Saturday, 1 December 2012

Leveson's Prescription

Leveson's Prescription

While I was impressed by the thoroughness and clarity of Lord Justice Leveson, I have not so far been impressed by the discussion of the Leveson Report [1]. Leveson calls for "regulation that is itself, genuinely, free and independent both of the industry it regulates and of political control". But he also says " Guaranteed independence, long-term stability, and genuine benefits for the industry, cannot be realised without legislation." [2]  At that point half the Tories (including David Cameron) seem to have stopped listening, and started talking about 300 hundred years of press freedom, and inveighing against statuary regulation.

This is maddeningly frustrating. The protesters have clearly not read the Report; they do not even seem to have read the Leveson Statement [2] which Justice Leveson read out at lunchtime on Thursday. So let me quote a  few more lines of that statement:
"It is important to be clear what this legislation would not do; it would not establish a body to regulate the press; that is for the press itself to do.
So what would this legislation achieve? Three things.
(i) It would enshrine, for the first time, a legal duty on the Government to protect the freedom of the press.
(ii) Secondly, it would provide an independent process to recognise the new self-regulatory body and thereby reassure the public of its independence and efficacy.
(iii) Thirdly, it would provide new and tangible benefits for the press." [2]
Leveson stops short of drawing up the Code — which he says is the duty of the Press. And he stops short of drawing up the Legislation — which he says it the duty of the Government. I agree. So, Mr. Cameron, get on with it, or get out of the driving seat.

Perhaps those MPs nervous of an attack on press freedom could reflect on the laws surrounding the operation of the medical profession, which go back to the reign of Henry VIII, but do not result in Parliament interfering with medical practice nor over-ruling the opinion of the medical profession. However, such law clarifies the circumstances in which medical malpractice is treated as a civil tort or a criminal offence (a crime).
There is already considerable law concerning libel and defamation, most of it common law, some of it statuary; and it is there to protect freedom of speech, as much as to limit it.