Leveson Report published

Recommends an independent regulator underpinned by statute

Today Lord Justice Leveson published his report into the Culture, Practices and Ethics of the Press. The report makes findings about the operation of the press, its relationship with politicians and the police, and makes recommendations for the future of press regulation. Key points:

  • The report notes the importance of press freedom, and the value of journalism not just in serious reporting but entertainment and irreverence. However, with the power of press comes responsibilities that have not always been adhered to.
  •  Leveson recommends independent self-regulation with statutory underpinning and Ofcom in a verification role to ensure independence and effectiveness.
  • This regulator would have the dual role of promoting high journalistic standards and protecting the rights of individuals. The regulator should have strong powers including the power to impose large fines.
  • Leveson rejects the Hunt/Black self-regulatory plan as insufficient. In his view any model with serving editors on its main board is insufficiently independent. Nor should any politician be on the main board.
  • The regulator should have a fair, quick and inexpensive arbitration system for dealing with individual complaints, with cost consequences for those who choose not to use it.
  • The report calls for a review of damages for media torts generally; and for exemplary damages to be available in all media torts including breach of privacy.
  • The low cost arbitration system, costs consequences and possibility of exemplary damages are incentives to join the new system.
  • The report moots the possibility of Ofcom acting as a backstop regulator if publishers fail to put in place and/or sign up to the new regulator.
  • The proposed legislation would enshrine in law a legal duty on the Government to protect the freedom of the press.
  • Leveson supports the narrowing of the exemption at s. 32 DPA, clarification of the availability of compensation for pure distress under s. 13 DPA and the introduction of custodial sentences for breaches of s.55 DPA  and the activation of the enhanced defence for public interest journalism at the same time.
  • The report calls for increased transparency in the relationship between politicians and the press to prevent public perception of influence over policy and increase public confidence.
  • The report finds no evidence of widespread corruption of police by press, but makes recommendations, including clarity as to provision of information.
  • Leveson notes the importance of media plurality and calls for competition authorities to have means to be keep it constantly under review.

The Prime Minister has welcomed the central findings, but expressed concerns about using statute to underpin regulation. Cross-party talks are to take place on the response to the Leveson recommendations.

The 2,000 page report and accompanying Executive Summary can be found on the Inquiry website.

Joint Head of Chambers Mark Warby QC said:

“Politicians, the media and media lawyers should all study this report carefully before sounding off too loudly. It is clearly not the state regulation of the press some had feared, but subtler than that. Of particular interest to media lawyers will be whether his recommended changes to the law are adopted. These include amendments to ss13, 32A and 55 of the Data Protection Act 1998 and proposals for higher damages awards in privacy, confidence and data protection cases and the availability of exemplary damages for in all media torts. A statutory guarantee of press freedom is also an interesting idea.”