Sunday 2 December 2012

Leveson falling apart - fast

The consensus around the Leveson report is falling apart at breathtaking speed. While the Prime Minister once quipped that he would implement it in full unless it was 'bonkers', and the leader of the opposition did not even feel the need to read the report before he made a commitment to fully implement it, the critics of Leveson's recommendation to introduce statutory regulation of the press are becoming more vocal and there are surprising alliances emerging.

Imbalanced and impractical - Leveson and his report on Press Media

The latest critical voice is that of Shami Chakrabarti, the human rights campaigner. She said in an interview with the Mail on Sunday that Leveson's recommendations may breach the human rights act. The irony of an alliance between David Cameron and Shami Chakrabarti converging on the territory of the human rights act may raise some eyebrows amongst Conservatives. But her view is well articulated and convincing. In essence, she maintains that a free press cannot be submitted to statutory regulation when other media outlets are not.

David Aaronovitch has recently voiced another concern. On Andrew Neill's Daily Politics he argued that Leveson was wrong to accord so much importance to the victims of press intrusion. While it is right to recognise the harm some journalists have inflicted on some members of the public, it was wrong to design a system of press regulation that only addressed the elements of journalistic activity that was wrong. Basing press regulation on the sentiments of the victims only was like asking a victim of medical malpractice to rewrite surgical procedure (my paraphrasing).

The chances that Leveson will be implemented are becoming more distant by the day, and that may be a good thing. While it is important that the victims of press intrusion are listened to, they may be bad advocates of any future regulatory system. Not to mention that Leveson seems to have disregarded the main challenge to any press regulation in the modern era: the fast and irreversible descend of national print media into irrelevance in the age of blogging and twittering.

Despite the sheer volume of the report, Leveson may just have gotten the balance wrong and his report may therefore just gather dust on the shelves. It may be small comfort to him that he shares this fate with countless other reports of the past. Britain does however need an effective system to address press intrusion and professional misdemeanors and let's hope that the industry itself will act swiftly.

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