Would Statutory regulation work? The question no-one asks in the press debate.

 

As we approach the publication of the Leveson enquiry findings, the spin doctors have already set up a partial debate. We are told that Statutory regulation would be good if we wish to stop malpractice and law breaking by journali

sts trying to get big stories. We are warned that it could get in the way of press freedom and allow some malefactors to get away with it without press disclosure of their ill deeds. I doubt if either part of this proposition about Statutory regulation is true.

I approach this problem as one who thinks press freedom is important to a democracy, but freedom is not the same as licence. There should be – and is – a law of libel to protect reputations from lies and malice. There should be a more limited right of the state to block publication of matters which could harm us collectively, by exposing the plans of our army in the field or revealing security secrets that put at risk our protectors for example. There is always a danger that this right is abused by those in office, hushing up matters which should be exposed. It needs limiting, with safeguards against abuse.

I also have experience of the press publishing lies about my private life, seeking to tackle and misrepresent me rather than reporting criticially the ideas and people I represent, and listening in to my private conversations. None of this has made me want to regulate them because of it, or seek to curb their freedom of enquiry into others who may have guilty secrets to reveal, hurtful though it has been at times.

We have good experience of what happens when a major activity shifts from self regulation to Statutory regulation. This has happened to the financial industry over the last twenty years. Over this period we have shifted from a world where no major bank went bust, to a world where several major banks have been driven into state hands and public subsidy. We have moved from a world of limited financial crime, to a world where many major institutions face enquiries into abuse of markets and queries over their corporate conduct. We have moved from a world of lower cost of doing business to higher cost of doing business. People have to pay more to cover the cost of regulation, or end up with no professional advice at all. In the City we have moved from a world where the mainstream decent companies applied moral and upright standards to their own conduct, to a world where the main players ask lawyers and compliance officers what they can get away with and are often tempted to push the many rules as far as they can. Rules compliance has all too often replaced a sense of decency in conduct.

Spin doctors and sloppy journalists have conspired together to characterise the noughties as the era of “light touch regulation” or even of “deregulation ” in financial markets. Anyone who weighs the Statute book, examines the volumes of rules, guidance and compliance materials will know that the noughties saw a large increase in the volume of regulation. The Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 put in place a comprehensive system of Statutory regulation for the first time in the UK. This was changed and reinforced by the Financial Services Act 2010. It was also complemented by the EU financial services plan, including wide ranging legislation like MIFID. Never had the UK been so regulated, and never before had things gone so badly.

Unfortunately the Statutory system saw major errors of judgement by the regulators over safe levels of cash and capital for credit creating institutions, which then threatened the whole system. The noughties were not an era of light regulation or self regulation. They were an era of bigger Statutory regulation both at home and in the EU. This new regulatory system defined by Mr Brown’s big changes to the architecture and by the comperehensive financial law introduced, failed both to keep our system safe, and failed to prevent crime. It has been a notable failure of the free press to expose the true nature of the last financial crisis, or even to report sensibly the current state of public finance. I can’t see how a Statutory regulator for the press would help tackle this problem. Ironically some in the press will now find it harder to make the case against Statutory regulation, because they have so failed to explain its manifest massive failures in the case of the City.

Why do people think Statutory regulation of the press would be any more successful or better judged than the financial regulation was? How would it actually stop journalists eaves dropping, twisting replies, failing to read the basic materials, making snide comments about people and causes or getting the wrong end of the stick? Wouldn’t it mean more managers , compliance officers and box ticking, which would slow down stories and draw out mistakes, rather than abolishing them?

Nor would it necessarily prevent newspapers exposing folly and mischief in high places. If a government tried to use its leverage over the Statutory regulator to close down a story or an outlet, that in itself would be a fine story which would probably get out and do more damage to the government than if they had not bothered.

I remain a sceptic about the powers and wisdom of Statutory regulation. There is a lot to be said for having a clear and well enforced criminal law to prevent extreme conduct, and leaving the rest to competition, choice, public opinion and the free play of ideas and views. Now we have such a lively and often unruly medium in the web, if you regulate mainstream media too much it simply will not be able to compete with the new ways of voicing criticism of the powerful.

 

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98 Comments

  1. alexmews
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 6:17 am | Permalink

    Thx John. A good analogy.

    I await Levinson with trepidation. I do not read the tabloid press but there is today an alignment of interests in support of statutory regulation which will serve only to limit press freedom and protect the powerful. We have laws that should have seen phone hackers behind bars after committing criminal offenses. We should be looking to a more aggressive, more inquisitive press – not one presided over by a committee of politicians and other chattering classes who in many cases already have shown they have something to hide (ie expenses).

    On the financial side – the de-regulation folks refer to is likely glass stegall being removed. That set up New York, and then by extension London, to become casinos. I agree that the weight of regulation since then is no doubt fatter – but the basic principle that established modern i-banking was in that piece of de regulation under, as I recall, the Clinton administration.

    • Disaffected
      Posted November 26, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

      It is better to have the odd bad behaviour with the press to ensure accountability and freedom for people than consistent corruption at Westminster taking over. Look at the BBC and the associate bias over EU, immigration, global warming etc. They had a policy meeting to decide to give opponents to global warming less air time! how is this impartial or balanced broadcasting. Now we have a DG who did not go through an open “fair” transparent selection process, he was nominated. Based on what?

      It is time for an inquiry what the BBC role is and whether it should continue to be a state funded propaganda unit.

      Good article by Jeff Randall in the DT about immigration, why is this information about changing our country forever through mass immigration just emerging after 8 years? Where was the press on this issue? Was it silenced through fear of government labelling as racist or bigots? Moreover, what is being done about it?

      In 2006 the Home Secretary Mr Reid said the Border Agency was not fit for purpose. Six years on and it still the case at huge cost to the country. Mr Greene left immigration in a mess to become police minister- why was he not sacked? Infrastructure cannot cope as it is, the birth rate is soaring (4 times higher now than in 1980). Could we ask: what is the plan? £32 billion pounds on a single railway line to save 30 minutes one journey does not cut the mustered (even PPE Oxbridge kids must realise this). All information about immigration points to the detriment of the economy- the alleged number one priority. So I ask, again, What is the plan?

      • zorro
        Posted November 26, 2012 at 11:20 am | Permalink

        On the point of immigration, you have to ask why net migration was so much lower 20 years ago…….Why is it that UKBA or Border Force seem unable to remove people or refuse as many people as they did before. Who are they hiring? What about the recent senior managers who have presided over the asylum backlog? How many of them are Common Purpose graduates. A simple Internet search will tell you……Constant chaos, change, reform which never delivers….They had an Immigration Service and HM Customs who did the job previously and managed to limit immigration. Why did they have to change?

        zorro

        • Disaffected
          Posted November 26, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

          Because political parties were vying for position to reduce it. They (MPs) even had (questionable slogans about race) slogans to gain public support.

          • zorro
            Posted November 26, 2012 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

            Well, they singularly have managed to increase immigration whilst seemingly reducing their operational capability to actually deal with it!……and of course increasing their budget exponentially at the same time. What was Cameron’s slogan…..’government by PowerPoint’….Well, they doubtless have immigration control by PowerPoint now all created by shiny new managers with no operational experience as well one can assume…..

            zorro

      • John Doran
        Posted November 26, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

        Good questions Disaffected. Some possible answers.
        Yes it is time for the BBC to be broken up, because it has become a state funded (soft left? ed) propaganda unit.

        James Delingpole’s view of the BBC is vitriolic & justified, in my opinion.

        IMO, the BBC threw up a smokescreen to deflect attention from 28gate by their ludicrously amateurish, vicious & erroneous attack on Lord McAlpine.

        28gate proves that the BBC has lied to us about their panel of “experts” on global warming. They were Global Warming Activists, not scientific experts.

        Why have they lied to us?

        Because they want to sell us the Global Warming Scam. The science is not settled.

        Why do the BBC want to sell us the Global Warming Scam?

