Crunch-time on Future of UK Press Regulation

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.

It's now

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;

 " 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."

It has

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


It has

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.