This feature article on media ethics is written by Barry White, the EFJ Steering Committee member from the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) in the UK and Ireland. The Leveson Inquiry is a judicial public inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the British media following the phone-hacking scandal in the UK. The inquiry was chaired by Lord Leveson who have held a series of public hearings throughout 2011 and 2012. The EFJ affiliate, NUJ was asked to submit its opinon on the inquiry.
almost three months since the Leveson Inquiry published its findings on Culture, Practices and Ethics in the Press
and the British government and national press are fighting hard to stop the
main recommendations of the report dealing with press regulation from being
Lord Justice Leveson presented his 1,987
page report on 29 November 2012, he emphasised that "this was the seventh
time in less than 70 years (that) a report has been commissioned by the
Government which has dealt with concerns about the press...No-one can think that
it makes any sense to contemplate an eighth."
the arguments (most of them behind closed doors with accompanying news back-outs)
are about Leveson's call that legislation was "essential" to give statutory
backing to a new self-regulatory system to be set up by the media industry.
saw this as a move to guarantee the freedom and independence of the press by
law. He called for an independent
self-regulatory body governed by an independent board, the members of which
"must be appointed in a genuinely open, transparent and independent way, free
from government and industry interference, with no powers to prevent
parliament, the proposals were rejected by Prime Minister David Cameron, who
told the industry to act quickly and get something plausible operating quickly.
He also agreed to ‘cross party' talks on the question. Currently the outcome
seems deadlocked with much of the press still shouting from the rooftops that
the Leveson proposals will "muzzle the press" and "silence newspapers". They
even go so far as to claim that it represents "state regulation of the press".
Their campaign has been described by former Tory minister Lord Norman Fowler as;
"...one of the most disreputable campaigns
seen in the country for a long time - made even worse as it has been done in
the name of press freedom."
even been suggested by the Conservative Party that a royal charter is the
alternative to Leveson's proposals. It's a very ‘British solution' and a very
bad idea. A royal charter is an antiquated and undemocratic process and in any
event would require legislation to make it work.
questions about cutting big media down to size, by putting limits on ownership
have been sidelined. So has discussion about some NUJ concerns about other
recommendations in the report such as future protecting of sources, data
protection, relations with the police and possible changes to the Police and
Criminal Evidence Act, which would give the police more power to gain access to
journalistic material. The NUJ is also seeking support for the creation of a
conscience clause for journalists, one of the positive recommendations from the
been left to the un-elected House of Lords to act. In early February they
passed an amendment to the defamation bill to
introduce a low-cost arbitration system for victims of press defamation.
Newspapers that did not join the system would face higher damages if they were
found to have defamed litigants. In addition, the bill also includes a skeleton system of press regulation, against the
wishes of the government. It will be decision time for the government when this
bill goes to the House of Commons for consideration.
However, the future of both press regulation and the
defamation bill could be decided shortly as the government puts forward its
proposals for a Royal Charter to recognise the new press regulator.
The Royal Charter plan was announced on 12 February and
was followed by all-party talks in parliament. The press industry is then
expected to issue its response by the end of February.
For updates go to the NUJ web site or
the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom.