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Friday 7 December 2012

Leveson Still Getting Smeared

Just in case anyone believed that the publication of the Leveson Report would cause the Fourth Estate to desist from its diet of not-really-smearing-him-and-his-advisors-but-we-just-found-all-this-dirt-on-them-and-you-know-how-it-is, the Maily Telegraph has decided to demonstrate that, in the world of Tony Gallagher, there is still a need to put the boot in and keep frightening the readers.

Lord Justice Leveson calls for new laws to curb 'mob rule' on the internet” proclaimed the headline on the Tel article, the sub-heading confirming this. So Leveson must have called for new laws, then. But he has not. Not at all. No, there was no call for new laws, but only observations on how the law may develop in the face of developments in social media.

So what did Leveson actually say? “The established media broadly conforms to the law and, when they do not, they are potentially liable under the law ... In so far as the internet is concerned, there has been, and for many, there remains a perception that actions do not have legal consequences ... There is not only a danger of trial by Twitter, but also of an unending punishment, and no prospect of rehabilitation, by Google ... Just as it took time for the wilder excesses of the early penny press to be civilised, it will take time to civilise the internet ... [The internet] does not trade in gossip. It simply publishes it online, conveys it on Facebook, uploads it onto Youtube, tweets and re-tweets it. It is likely that new [legal norms] and new laws will need to be developed”.

Which, not to put too fine a point on it, is a statement of the bleeding obvious, not just for lawyers, but all participants in the world of social media. The case of Alistair McAlpine demonstrated, if demonstration were necessary, that merely being online does not put one beyond the law. But, as Leveson points out, such things take time, and law develops and adapts to the world ... over time.

What Leveson’s remarks are not is a call for new laws, or for any other curb on social media. This is not only a cheap shot from the Telegraph, but devalues their rather more interesting take on press regulation, that Young Dave may be considering establishing a new independent regulator by Royal Charter – as was done with the Bank Of England and the BBC.

While the latter suggestion may indeed make the regulator independent of Government, though, it also needs to be properly independent of the press that it would monitor, and thus far that press has been mightily reluctant to lose control over the regulatory process. By the strangest of coincidences, the Tel piece manages not to mention this. Not that they’re being selective with the facts, of course.

At least in the latter case, they’re not just making them up for effect.

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