Q&A: The Leveson Recommendations

Published: 30th Nov 2012

What criteria has Leveson set out for the new regulatory solution?
It should first and foremost be effective, enjoying the support and trust of both the industry and public. This means that it needs to be seen to be independent of the press, so that the industry is not "marking its own homework." It should be universally adopted by the major news publishers, and capable of adapting to changes in technology. It should also have a clear set of standards and the means to ensure compliance with them.

What's the verdict on the current PCC?
Lord Justice Leveson does identify some things that that PCC did well, including the fact that staff are "polite, efficient and dedicated" and "In some cases the pre-publication guidance which the PCC produced was effective, and resulted in some improvements to the press coverage of the issues concerned."

However Leveson is emphatic that the PCC is "not a regulator", but rather a mediation body. He is equally clear that he thinks that "the PCC has failed and that a new body is required," arguing that it has "numerous structural deficiencies" and lacks independence from the newspapers it passes judgement on.

What will the new regulatory body do?
Lord Justice Leveson describes the role of his proposed body as follows:

I envisage that the industry should come together to create, and adequately fund, an independent regulatory body, headed by an independent Board, that would: set standards, both by way of a code and covering governance and compliance; hear individual complaints against its members about breach of its standards and order appropriate redress; take an active role in promoting high standards, including having the power to investigate serious or systemic breaches and impose appropriate sanctions; and provide a fair, quick and inexpensive arbitration service to deal with any civil complaints about its members' publications. (p. 1759)

Is this statutory regulation?
Leveson is adamant that "this is not, and cannot be characterised as, statutory regulation of the press." In fact, he argues that he is "firmly of the view that the goal here is voluntary independent self-regulation."

However Lord Justice Leveson does propose that the regulatory body, while instituted and funded by the press, does require a "statutory verification process". Leveson recommends that Ofcom — the broadcast media watchdog — playa the role of reviewing the work of the new press regulator to ensure that "the basic requirements of independence and effectiveness were met and continue to be met." Furthermore, if newspapers fail to submit to the new regulator, Ofcom could act as a 'backstop regulator', however he explicitly makes no recommendation about this. This would require some 'statutory underpinning', but should not impinge on the day-to-day operations of the new regulator.

Will there be one single regulatory body across all media?
No. Regulation over broadcast and the print media will remain separate. But the new regulatory regime must be capable of delivering any perceived benefits to online publication as much as to print.

How will the independence of the new regulatory body be guaranteed?
Appointments must be independent of government and media interests. This is to make sure that the operation and decisions of the regulator are fully independent from those being regulated, and means that serving editors won't sit on the board.

Who appoints the appointees?
According to Leveson:

"I recommend that, first, the appointment should be made by an appointment panel. The selection of that panel must itself be conducted in an appropriately independent way and must, itself, be independent of the industry and of Government." (p. 1760)

How this will work in practice remains to be seen, as Leveson doesn't wish to be "prescriptive," however he does suggest that "it could include distinguished public servants with experience of senior independent appointments such as the Commissioner for Public Appointments and the Chair of the Judicial Appointments Commission."

How will it work for complainants?
Subscribers to the new body will be required to have an internal complaints process which would be the first port of call for a complainant. Newspapers would be required to deal with complaints in an "adequate and speedy" manner, but doesn't define what this would mean in practice. It is also unclear whether or not this internal complaints process would be required to be independent of the editorial staff, although he does commend The Guardian's independent Readers' Editor.

If complainants feel that their complaint hasn't been adequately dealt with, they will then be able to complain instead to the regulator, free of charge. Complaints can be brought by any individual or group, although the new regulator won't be obliged to pursue third-party complaints.

Who will judge the complaints?
Leveson says:

"I recommend that decisions on complaints should be the ultimate responsibility of the Board, advised by complaints handling officials to whom appropriate delegations may be made." (p. 1765)

Beyond that, details are scarce, as Leveson argues that "It is not for me to make specific organisational recommendations about how the body should be structured or the mechanism whereby disputes might be capable of resolution."

What powers will the new body have?
The self-regulatory body will be able to ensure that corrections and apologies are printed, and can dictate their placement in the paper. In more serious cases, the body would be able to impose a fine of up to 1% of a publication's turnover, up to a maximum of £1 million. However the body won't be able to prevent any publication from printing anything. Data on complaints and compliance would be available to the public.


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