Marr says Leveson must examine blogs

Broadcaster Andrew Marr today told the Leveson Inquiry it needs to address the “gap” between “state control of press on the one hand and a free-for-all on the other”.

“It’s a difficult gap,” Marr said, adding it was a “new place to build something.”

Marr, who for years maintained a superinjunction barring the press from reporting allegations he had fathered a child during an extra-marital affair also brought the judge back to the unclear terrain of regulating the online world, noting that many of the most influential political commentators today were bloggers.

“The old distinction between a political player and a would-be professional journalist is breaking down,” Marr said.

“At one point does become big enough to become part of a regulatory system?” he asked.

Marr also cautioned against recording all contact between members of the press and politicians, noting there was an “absolute distinction” between proprietors and editors meeting politicians and the “day-to-day job of story-getting political journalists” having contact with them.

Earlier in the day, a former secretary for national heritage has challenged Lord Justice Leveson’s suggestion of press regulation with a statutory backstop this morning, arguing that existing legislation needed to be better enforced.

“If we already have a set of legal standards that aren’t being met, we should ask ourselves why that is,” Conservative MP Stephen Dorrell, who oversaw the Major government’s response to the second Calcutt report in 1993, told the Inquiry this morning.

“The reason we’re sat here is that the existing laws that nobody disputes haven’t been observed and enforced,” Dorrell said.

Dorrell, who was secretary of state for national heritage during the Major government from 1994-5 —  a position that subsequently became the culture secretary post — also stressed there was an issue of management culture that had largely been lost in the ongoing debate into press standards.

“The breaking of the law is the symptom of what’s wrong in the culture of an organisation that tolerates criminality,” he added. “No regulation will deliver an outcome if the core problem remains [of tolerating criminality].”

He stressed a need to “address the cause of the problem rather than the symptoms”.

Dorrell also emphasised his view that the responsibilities of a reformed Press Complaints Commission should not be decided by an external force.  “The PCC is an organisation with the responsibility to promote and define standards within the press,” he said, adding later: “The issues around standards need to be internalised within the press, not taken away from them.”

Yet he said he was not appearing at the Inquiry to “defend the record” of the PCC, stressing the need for the press to hold itself to account. “The PCC cannot be a champion of every individual organ of the press,” he said. “It can be a champion of press freedom but it has to be willing to be critical of its own when the standards it espouses aren’t met.”

He added later: “The question is what happens in circumstances like [Chris] Jefferies where a judgment is made and a major injustice is done. In those circumstances, you either give people a right to remedy or recovery in civil law or you throw it back to the editor and proprietor and require them to think about what the consequences are that should flow in those circumstances.”

“It’s a completely fair question to put to the press industry: What should have happened?”

Leveson took the opportunity to flirt further with his notion of press regulation with statutory backing of some kind. “There is  something systemic here. I struggle to see how it could be done by getting editors and proprietors together,” he said.

“The trick is to get a mechanism that works for everyone, that represents a free press and free expression but  does cope not merely with the very rich who can indulge in proceedings but everyone.”

“I struggle to see how that’s possible on a model that doesn’t have something, somewhere.”

He was quick to add, however, that he was “simply talking about structures”.

“I am not suggesting the state should have any view at all about content,” Leveson said.

The Inquiry continues this afternoon.

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