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City Perspectives: The Leveson Inquiry

After 102 days of hearings, Lord Justice Leveson issues his much anticipated report into the culture, ethics and practice of the press. Leading academics at City University London give their reaction to the report which could lead to major changes in how the media operates in Britain.
by Ben Sawtell

Reaction to the Report

Professor Lorna Woods is Associate Dean for Research at The City Law School and a Director of the Centre for Law Justice and Journalism. She has been country expert for a number of studies relating to regulation, self-regulation and co-regulation in the media and new media sectors. She says:"Given that Leveson is using many of the typical tools in the media regulation toolbox, for which there are blueprints already, it seems strange that so many drafting difficulties are being foreseen by David Cameron. The argument that it would open a Pandora's Box leading to increased government intervention is difficult to uphold given the fact that the broadcast sector has not suffered significant abuse and, for now at least, Ofcom remains independent.Leveson's proposals are essentially co-regulation. While he envisages the press organising its own body, this is within an overarching statutory framework. In fact, Leveson's proposals are not that revolutionary. Some of his comments reflect concerns which ATVOD had to address when they were reorganised as (independent) co-regulator for online audio visual services; that is independence from industry, reorientation towards public rather than industry interest and sufficient resources and powers to do the job".

Professor George Brock, Head of City University London's Department of Journalism and former Managing Editor of The Times of London outlined his thoughts in a recent article in industry paper the Press Gazette:

"This is a rapid and gut comment on the Leveson report executive summary released today. The complexity of his regulation-legislation solution seems to have masked the genuine severity of his audit of what some newspapers have been doing.

No report on the press would be complete without a quotation from Thomas Jefferson and Lord Justice Leveson obliges on page 4: "Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." The next fifteen pages demonstrate exactly the opposite.

Leveson does not think much of the "culture" of the press (as his terms of reference called it). Indeed it seems unlikely that he would even think the word "culture" the appropriate one. He is outraged not just by bad behaviour but by what he seems to think was a lack of any moral sense: "There have been too many times when, chasing the story, parts of the press have acted as it its own code, which it wrote, simply did not exist." Note the "which it wrote" dig at hypocrisy. (para 7)

He makes a nod to the fact that the press does hold its own powers to account, citing (para 10) both the Guardian's investigation of the News of the World and the ITV and BBC Panorama's investigation of Jimmy Savile. He acknowledges (para 18) that commercial changes have increased pressures on newspapers "to find different ways to add value" (without accepting this as an excuse for anything at all)."

Professor Ivor Gaber is the Director of City University London's Political Journalism MA.  His journalistic career included senior editorial positions at the BBC, ITN, Channel Four and Sky News. He commented:

"Lord Leveson has tried to satisfy both sides of the regulation argument by proposing a system of self-relegation under-pinned by a statutory regulator. He may end up satisfying neither side. But it also seems likely that the PM will not be accepting the recommendations wholesale since Nick Clegg has said that he wants to make his own statement to Parliament, signalling his disagreement with the PM's stance. 

Whilst neither side will be wholly satisfied with the proposal it is likely that those arguing for the end of self-regulation in favour of a statutory backed system will feel happier, but even they will look on the proposed new self-regulatory body with a jaundiced eye. 

The press will no doubt claim that this signals the end of the freedom of the press in the UK, something even they probably don't really believe.

But these are early days, even minutes, and there is much that can happen between now and the introduction of any new system of press regulation." 

Pre-Report Publication

Professor George Brock, Head of City University London's Department of Journalism and former Managing Editor of The Times of London outlined his thoughts in a recent article in industry paper the Press Gazette:

"A phoney war of words is being fought over Lord Leveson's inquiry into the press well before the judge has recommended anything at all. Is Leveson's choice on future regulation really a simple one between a tougher regulation system backed up by new law and a revamped version of the self-regulatory Press Complaints Commission?

It isn't and it needn't be. There's a third, better way.

Like many people, I think that Leveson will probably suggest independent press regulation backed by statute. But this prescription is going to run into trouble. Not because the volume of opposition will be deafening - no doubt it will be - but because the issues of who to cover in the new system, how to enforce it against resistance and how to pay for it are a headache any government would like lie down and avoid."

Read the full article.


Professor Stewart Purvis, was Editor-in-Chief and CEO of ITN until 2003. In November 2007 Purvis became Content and Standards Partner at the UK regulator OFCOM, a position he held until 2010. In a recent blog post at profpurvis.com he warned that the publication of the report is far from the end:

"James Harding, Editor of the Times (of London), has, in my opinion, consistently shown himself as the editor who best understands how a new independent regulator can help get the press out of the problems it has got itself into.

So I attach particular significance to his Opinion piece in the paper this morning which adds an extra element to the proposal which the newspapers have put on the table. He calls it a 'judicial but not a statutory backstop'. Harding suggests that the Lord Chief Justice should appoint an 'Oversight Panel' to ensure 'no return to the "smoke-filled rooms" of the past' in press regulation.

In my view this doesn't solve the other shortcomings in the 'Hunt-Black' plan but crucially it puts something new on the table which David Cameron can latch onto and give himself more time to see if the newspapers can come up with something better than their last offer.

So expect another round before Downing Street makes any decisions."

Professor Lorna Woods, Associate Dean for Research at The City Law School and a Director of the Centre for Law Justice and Journalism. She has been country expert in respect of a number of studies relating to regulation, self-regulation and co-regulation in the media and new media sectors.

"Self-regulation, even in a significantly recast form, is unlikely to be persuasive as it would not be compulsory and nor would there be much possibility of sanction. Apologists for this approach support their position by reference to freedom of expression, an admittedly important right, but in so doing they tend to oversimplify the position. They ignore both the fact that freedom of expression has never been an unlimited right and the fact that the Press and the wider media's claim to importance lies in their contribution to public debate. Relying on self-regulation alone would send the message that the press can continue to do pretty much as they like.

The middle ground, or co-regulation, really should be the way forward. It may take an underlying self-regulatory body, and recast it, giving it regulatory power over the press and some powers of sanction. The difficult question is, what form it should take".

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