Brian (“has approached his impossibly wide brief in a fine spirit of public service, firmly got behind David Cameron, who told parliament that he was not convinced by, or comfortable with, calls for a press statute:

To his enormous credit, however, David Cameron sees this report for what it is — a mortal threat to the British people’s historic right to know.
If he prevails in protecting that right, with the help of like-minded freedom lovers in the Commons and Lords, he will earn a place of honour in our history.

(It’s not entirely clear whether the “our” in whose history Cameron shall be revered is the nation or the Mail newsroom.)

The left-leaning Mirror took on Labour leader Ed Miliband’s support for statutory regulation, saying: “The Mirror is Labour’s friend,” it says, “but we refuse to swallow the party line.”

The Guardian, meanwhile, published a long and intricate editorial that did not make it entirely clear where it stood on statutory regulation. But pressed on the BBC this morning, editor Alan Rusbridger suggested that if statute was the only way of gaining the “particularly fantastic” carrots offered by Lord Justice Leveson (such as alternative dispute resolution).

Interestingly, the Daily Express, which had opted out of the PCC, pledged to get behind an independent regulator, without statute:

As David Cameron admitted yesterday, to pass a press law making newspapers ultimately accountable to Parliament for what they print would be to cross a Rubicon.

His challenge to the newspaper industry to devise its own regulatory system that complies fully with the tough principles set out by Lord Leveson, delivers fair play and yet does not require legislation is therefore one we are happy to take up.

How they’ll all figure out how to work together will make a fascinating few month’s viewing.

By Padraig Reidy

Padraig Reidy is the editor of Little Atoms and a columnist for Index on Censorship. He has also written for The Observer, The Guardian, and The Irish Times.