How Leveson’s press regulator would work

On Thursday, the long awaited report of the Leveson inquiry into the “culture, practice and ethics of the press” was published. Based on reading the executive summary, Leveson proposes:

  • an “independent self regulatory” body be established to:
    • promote high standards of journalism and protect the rights of individuals
    • be responsible for a code of conduct for all subscribers, including requiring them to have fast complaints procedures, plus appropriate, transparent internal governance processes.
    • be advised on the code of contact by a code committee that can include serving editors.
    • hear and complaints, with serving editors being barred from advising the board on such complaints
    • provide a low cost arbitration service related to civil claims in relation to breaches of the code of conduct
    • have the power to investigate serious or systemic breaches of the code of conduct by subscribers
  • the board of the regulatory body would comprise:
    • a majority of people independent of the press
    • “sufficient” people with experience of the industry but not including serving editors, MPs or members of the government.
  • the board would be appointed in a “fair and open” process by an appointments panel that itself would be independent of the press and the government. Leveson proposes that the panel be established by Ofcom
  • whilst membership of the body would be voluntary, Leveson envisages that all “significant news publishers” would subscribe to the the new body. In the event of failure for this to happen he suggests Ofcom could operate as a backstop regulator
  • the main incentive for publishers to subscribe to the body would be the provision of low cost arbitration which should be cheaper than going to court in the event of disputes
  • according to recommendation 8: “the code must take into account the importance of freedom of speech, the interests of the public (including the public interest in detecting or exposing crime or serous impropriety, protecting public health and safety and preventing the public from being seriously misled) and the rights of individuals. Specifically, it must cover standards of:(a) conduct, especially in relation to the treatment of other people in the process of obtaining material; (b) appropriate respect for privacy where there is no sufficient public interest justification for breach and (c) accuracy, and the need to avoid misrepresentation.”
  • Leveson also suggests consideration be given to amending the code of conduct to equip the regulator “with the power to intervene in cases of allegedly discriminatory reporting, and in so doing reflect the spirit of equalities legislation” (recommendation 38).
  • The role of legislation in all this is restricted to:
    • enshrining a legal duty for the government to uphold the freedom of the press
    • providing “an independent process to recognise the new self-regulatory body and reassure the public that the basic requirements of independence and effectiveness were met and continue to be met” (a role leveson suggests would be given to Ofcom)
    • “by recognising the new body, it would validate its standards code and the arbitral system sufficient to justify the benefits in law that would flow to those who subscribed”
    • Leveson summarises: “What is proposed here is independent regulation of the press organised by the press, with 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.” (section 73)
  • Leveson emphasies that the legislation would not establish the new regulatory body itself or give rights to the regulatory body, parliament or the government to prevent material being published or to require material to be published, except that the regulatory body would be able to require corrections and apologies to be published and direct how such corrections or apologies are placed.

It seems to me this raises quite a few questions such as:

  • how independent can the body really be?
  • when would a web based site (e.g. a blog) be considered a “significant news publisher”?
  • won’t web based publishing undermine this, if only because web based publishers can easily be based outside the jurisidiction of British laws let alone the regulatory body?
  • given that the the press would be held to a code of conduct rather than merely be required to obey the law, isn’t there an inherent threat to freedom of speech there?
  • will this setup actually stand a chance of addressing the problems Leveson was set up to address, namely the lying, disregard for accuracy, invasion of privacy for trivial reasons, intimidation and cosy relationships with politicians and police?

I intend to comment on these questions in later posts.

Mohammed Cartoons controversy still making headlines

[HatTip: LimbicNutrition]

B92 reports:

DUBLIN — Irish police arrested seven Muslims for planning to kill a Swedish cartoonist who drew a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad with a dog’s body.

In response, several Swedish papers reprinted the cartoons on Wednesday.

Several Swedish newspapers on Wednesday reprinted a controversial caricature of the Prophet Mohammed as a dog, the day after an alleged plot to murder the cartoonist was disclosed.

Stockholm tabloid Expressen said it decided to reprint the caricature “in support of freedom of speech.”

An editorial in the Dagens Nyheter daily said a “threat against (the cartoonist) is ultimately a threat against all Swedes.”

Irish police on Tuesday arrested four men and three women who they say planned to kill Lars Vilks. The Swedish cartoonist in 2007 drew a caricature of Prophet Muhammad’s head attached to the body of a dog to illustrate a newspaper editorial about freedom of expression and religion.

