Leveson, the morning after the Report before: what Lib Dem bloggers say

Caron Lindsay blogged about Nick Clegg’s Commons statement here on LibDemVoice: Nick Clegg: We won’t find better solution than Leveson’s. Here’s a quick round-up of other reaction so far from Lib Dem bloggers to Lord Justice Leveson’s report on media standards…

Contributors split on broadly pro/anti-Leveson Report lines. Let’s start with the pro-Leveson bloggers:

Shock as politician behaves like a grown-up! (Caron Lindsay)

I can’t, for the life of me, see what the problem is with Leveson’s clever proposal for a self regulating body with true independence – ie not full of newspaper editors or chaired by politicians. It seems pretty obvious to me that Cameron is trying to protect the powerful corporate interests that run the media for some reason. Well, protecting powerful vested interests is what Tories do, so we shouldn’t be surprised. I really don’t get how giving statutory underpinning to a regulatory body the press sets up itself along Leveson’s guidelines infringes press freedom in any way. Is the BBC, which is regulated to within an inch of its life, curbed or compromised in any way? Of course not.

Welsh Government Seeks to Censor S4C on the day of Leveson’s Report (Mark Cole)

With freedom comes responsibility and elements of the press in recent years have shown a scant moral disregard to the many whose lives they have violated in this time. The system of self-regulation has clearly failed but there is no cross-party agreement as yet, on what should take its place. We await to see if an agreement can be made but I am not wholly confident that there will be. If there isn’t, David Cameron runs the risk of showing himself to be more concerned about keeping on side with the same media barons who have brought about so much of the great discontent that has been expressed in the Leveson Enquiry.

Time, Gentlemen, Please… (Andrew Brown)

As a Liberal, I believe that the state shouldn’t interfere in society beyond what is strictly necessary for the good of all. But I also believe that the state has a responsibility to society to prevent abuse of privilege where it occurs. I believe that we are at that moment with regard to the conduct of the press. Good journalists, acting legally and ethically within an agreed code of practice should have nothing to fear. Those who could previously transgress with impunity – or just opt out of the Press Complaints Commission altogether – need to know that they can and will be brought to book by a regulator with authority.

Not everyone agreed, though — here are those bloggers broadly in the anti-Leveson camp:

Why is it left to the Tory leader to stick up for a liberal principle: a free press (Stephen Tall)

Two principles are crucial to me in framing my thinking on this issue: 1) The state should not have power over the press; 2) The press should not have power over individual citizens. You could call those two principles a level playing field approach. Or even more simply: equality. Nick Clegg didn’t speak for me today. It is not only a question of Leveson being practical and proportionate. It matters to me whether the proposals are also liberal. … It’s a depressing irony that Lib Dems – so quick to mount the liberal barricades when it comes to secret courts or the internet snoopers’ charter – desert them the moment the free speech of a group few of us like is threatened. Hatred of Murdoch and the Mail trumps fundamental liberal tenets.

Leveson: a private law entrepreneurial opportunity? (Jock Coats)

[Leveson] says that to get [self-regulation] going will require legislation, and some are interpreting that as meaning that the “independent body” and the sort of things its terms of reference would have to cover, would thus be “regulated” and that this is the start of a slippery slope that could open a gateway for more intrusive state interference with the press. This is a position with which I agree. But, I’d still like to see some kind of self-regulation amongst the press, given that they benefit from huge (if dwindling) positions of privilege and access to power. Something that makes getting justice for people they wrong (even if I don’t accept libel and defamation as things that should be actionable, I know lots of people do so accept it for now) more cheaply and swiftly and with the benefit of not involving the state would be welcome.

Nick Clegg’s wrong headed Leveson response, or why I bloody love Stephen Tall (Charlotte Henry)

That Liberal Democrats would rather give the Murdoch press a kicking than stick up for free speech is a terribly depressing state of affairs. We are absolutely right to be distrustful of big media empires and powerful proprietors, but we should be equally distrustful of handing new laws to the state. The fact that we on Secret Courst we are being out-liberaled by Sadiq Khan, and on media regulation we are being out-liberaled by David Cameron, not to mention the right of the Tory party, is very very worrying.