        Because the Scam justifies huge & ludicrous carbon taxes, which are being used to fund foolish “Green Big Wind Power” among much else.
        The Global Warming Scam was started by UN IPCC 1998 with Michael Mann & his (questionable) Hockey Stick Graph. Ross Mckittrick & Steve McIntyre have done sterling work in exposing Mann’s “Tree Ring Circus”

        The picture here is UN backed tame scientists like Michael Mann feeding us the Global Warming Scare, with huge UN funds, & proper scientists trying to get to the truth.

        It’s a minefield.

        The real agenda is UN Agenda 21.

        I haven’t read Jeff Randall’s piece yet, but huge immigration is a central plank of the “Frankfurt School”, which again is a (politically oriented?) organisation. The idea is to push down living standards by decreasing wages, & to destroy the sense of nationhood through ” Multiculturalism”. Both are working. Both are key planks of UN Agenda 21.

        The BBC is also anxious to sell us the EU, which again is an increasingly undemocratic & organisation. The BBC & the EU see the EU as the vanguard for one world govt.

        That’s the plan Mr Disaffected.

      • uanime5
        Posted November 26, 2012 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

        Climate change deniers get less air time because they don’t have any scientific evidence to back up their claims.

  2. Mike Stallard
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    I too have been a victim, on a much smaller (and therefore more hurtful?) scale than you.
    I could not agree more. The government and EU are far too far away to regulate anything much.
    At the moment, the Police are always there. And decent papers and web sites are self regulating.
    If you want to roll in the gutter, then do so!
    At the end of the day – what do they know?

    • Disaffected
      Posted November 26, 2012 at 10:48 am | Permalink

      I suggest everyone read Peter Mullen’s article in the DT about state spending and the coalition committed to continue on the same trajectory as Labour- soul-enterprise of public sector jobs, the need to destroy the culture of welfarism, more tax and spend.

      JR, why is the Tory led government not changing course from Labour? Why is the press not making the government more accountable for its awful performance to date and the consequences it will have on our children and our children’s children?

      • uanime5
        Posted November 26, 2012 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

        Welfarism could largely be ended by raising minimum wage so that people who work don’t need benefits to survive. But don’t expect the Conservatives to implement this as it will cost big companies a lot of money.

        • Edward
          Posted November 27, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

          Or Uni, Governments could reduce their growing appetite for taxing us and remove the lower paid from the burden of tax and NI
          It seems ridiculous to me that someone on minimum wage pays tax and NI in the forst place.

  3. lifelogic
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    There should be – and is – a law of libel to protect reputations from lies and malice. Indeed as this is already greatly in favour of the, wealthy plaintiff. This as all the burdens of proof and disclosure rules are all on the side of plaintiff. We saw with Robert Maxwell, for example, who was able to suppress the truth with threats and litigation.

    What is needed is an inexpensive court process with limits on costs so no wealthy individuals can bring actions. In short the rules should stop the exploitation of clients by the lawyers.

    Government regulation by statute would be a disaster for the little democracy as still pertains. It would not work with the internet anyway. It would just handicap the official press relative to the other sources of information and give the government more creeping powers to suppress uncomfortable (for them) information. We already see the absurd distortions of reality and state sector agenda pushed at us endlessly, by the (effectively government controlled) BBC.

    • lifelogic
      Posted November 26, 2012 at 7:15 am | Permalink

      I see Michael Fabricant MP has suggested some deal with UKIP, clearly the Tories cannot win without one. The problems is they probably cannot win even with a one so abysmal is this government. Anyway Cameron types would clearly rat on the electorate and the deal, post election, as they did this time. Cameron’s wing of the Tory partly simply can not be trusted to deliver anything other than a labour type of administration and submission to the EUSSR.

      They cannot even say why they do not want a “greater Switzerland” they just say they don’t, they are pathetic and unelectable.

      • matthu
        Posted November 26, 2012 at 9:38 am | Permalink

        Foreign Secretary William Hague is reported as saying that the Government would indeed offer a referendum on UK membership of the EU “– after a renegotiation of the relationship and once the eurozone crisis was over”.

        So – how would we know when the renegotiation is over? And how would we be able to tell that the eurozone crisis is over?

        Words mean what the government wants them to mean.

