LORD Justice Brian Leveson’s report into the British press is a damning indictment of the culture and practices of the newspaper industry.
Newspapers have never shied away from judging others. Fleet Street should have the humility to accept criticism that is justified. There is no merit in the press laying claim to be above the law. Editors and owners must not present themselves as reincarnated trade union barons from the 1970s. It behoves the industry to embrace the report, even if it does not agree with every single recommendation.
The catalogue of abuses laid out in the report confirms that parts of the industry were out of control. The Fourth Estate basked in the privileges of the harlot: power without responsibility. Redressing the balance is primarily a task for the industry rather than the politicians. In this respect, UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s reaction to the report deserves commendation. He is right to warn of the risks of statutory intervention in newspapers. The first task must be to fix the industry’s broken system of regulation. The Press Complaints Commission has palpably failed to protect the public. The challenge is to come up with a new system that has teeth while trying to avoid opening the door to state interference in the press.
Leveson has taken some of the ideas proposed by Lord Hunt and Lord Black for a new self-regulatory body for the industry. Any new body must have some distance from those that it regulates. Newspapers cannot mark their own homework.
The bigger conundrum is how to ensure that the whole industry signs up to a system that is nominally voluntary. Leveson wants to encourage participation through incentives, notably by offering some protection against excessive legal costs in libel actions.
The newspaper industry must now respond constructively. Whatever its recent failings, the press remains a cornerstone of our democracy. This should not be forgotten.
London, November 30