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Trafigura gags the BBC

Richard Wilson writes:

Late last week the BBC chose to delete from its website a damning Newsnight investigation into the Trafigura scandal, following legal threats from the company and its controversial lawyers, Carter-Ruck.

Previously, other media outlets including the Times and the Independent, had withdrawn stories about the case, amid concerns that the UK press is choosing to engage in self-censorship, rather than risk a confrontation with such a powerful company in the UK’s archaic and one-sided libel courts.

The BBC is a dominant player within the UK media, and its independence – supposedly guaranteed by the millions it receives from licence-payers each year – is vital both to its public service function and its global reputation.

Freedom of speech means very little without an effective and independent media – if it’s true that the BBC’s independence can so easily be compromised by legal threats, then this sets a very dangerous precedent for the future.

The mainstream UK media has so far assiduously avoided reporting on the BBC’s climbdown. Yet it’s an issue that raises serious questions about the state of press freedom in Britain, at a time of unprecedented attacks on the media.

To help subvert this latest attempt to muzzle the press, please embed this video on your blog, and link to this PDF of the original story.

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Libel reform campaign petition

The Libel Reform Campaign has launched a petition. England’s libel laws are quite draconian and I urge anyone concerned with freedom of speech to sign this.

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Wolfgang Werle was convicted of murdering Walter Sedlmayer

Why am I publicising this fact? Because the convicted murderer in question (his name, remember, is Wolfgang Werle) is trying to sue Wikipedia to get references to his murder of Walter Sedlmeyer removed:

Wikipedia is under a censorship attack by a convicted murderer who is invoking Germany’s privacy laws in a bid to remove references to his killing of a Bavarian actor in 1990.

Lawyers for Wolfgang Werle, of Erding, Germany, sent a cease-and-desist letter demanding removal of Werle’s name from the Wikipedia entry on actor Walter Sedlmayr. The lawyers cite German court rulings that “have held that our client’s name and likeness cannot be used anymore in publication regarding Mr. Sedlmayr’s death.”

German media have already ceased using Werle’s full name regarding the attack. Jennifer Granick, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says German publications must also alter their online archives in a bid to comport with laws designed to provide offenders an avenue to “reintegrate back into society.”

“It’s not just censorship going forward. It’s asking outlets to go back and change what is already being written,” Granick said in a telephone interview.

It seems to me the appropriate response to such insanity is to publicise the offending material as widely as possible.

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NO2ID Nine cleared of charges

We’ve all been cleared. Several of us, myself included, have received letters from the procurator fiscal telling us our court appearance tomorrow is cancelled and no criminal proceedings will be taken with regards to the charges.

Geraint also phoned the procurator fiscal and was told that the case has been closed and all charges dropped. More details here.

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Nine NO2ID protestors arrested in Edinburgh

On Monday, 9 protestors, including me, all involved with the NO2ID campaign, were arrested in Edinburgh and charged with breach of the peace.

You can see some reports and discussion about this at the following links:

This STV report
This report in the Herald
This BBC Scotland report
A thread on NO2ID’s forums
Guy Herbert’s Samizdata article
Another thread on NO2ID’s forums

At this time, I’ll make the following points:

  • we were all peaceful at all times during the protest
  • only 1 protestor sneaked into the meeting. Geraint Bevan, the coordinator of NO2ID Scotland got into the meeting at the start under the cunning ruse of walking up to the registration desk and claiming to be one of the people named on the badges on display.
  • prior to entering the hotel, we were protesting peacefully outside, causing curiosity, amusement and the occasional message of support from the passing public.
  • when the hotel manager approached us and asked us to leave, Geraint (by this time physically thrown out of the meeting) asked if it were OK for us to leave after STV had conducted an interview with him. The manager agreed.
  • when the interview was over, we made to leave immediately, only to find the police had been called. At no point prior to this were we given any intimation the police were called or were going to be called. Prior to the hotel manager asking us to leave, we were not told by any member of staff that we should leave.
  • when we entered, we entered peacefully, quietly, carrying placards, with an STV camera crew in tow. The people at the head of our procession did not wear masks.
  • we were officially arrested at 12.30 (after a considerable length of time when the police took our details).
  • we regard this charge as a ridiculous jumped up charge.
  • we will be fighting this charge.
  • Geraint faces a separate charge related to events in the meeting. This will also be fought.