        Meanwhile the government believes in passing more and more laws just in order to ensure that people remain free. Well, I’m sorry: I believe in less and less government involvement in order to achieve the same aims.

        • RB
          Posted November 26, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

          For me Mr Hague is the biggest disapointment as a minister in this coalition.

        • lifelogic
          Posted November 26, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

          Indeed the last thing we need is yet more government and government indoctrination.

        • Martyn
          Posted November 26, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

          Talk of ‘renegotiation’ by any politician is duplicious. The Lisbon Treaty makes no allowance whatsoever for any renegotiation or recovery of lost national sovereignty. The only way by which any renegotiation can take place is by invoking Article 50 of the Treaty i.e. announcing our wish to leave the EU. Then and only then can the negotiations about terms of leaving take place – a fact that Mr Hague knows full well.

          His statement is nothing more than spin to keep those not aware of that fact to quiet with dreams of there being some hope of recovering our thrown away national sovereignty…..

          Reply: The EU settlement is constantly being renegotiated, whatever the Treaty may say.

          • Martyn
            Posted November 26, 2012 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

            John, reply to your reply! I had no idea that this is the case. Perhaps I am missing much in the plethora of statements and news but if so, then there may indeed be some glimmer of hope in the proceedings. But I shall not hold my breath!

      • Mike
        Posted November 26, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

        Apparently Number 10 first retracted the ‘closet racists’ jibe but later retracted the retraction.

        Soooo… Mr Cameron has decided that he will win the next election by calling a tenth of the electorate silly names. Genius.

        Maybe he’d like to define another hefty portion of the electorate as scum, plebs or paedophiles and see how that helps his election chances.

        * Note to self: Must buy lots of popcorn *

      • JimF
        Posted November 26, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

        Yes, in John Major’s great Lottery of Life there is no better place to be born (unless you prefer to be 27th, Mr Cameron)

        http://www.economist.com/news/21566430-where-be-born-2013-lottery-life

    • Disaffected
      Posted November 26, 2012 at 11:01 am | Permalink

      Lifelogic, there are perfectly adequate criminal and civil laws to deal with the press- as per Ian Hislop’s evidence at Leveson. The question ought to be: did the government influence the police to turn a blind eye or encourage them to act independently?

      I suspect therein lies the answer, the government were part of the cover-up to keep the media sweet in their electoral favour. I think the same ought to be asked over the MPs expense scandal. It is not possible for over 300 MPs to be overpaid or fiddle their expenses and only a small number appear in court. I suggest there was a policy decision who to prosecute and it needs to be ascertained if the government (on all party agreement) influenced the police decision. What message does it also send out (and say about the corrupt culture at Westminster) when expense cheats (potential criminals) are in cabinet and not investigated by the police?#

      Reply: Most of the MPs asked to repay items had claimed the money openly, with proper invoices and had them paid as legal approved claims. Subsequently the authorities decided to tighten the eligibility criteria retrospectively. That does not make the claims criminal!

      • lifelogic
        Posted November 26, 2012 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

        To reply – What about David Laws then and his actions were knowingly taken even after all the expenses exposures and he is now even back in government.

        • Timaction
          Posted November 26, 2012 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

          I totally agree Lifelogic.
          (Makes allegations against 2 MPs who were not charged or found guilty. Even MPs are innocent unless and until they have been proven guilty)

      • Disaffected
        Posted November 26, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

        The key word you use is “most”. How do you know that most cases were like this without a proper independent investigation? Who made the decision whether to refer to the police? Were the police acting independently to make decisions on a case by case basis without any influence whatsoever from parliament, government or associated body?

        How (and who) was it decided which case(s) the police should investigate? Paying money back does not mean the actions were correct in the first place or it righted a wrong. It might be mitigation for sentencing not a defence that a potential crime has not been committed.

        Are you saying it is matter for parliament (or associated body) to decide which cases are suspected to have contravened criminal law and whether the case ought to be referred to the police? As for approved claims, you should not express alarm, of course they were approved if the authority did not know it was being duped even with proper invoices.

