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Friday, 25 November 2011

How the failure of self-regulation has undermined press plurality

For various reasons, I've ended up watching more of the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practice and ethics of the press than I intended.

On Wednesday, solicitor Mark Lewis was giving evidence. Lewis has represented a number of individuals whose phones have been hacked but I was particularly interested in his thoughts on the regulation of the press. 

I've added headings to summarise his argument...you can find all this in full on pages 44-6 of the transcript from Wednesday's evidence.

1. A black and white choice?
"...what is portrayed is a stark choice, a black and white choice between state regulation and self-regulation, and in fact everybody knows that we must avoid state regulation in terms of this Trotskyite, Stalinist, Nazi minister of propaganda..."
2. Everyone knows state regulation should be avoided
"One understands that that has to be avoided, but that's how state regulation is portrayed by the newspapers, that's what it inexorably leads to, we have state regulation as state control."
3. Journalists should self-regulate anyway
"...self-regulation should be what journalists do and newspapers do themselves, not the PCC or any third party, because there ought to be a code that journalists think: you know what? This is what we can do, this is what we can't do."
4. But there is no secondary form of regulation which means there is effectively no regulation
"So it's a secondary form of regulation. The Press Complaints Commission, in the words of Lord Hunt, who is now the Chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, is not a regulator, so in fact the preservation of the status quo by the press is the preservation of no regulation at all."
5. The consequence of not having secondary regulation is that press plurality has been undermined because sections of the press have proved incapable of self regulation to the point where the News of the World was forced to close.
"the consequence of no regulation is that on Sunday, people will not be able to read the News of the World because it was the absence of regulation that allowed this Inquiry to happen, it allowed the News of the World to go, it allowed the readers of the News of the World -- I mean, whether one agreed with everything they put in and wanted to take issue, it was an absolute consequence because parts of the newspaper industry, not all the newspaper industry, were completely unregulated and out of control."

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