Victory, or ‘Leveson lite’? Our experts respond

By Media Reform Coalition / Monday March 18, 2013 Read More
Today the prospect of a Parliamentary game of chicken over a fair and independent regulator for the press has been averted with the announcement of a cross-party Leveson deal. The new Royal Charter, backed by a law forbidding ministerial meddling, includes concessions from both sides. Crucially, however, it is underpinned by a ‘dab of statute’, it prevents the press from having a veto on regulator membership, and it allows the reglator powers to direct the placement and stature of apologies rather than merely require them to be made. We canvassed the experts and old hands of the Media Reform Coalition to ask their opinion on the proposals as they stand.

Angela Phillips

Ethics Chair of Media Reform and Senior Lecturer in Journalism at Goldsmiths, University of London. Read her full response here. “Today’s deal on the Leveson reforms should provide a regulator strong enough to protect the press from its own worst instincts. It will be independent of both Parliament and the proprietors, ending the long line of Tory peers who have presided over the PCC and protected the interests of their friends in the press. “It will also have a code committee composed of at least one third ordinary journalists – a big step forward towards recognizing that the interests of ordinary journalists are not, and have never been, identical with the interests of the editors who direct their work. “We now have the first part of the legislation on the statute books. We look forward very soon to the second part: the passing of the Defamation Bill. Together these two pieces of legislation will move our media laws forward.”

Nicholas Jones

Campaigner for press standards and author of Strikes and the Media, Sultans of Spin, and Trading Information: Leaks, Lies and Tip-offs. “Once three leading newspapers – The Guardian, Independent and Financial Times – left the straight jacket of the Free Speech Network, the writing was on the wall and David Cameron had a last-minute chance to do a deal with Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband. Until the three editors declared their UDI and agreed to accept a degree of underpinning by the state, the Free Speech Network had presented a united front on behalf of the media proprietors. “Now that a deal has been done and the royal charter will have a degree of statutory backing, the big remaining question is whether the Free Speech Network will buckle down and live with the politicians’ compromise. After promising repeatedly to work with the ‘toughest independent press regulation in the world’ the proprietors can hardly play fast and loose with the workmanlike solution that has now prevailed at Westminster.”

Mary-Ellen Field

Mary-Ellen Field is a former aide to model Elle Macpherson who testified before Leveson that she lost her job over stories gained from hacking her phone. She is now the chairman of Brand-Finance, a Sydney-based brand valuation consultancy. “I am very relieved for all we victims and the country as a whole that a compromise has been reached. I think it does strike a good balance and is a good solution. I have however been appalled by the  personal attacks that have been made against many of us who testified at the Leveson Inquiry and campaigned in support of the Leveson Report. . “Whilst I have not been personally attacked,  certain groups in the media and politics have tried very hard to mislead the public by hysterical and outrageously untrue statements about the issues and members of Hacked Off and other victims. The invective that has been hurled at Hacked Off has been astonishing. As a member of the Conservative Party it has been almost amusing to read that Hacked Off is some sort of left-wing conspiracy. Hacked Off is supported by members of all parties and none. “We took on a massively well funded and powerful group of people and won. I would like to thank Hugh Grant for his hard work and commitment to the victims. “Hopefully we will now be able to move forward and allow journalists to do their job which most of them do very well. On a personal level I have received amazing support from journalists around the world since 2009 who gave me a voice and reported my terrible experience accurately and in my opinion fairly.”

Donnacha DeLong

Immediate Past President of the National Union of Journalists, and current New Media representative on its National Executive Council “Progress on press regulation – let’s see if it works. The first test of whether the industry was willing to do anything to improve the situation in the media was when Leveson called on them to consider the conscience clause. The Prime Minister agreed they should. It was something they could have done at any time, without waiting for what the politicians put forward. But they still haven’t. “The ball is still in their court, but, if they don’t, the issue is due to be part of the Royal Charter. The industry’s hyperbole and hysterical response to Leveson has underlined how editors and feel their power can exist without responsibility. It remains to be seen if Cameron’s compromise of a Royal Charter with minimal statutory changes is enough to limit power and increase responsibility.”