Any we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments below…

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • Norman Fraser 30th Nov '12 - 9:52am

    It is not at at all clear what Leveson is proposing. What is clear is that the current system of self-regulation through the PCC has failed. Any successor mechanism must not be capable of being opted-out of and must be able to compel the media outlets affected to comply with its judgements. It must also be required to deal with all the cases referred to it. The PCC rejected 65% of complaints, often on narrowly technical grounds. To say that any regulation of the press is state oppression is simply childish. The Danish system, for example, is worth looking at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-20473251

  • “… which would be no different from the systems of self regulation in Ireland or Denmark …”

    If I understand correctly the Irish system is voluntary. Newspapers can opt out of regulation by the Irish press council. The difference is that Lord Leveson is suggesting that newspapers which opt out of regulation by the new body could face direct regulation by Ofcom.

    I am unclear where Nick Clegg stands on this issue. In his statement yesterday he emphasised the voluntary nature of Leveson’s proposed system.

  • Paul

    Quite obviously, the difference is the possibility of compulsion. The present system is entirely voluntary. For example, the Express newspapers do not participate.

    And anyway, there is a lot more to Leveson than just the proposal for a new system of self-regulation. There are also proposals for significant changes to the Data Protection Act. Nick Clegg has expressed reservations about these.

  • @George Potter

    In Ireland you can be fined for “insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion”. Is this not an infringement of free speech?

    @Paul Walter

    You cannot seriously be saying that because one slippery slope argument was not borne out empirically, all such arguments are redundant. If such is the case, then you need another reason to doubt the legitimacy of slippery slope arguments. What, then, is your case?

  • Paul Walter Paul Walter 1st Dec '12 - 7:54am

    “The difference is that Lord Leveson is suggesting that newspapers which opt out of regulation by the new body could face direct regulation by Ofcom.”
    That suggestion is just one of several options which Leveson presents. In paragraph 75 on page 18 of the summary, he makes it clear that he is not recommending Ofcom as a backstop – only presenting it as one of several options.
    But, crucially, Leveson is at pains to point out, several times with great emphasis, that he would much prefer voluntary self-regulation.

    Will MM – I think it is worth concentrating specifically on what the Irish Press Council says, in this context, it its code, which is:

    “Principle 8 − Prejudice

    Newspapers and magazines shall not publish material intended or likely to cause grave offence or stir up hatred against an individual or group on the basis of their race, religion, nationality, colour, ethnic origin, membership of the travelling community, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, illness or age.”

  • “That suggestion is just one of several options which Leveson presents. In paragraph 75 on page 18 of the summary, he makes it clear that he is not recommending Ofcom as a backstop – only presenting it as one of several options.”

    Thank you. It’s helpful to know that Leveson doesn’t consider this as a ‘recommendation’. If that means the possibility of direct regulation is really off the immediate agenda, that eases my concerns about the regulatory body.

    But I am still very concerned about the proposals for amending the Data Protection Act (p. 39 of the Executive Summary). This is one of the aspects that Nick Clegg has also expressed concern about.

  • Matthew Green 1st Dec '12 - 11:21am

    My blog post on Thinking Liberal http://thinkingliberal.co.uk/?p=796 “The messy truth about regulating the press” does attempt the liberal feat of sitting on the fence. Managing the press in a liberal society is always going to be a messy compromise, where the detail matters more than appeals to high sounding principles. I’m afraid too much of the comment so far has been trying to take the easy way out by just such appeals to high principle, whether from questionable motives, like Cameron, or not, as with liberal bloggers. But I’m not sure what Leveson proposes is not going to be more trouble than it is worth.

  • Looking at the full report rather than the summary, I’m afraid there is still a problem regarding compulsion, even though Leveson doesn’t recommend a specific mechanism for it. That’s because he does recommend that the new system should not be considered effective (and would therefore fail the legal test for ‘recognition’) unless it included all significant news providers. In effect, he is recommending that if some news providers fail to participate, they should be compelled to do so by some means, though he shies away from saying what those means should be. I’m afraid compulsion really is implied by this report, which is a real difficulty.