        Reply: The police and prosecuting authorities are independent. You cannot prosecute someone for putting in honest invoices for repayment under an expenses scheme, receiving payment because they qualfiied, and then being told many months later that the scheme has been changed retospectively!

        • Disaffected
          Posted November 28, 2012 at 9:23 am | Permalink

          You are deliberately missing the point and poorly deflecting the question. Proper invoices can be submitted but the circumstances known to the claimant were different from what he/she might have been portraying. Hence the crime or potential crime. Only suspicion is required to arrest to ascertain the facts (only a few were arrested). If the authorities knew and approved the claim they would be aiding and abetting. The Police are not independent if their policy decision to arrest and prosecute was influenced by government or an associated body.

          If a crime was committed on mass scale nothing would have prevented the police arresting all 300 MPs to see if a crime had been committed and to prevent collusion. If that strategy was adopted there would not have been any parliament! A policy decision for arrest and prosecution must have been made, the question is: was it influenced indirectly or directly by politicians?

          Reply There was no crime when most MPs submitted claims with paid invoices for spending that qualified! Subsequently people agreed the rules had allowed too many different types of spending so the rules were tightened and changed. Now that the rules encourage MPs to rent rather than buy a property there are complaints that more MPs are renting. This route can be dearer than buying but is what the current rules treat more generously so is it any surprise more MPs (not this one) now choose to rent? The rules are now set by an independent body.`

    • uanime5
      Posted November 26, 2012 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

      So you want libel laws that don’t favour the wealthy but don’t want this to be regulated by statues? How is that meant to work?

      Given that employment tribunals provide a cheap way to bring claims against employers perhaps libel tribunals should be created.

  4. Posted November 26, 2012 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    In examining this question it is useful to clearly establishes the purposes of regulation which are:

    1. To protect against unacceptable practice
    2. To drive improvement
    3. To report to the government on behalf of the public on the state and nature of practice of the organisations regulated.

    So we need to ask ourselves,
    1. Is there any ‘unacceptable practice’ which would be better checked and enforced by a regulator than by the force of law?

    2. Would it be beneficial to have checks in place to ensure that robust processes of quality improvement are used and/or would the type of mentoring which could be provided by a good regulator be beneficial to press standards?

    3. Is there a benefit to us having clear information regarding practice by the press?

    Then we need to establish that the benefits would outweigh the costs and be sustained despite the practical issues a process of press regulation would encounter.

    • lifelogic
      Posted November 26, 2012 at 8:43 am | Permalink

      There would be no benefits and a huge threat, to such democracy as still pertains, from any regulation by statute. It would mainly protect the powerful from proper scrutiny.

      • Posted November 26, 2012 at 10:06 am | Permalink

        In order to provide proper scrutiny, the press need to adhere to professional standards. The question as to how these professional standards are policed is both relevant and appropriate.

        In engaging with its duty of care to drive quality improvement a regulator could and should engage with improving the capacity of the organisation to achieve its objectives which clearly do improve effectively reporting on inappropriate behaviour and activities.

        It’s laughable that Michael Gove gets so much airtime on this when he has relentlessly demonstrated that he has not the faintest idea how a good regulator behaves or what they do.

        • lifelogic
          Posted November 26, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

          The problem is that good regulation is highly unlikely to happen – in practice it will be distorted by the powerful to protect the powerful.

          • Posted November 26, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

            lifelogic most of our regulators are world class.

            It’s only Ofsted and a few other bits that are horrendous.

          • lifelogic
            Posted November 27, 2012 at 6:01 am | Permalink

            @Rebecca Hanson
            “most of our regulators are world class”

            Just as the ones who oversaw the banking sector, Lloyds of London before its crisis, the energy sector, fraud and accounting in the EU, the BBC trustees, regulate the NHS, social service homes and social workers or controlled MPs expense claims?

            All world class?

          • Posted November 27, 2012 at 9:42 am | Permalink

            Having them located in London seems to be a bad idea.

            Most aren’t.

          • Lindsay McDougall
            Posted November 27, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

            @Rebecca: What on earth is a world class regulator? How is it assessed?