Julian Petley

Professor of Screen Media at Brunel University, Co-chair of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom “Who has ‘won’ in the great Leveson battle remains unclear, although in the sense that Cameron obviously did the maths and realised that he would have suffered defeat in the Commons if he’d pressed ahead with his Royal Charter lite proposals, the Tories clearly had to climb down. The moment that the Culture Secretary appeared on the Today programme this morning and announced that ‘we have stopped Labour’s extreme version of the press law’, which was of course no such thing, one knew that they’d been forced onto the back foot and were trying to deflect attention from this embarrassing fact. “Equally unconvincing was Cameron’s later assurance that ‘it’s not statutory underpinning’. Indeed, this phrase has been used to mean, or not mean, so many different things by its opponents that one is irresistibly reminded of Humpty Dumpty remark in Through the Looking Glass that ‘When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less’. “It’s hard to get very enthusiastic about a royal charter, something which today’s Guardian rightly calls ‘a medieval piece of constitutional nonsense’, (which makes other newspapers’ fulminations against it seem all the more absurd), but the acid test will be whether the statutory underpinning which it undoubtedly does introduce will be capable of giving the new self-regulatory system the teeth which it so desperately needs, and without which we’re simply back at square one. “

Maire Messenger Davies

Professor of Media Studies, former journalist and former NUJ member, and teacher of journalists at the University of Ulster, whose phone was hacked due to her association with 7/7/ victim Professor John Tulloch.
“Apparently the newspaper industry was “concerned” that it would have “unreasonable” people – like Hacked Off – sitting on the regulatory board. Members of Hacked Off are not unreasonable. Quite the contrary: the case they’ve made all along has been a textbook example of ethical, professional, effective, reasonable campaigning. “This is in massive contrast to much of the tabloid press comment on these issues, not to mention their (the tabs’) illegal, and unprofessional behaviour that led to the Inquiry in the first place. These ad hominem approaches from some sectors of the press – including distasteful attacks on one of the most reasonable commentators there has ever been on these issues (Hugh Grant – how he keeps his cool, I do not know) – does not give me much confidence in an amendment of ways. This is bad journalism and it can’t be defended. “With regard to good journalism, which should be defended – I’m sorry to see no role mentioned for the NUJ, and the protection of journalists’ rights, such as a conscience clause in contracts. Some of the comments from self-proclaimed ‘journalists’ on Twitter are embarrassing in their silliness. We need to hear more from good journalists, and some comment from NUJ. “Would-be journalists are generally decent young people, and quite idealistic about the job – we should build on that.”

Tim Gopsill

Former editor of The Journalist, the in-house magazine of the NUJ, and member of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom. “You could tell as soon as the ugly phrase ‘statutory underpinning’ was coined that it would become the issue – it has that quality of sounding like a euphemism even when it isn’t. Thank heavens we’ll now soon hear the last of it – because it is not the real issue at all. Truth is that whichever way this little Parliamentary distraction had gone would have made no difference to the real world. “No government is going to have the bottle to impose proper regulation on commercial and independent media – which is just fine, but the last 3 months would have been less exasperating if Big Media and their apologists hadn’t spent the whole time trying to convince them that they were. You almost feel sorry for poor old Cameron, who wouldn’t say boo to a press baron, being persistently scolded by them for impudence. “What will matter will be the way the new body works. The press can now set up what their system safe from interference and if it’s no improvement on the past, there’s nothing anyone can do. So it’ll come down to who is on the body, how brave they are, how much obstruction the publishers put up if it tries to be effective – all the same old questions in fact. I wouldn’t hold out very great hopes.”

Natalie Fenton

 Professor of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London, and co-director of the Centre for the Study of Global Media and Democracy.
“This is an historic moment and good news that a decent cross party agreement on the future of an independent and effective self regulatory system for the press has been found. Now is the moment for the press industry to come on board and enable good journalism to flourish.”