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Thursday 22 November 2012

Leveson Is Served (31)


So now the date has been set: Lord Justice Leveson will present his report at around 1330 hours on Thursday November 29, at the QEII Conference Centre, which is conveniently situated on Broad Sanctuary, opposite Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster. That makes the venue easy to find for hacks and politicians alike, so expect lots of both to fetch up there.

Leveson will make an introductory statement, but will not give interviews, and nor will he take questions. Some have read all sorts of sinister motives into this news, but it is not for him to do the politicians’ job for them: they ordered the Inquiry, and Leveson is a mere functionary in the whole scheme of things. His report, and the proposals it contains, will do the talking.

So what will it contain? On this I generally agree with Steve Richards, who has written in Independent Voices that Leveson will recommend some kind of statutory underpinning for a totally independent form of regulation. And what frightens the Fourth Estate here is not the statutory underpinning – after all, it never stopped the broadcasters having their say – but the independence.

How would the new regulator operate? It could be an offshoot of Ofcom, but without any of the requirements for impartiality that dictate news coverage for the BBC, ITV and Sky. In other words, it would utilise an existing organisation, perhaps with a “press panel”, if you will, and therefore incur only a marginal cost to whoever has to pick up the tab. This could be set up within weeks.

Some of the existing PCC codes of conduct – those that many papers are so keen to ignore whenever it suits them – could be adapted and incorporated, but this time there will be no backsliding, no wriggling out of potentially difficult complaints, no fobbing off claimants by pretending that forthright dishonesty and smears count as fair comment, and no allowing papers to submit evidence unchallenged.

And that takes us back to the I-word: independence. This frightens editors as nothing else, as it would remove for ever their ability to manipulate the regulator. An advisory function for those editors and their journalists would be fine, but not a decision making one. Lord Black’s proposals, once again trailed in the Maily Telegraph, do not bring this. That’s why his “PCC 2” is not good enough.

The only fly in this particular ointment is that certain parties will get a sight of the report before publication. As those parties include Party Politicians, expect the news to be leaked to a slavering and baying Fourth Estate. But it’s too late: Young Dave can’t kick this one into the long grass for long. Some of his party might turn on him if he adopts Leveson’s proposals, but the voters will finish him off if he doesn’t.

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