Who guards the guardians?
As lawyers our attention is particularly drawn to how the report's recommendations might affect media and privacy law. Lord Justice Leveson has made it clear that in terms of regulation, it is no longer adequate for the press to regulate itself, entirely by itself. To that end the report has made the following (inter alia) important recommendations for Parliament to consider:-
+ A new independent press regulation body should be set up by the press themselves. Membership shall not be mandatory but shall be made advantageous for its members. This body, and not politicians, should decide the rules and codes of conduct which its members must abide by. The regulatory functions of the body must be delivered by a majority of people who are not from a press background and there must be no serving editors or politicians involved in that.
+ Appointment to the new press regulation body should be by an independent committee, on which serving editors can sit. It is to be free of politician influence.
+ Once set up, the new press regulation body should be recognised by primary legislation as being the official organisation charged with press regulation. This legislation should expressly ensure that the Government is duty bound to preserve the independence of the press as a matter of law. The purpose of this recognition is, in the words of Lord Justice Leveson himself, a "statutory verification process to ensure that the required levels of independence and effectiveness are met by the system in order for publishers to take advantage of the benefits arising as a result of membership". The report steers clear of actually recommending how the law should be changed to ensure these "required levels" but does set out a number of options.
+ The regulatory regulatory body shall set up a permanent arbitration tribunal to deal with complaints against its members in an inexpensive manner. Arbitration through this body shall not be mandatory but there may be cost consequences in civil proceedings for non-members and other litigants if they do not use this system before going to court. it is not clear whether this is supposed to be a tribunal which would deal with press related defamation actions as well as breach of the code of conduct.
We will keep an eye on developments over the next year or so and in particular once the Government publishes the expected White Paper. The report itself is a truly massive document, so I would encourage those interested in learning more about the report to read the much shorter Executive Summary, available on the Leveson Inquiry website.
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