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The devil is in the detail of the Leveson Inquiry report

Lord Justice Leveson last night released his report into the UK press. His recommendations include an “independent” regulator, which falls into a category of regulation he succinctly describes as “voluntary independent self-regulation.”

The new press regulator would be “organised and established by the industry” and would have a role in handling complaints, enforcing ethical standards and providing arbitration where necessary. A governing board, independent from the industry and government, would be set up to add an extra layer of bureacracy.

Leveson goes into quite some detail about the issues that the press regulator would be concerned with – free speech, accuracy, the public interest and privacy – and the ways in which public trust could be restored in the UK print media.

Leveson has clearly gone to some lengths in an attempt to ensure his recommended regulator is independent from both industry and government. But self-regulation is the status quo. Don’t be fooled into thinking Leveson is just an exercise in giving advice on how to improve self-regulation.

The devil is in the detail.

Leveson recommends that any publishers who decline to be a part of the regulatory regime should bear all costs of litigation – even if they win.

Of course no level of “transparency” or added layers of bureaucracy between government and the regulator allow freedom of speech to flourish. No matter how you slice it, a tribunal is making decisions about what gets printed in newspapers.

And if self-regulation doesn’t meet Leveson’s standards? Then the Office of Communications would be appointed as the regulator, with precisely the kind of controls over the media that a government regulator should never have.

These details don’t add up to a regime that upholds freedom of the press – no matter what Leveson says. It sounds more like a regulatory regime – aptly described by Lord Guy Black as – “fraught with danger.”

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