      • zorro
        Posted November 26, 2012 at 11:25 am | Permalink

        This is the heart of the matter….There are enough impediments, closed doors, secret handshakes, secret groups which are preventing the truth coming out. One thinks of Savile as the most immediate example of this mentality. The press must not be neutered, there are libel laws which can be used to quash untruths and they should be used. This is why I cannot understand why Lord McAlpine did not act over the accusations against him in 1995.

        zorro

      • zorro
        Posted November 26, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

        If the rich and powerful feel that what the press has written is untrue, then they have the power of redress ultimately through the libel laws. I want to live in a free country where people can be held to account….not some society where criminal behaviour is institutionally covered up. Is that asking too much?

        Zorro

    • Jon
      Posted November 26, 2012 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

      We need to view these things from a regulators point of view. What their remit is and how they achieve it so

      1: Unacceptable practice is anything they have difficulty in regulating. Translated that means competition, lots of companies, new entrants to the market. Unacceptable practice is solved through costs, driving out competition, making it impossible for new entrants and being left with only a few large players playing the same game.
      2. Improvement to a regulator is the above.
      3. The report will show the success of the above two and so a good regulatory job done.

      Trouble is we don’t want that as customers. Regulators do not do what we want, they do what solves their regulatory remit which is very different.

      Put another way, a child is sitting on the floor screeming through boredom.
      We might appoint a regulator. What we want is someone to engage, educate and make their time interesting so they don’t screem. What the regulator does is one of 3 things:

      1: Solve the problem. The problem is noise, gaffer tape over the mouth will solve that. Secondly neuter the parents so they can’t have any more.
      2. Publicise the improvement.
      3. Report the improvement to the government.

      Regulators are a different breed.

      • Posted November 27, 2012 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

        Most UK regulators comply with the regulators code.

        Do you know what good practice is in this context Jon?

  5. backofanenvelope
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    Given the record of regulation you cover, I would think the best thing Mr Cameron could do is to thank Lord Leveson for his efforts and use it as a door stop. Whatever he says.

  6. JimF
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    Indeed you are right.

    Whether there is a degree of intrusion or not, the ability of “old” media like the Telegraph to report freely on instances of political prejudice such as has happened in Rotherham these past few days is crucial to our continuing freedom as a people.

    With the soft-left Prime Minister on the one hand calling UKIP members closet racists, and the hard left misrepresenting UKIP policies and snatching children from UKIP members on the other hand, we need a full hands-on press in Britain to expose such lies and malpractice.

  7. David in Kent
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    As usual, I agree with the substance of your post.
    My experience with regulation in the pharmaceutical industry – more regulation leading to more cost and less productivity but no more safety – is just as you describe the experience of the finance industry.
    I thought the treatment by the police, abetted by the press, of Christopher Jeffries was (wrong). I’d like to stop that happening again.
    So, starting from where we are now, how do you suggest we get back to a world where responsible behaviour is the norm?

  8. oldtimer
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    Your analogy of the failure of regulation in the financial sector is a good one. It has not delivered.

    The idea of a government controlling and regulating the press is anathema to me. Government`s already exercise too much control through the medium of the lobby system. It has, in the past, been quite blatant in other areas too. Consider, for example, the government sponsored guidance called The Rules of the Game, published by Futerra, link here:
    http://www.futerra.co.uk/downloads/RulesOfTheGame.pdf
    This initiative was later re-inforced by tax payer funded subsidies to a wide range of organisations to fund government propaganda, not to mention Mr Brown`s remarks about “flat earthers”. There is a story here that is widely ignored by the MSM not least by the BBC.

    The media is too weak on incisive investigative reporting into serious issues and too preoccupied with celebrity trivia – a prime reason for the present difficulties of the print media. It is too inclined to sloppy reporting. But at least present arrangements have enabled its exposure (and the closure of one offending newspaper) and the trial and imprisonment of individuals. I think the jury is still out on the BBC – it remains to be seen if it too will get the reform it needs.

