THE Prime Minister has today made an important stand by rejecting proposals within the Leveson Report to introduce legislative underpinning for a new system of press regulation. He rightly warned that this would mean ‘crossing the rubicon’ with consequent dangers for a free press.
Britain’s regional and local newspapers have always been vehemently opposed to any form of statutory involvement in the regulation of the press, including the oversight by Ofcom proposed in the report.
This would impose an unacceptable regulatory burden on the industry, potentially inhibiting freedom of speech and the freedom to publish.
The Prime Minister also acknowledged that Britain’s regional and local media had little to do with the phone hacking scandal which prompted the Leveson Inquiry.
He highlighted the special point made in the Leveson Report that regional newspapers’ ‘contribution to local life is truly without parallel’ and that ‘although accuracy and similar complaints are made against local newspapers, the criticisms of the culture, practices and ethics of the press that have been raised in this inquiry do not affect them: on the contrary, they have been much praised.’
The Newspaper Society has welcomed the Leveson Report’s acknowledgement of the important social and democratic role played by the local press, that the wider criticisms of the press raised in this inquiry were not directed at local newspapers and that the regulatory model proposed should not provide an added burden to our sector at a difficult economic time.
It is important for me to point out that, as businesses, local newspapers are resilient, innovative and committed to the highest standards of local journalism and we will continue to fulfil our unique vital role for the local communities we serve for many years to come.
Despite steep declines in our main source of revenue – advertising – which is a barometer of UK economic performance, we are reaching bigger audiences than ever before across our multimedia platforms. Our titles are also the most trusted of all media.
The principle at stake during the Leveson debate goes to the very heart of our democracy.
British people instinctively know this, which is why a recent survey showed that 75 per cent of them think there is a risk that governments would use a statutory regulator to stop newspapers from criticising them.
But the local press does also recognise that press freedom carries responsibilities and that the public must have confidence in any new press regulator, alongside effective enforcement of existing laws such as libel and contempt of court.
We believe the industry is in a position to establish the sort of tough new system of independent, accountable press regulation, with the power to investigate wrongdoing and levy fines, which is envisaged by the report.
All major news publishers – and some internet news providers – have indicated they will join such a system provided there is no statutory backstop.
In practice, this independent self-regulatory system would almost certainly be stronger and more effective than any statutory model could ever be and could be put into in place far quicker.
Newspapers are ultimately accountable to their readers and must abide by the laws of the land.
But, as the Prime Minister has today acknowledged, a free press cannot be free if it is dependent on and accountable to a regulatory body recognised by the state.”