    The relevant discussion is at K 7.3 on p. 1751 of the report.

  • Leveson’s proposal for self regulation underpinned by statutory incentives to take part is the bare minimum necessary. No genuine liberal could possibly be against it, except on the grounds that it may not prove to be enough.

  • “Leveson’s proposal for self regulation underpinned by statutory incentives to take part is the bare minimum necessary. No genuine liberal could possibly be against it, except on the grounds that it may not prove to be enough.”

    Why are people addicted to such sweeping statements?

    There’s certainly scope for liberals to be concerned about some of these ‘incentives’ – such as exemplary damages and the requirement for newspapers to pay the costs of defending libel actions, even where the newspaper won.

    Here’s what Ian Hislop thinks about it (he also comments on the idea of compulsory ‘backstop’ regulation by Ofcom):

  • Regarding the question of compulsion, it’s interesting to read Lord Leveson’s interpretation of Nick Clegg’s evidence to the inquiry:
    3.2 The Deputy Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Nick Clegg MP, stopped short of explicitly calling for compulsion, but was clear that the system should include everybody: “…it’s hopeless if we end up, as has been the case recently in parts of Canada, for instance, where just great swathes of the media have just opted out of the regulatory system altogether. You have to have buy-in from everybody.”

    3.16 Mr Clegg identified a possible role for legislation in “creating incentives or cajoling all parts of the media to be part of a new regulatory environment.” He did not define ‘cajoling’, but was clear that participation in the regulatory system should not be a matter of choice. He also suggested that there could be a role for a statutory backstop co-regulator,29 but did not develop the idea in detail.


  • The Mail reports that Shami Chakrabarti has come out with a rather stronger criticism of Leveson, not only criticising the idea of making Ofcom a ‘backstop regulator’ – which she says would breach article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights – but also suggesting that a new voluntary regulator could be established without the need for any legislation. The report also says that another of Leveson’s six assessors, George Jones, opposes a ‘backstop’ role for Ofcom:

  • Ms Chakrabarti gave a more nuanced (i.e. non-Mail) version on the Marr show. She was not opposed to any kind of legal backstop at all, but that the enforcement of Ofcom regulation on dissenting publishers would be against the HRA.

    The Mail also showed remarkable (and self-serving) flexibility in its judgement of the Leveson assessors. Today: ‘hand-picked by David Cameron’; 16/11:: elitist liberals’. Whatever suits their argument…

  • “She was not opposed to any kind of legal backstop at all …”

    I have to say I’d be amazed if she did say that, because since the report was published she has been consistent in her opposition to any form of compulsory regulation. That is in Liberty’s official response issued on Thursday:

    Here’s how the Independent reported an interview with her:
    “The Prime Minister is right to be concerned about any Government-appointed body ‘supervising’ the independent regulator. That would bring about the danger of political control by the back door. It is unnecessary and must be resisted. Furthermore, the report contains a last-ditch alternative of compulsory statutory regulation, should the press be unwilling to implement his proposed scheme. Again, the Prime Minister is right to reject this unacceptable plan B, which Liberty would be unable to support.”

  • Ed

    Shami Chakrabarti’s position is actually very clear. She is opposed to any form of compulsory regulation – that is what is being referred to as the ‘backstop’ – and in fact thinks it would contravene the European Convention on Human Rights. She said that quite clearly on the Andrew Marr Show (at 9.00) and I don’t understand how you got a different impression.

    Her preference is also for the incentives for participation in the new self-regulatory body to be provided through the courts rather than by legislation, and for the ‘recognition’ of that body to be done through the courts rather than by Ofcom. But she said on the Andrew Marr Show that if necessary she would support a statute to provide the incentives (at 8.50).

    The piece you link to by Hugh Tomlinson points out that the ‘backstop’ regulator is not actually a recommendation by Leveson as the Mail implied (and he has a different opinion about the ECHR). On the other hand, it is fair to point out that Leveson does appear to see some kind of compulsion as being necessary, though he doesn’t recommend what form it should take (see above).

  • “But this is the best.”

    Thank you. Hopefully that will clear up any confusion about Liberty’s position.

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