  9. Posted November 26, 2012 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    I believe all that is needed is for existing laws to be enforced
    Quite a lot of people, including senior management staff at the News of the World have been charged with offences under existing legislation, so what new laws are required? Unless the internet is included, all that will happen if the restrictions are too onerous, are that more use will be made of the internet (often using servers outside the UK) and the daily newspaper as we know it will disappear.
    All that is needed is some means by which “small people” can get redress against the media, and there could be a case for an equivalent of the small claims court where people who believe that they have been wronged can sue for damages or other redress.

    • uanime5
      Posted November 26, 2012 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

      Just because something is on a server in another country doesn’t makes it non-defamatory. As long as it can be read in this country it’s possible to pursue legal action through the UK courts.

      Small people could easily claim against the media if a defamation tribunal was created or legal aid was available for defamation cases.

  10. Wilko
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    Keep the press free.

    If what they publish is untrue, they self-impose lost credibility.

    Risk of a period of suspended publication can prevent serious breaches. Any 12 fair-minded people can be appointed to decide if it is deserved. Avoid the clutter, nuisance & waste of clumsy ineffective regulation.

    • uanime5
      Posted November 26, 2012 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

      Publishers only lose credibility if their readers realise that what was published is untrue. Sadly too few people in the UK are willing to investigate or are able to determine whether something is true or not.

  11. Electro-Kevin
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Let’s not forget what Leveson is really about.

    It is the Left’s attempt to close down what political opposition remains. It has near total control of the main broadcast media but not of the free press. Where the public is given the choice we see that it spends its money on the right-of-centre newspapers. The Left dislikes this intensely.

    It is the right wing press which is in the firing line.

    I have no time for the scuttle-butt or long-lense cellulite-spotting bitchiness that goes on in the tabloids and I note that nearly all of it is to interest a female audience. I also note that even the ‘right wing’ tabloids devote half of their regular column output to women who are allowed a totally free reign to promote the feminists’ agenda.

    So. Fifty percent of the right wing press is dedicated to leftist causes – and still this is not good enough for the left.

    Reply: Why shouldn’t women be allowed to promote feminism, and why can’t newspapers seek to attract a female audience?

    • zorro
      Posted November 26, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

      Reply to reply – I think that EK is referring to the sidebar gossip columns and the terminally tedious trysts of the (A list celebs) or how to be a sex goddess etc etc…….

      zorro

      • Electro-Kevin
        Posted November 26, 2012 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

        Zorro – Susanne Moore and Liz Jones (for example) are not sidebar columnists. They feature most prominently.

        Did you bother reading about Hugh Grant’s indiscretion ? Or Charlotte Church’s problems ? Me neither.

        Being a bloke I’m not even remotely interested and I’d imagine that you aren’t either.

        Much of the Leveson material involves stuff which is mainly of interest to women.

        When do we ever see men buying celebrity gossip magazines ?

    • Electro-Kevin
      Posted November 26, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

      Reply to reply (comment 10.19am): Chaps are not really interested in Charlotte Church’s antics, nor that Kate Hurley might be immitating Kate Middleton’s dress sense – nor Cherie Blair’s beach attire… Nearly all of the pointlessly nasty stuff in the tabloids is to appeal to women readers. None of the chaps I know were the slightest bit interested in the latest item that Lady Di was wearing – the motorcycling photo-journalists weren’t doing their job for our benefit.

      Chaps are generally interested in the politics and the sport – not the celebrity gossip and long-lense scoops. That’s unless it highlights some hypocrisy in agenda setting VIPs.

      Of the pro feminist columns – if some of the venom written by women about men was reversed the male columnist would be hounded out of his job. perhaps prosecuted. As with so much sexist advertising, chat shows, comedies and soaps men are depicted as stupid and it is now taken as fact.

      I’d be a bit more light hearted about pro feminist journalism/TV if boys weren’t doing so badly in schools and at college. I believe that society’s expectations of men has fallen and that much of it is to do with this issue.

      Above all I don’t like it because much of it isn’t true.

      • Electro-Kevin
        Posted November 26, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

        My main point was to highlight how much of the ‘right wing’ press is given over to leftist commentary in the form of feminism.

        That it makes good business sense is not in dispute.

  12. Bazman
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    If it were possible to sue for libel without having at least two hundred and fifty grand in the bank the press might then become self regulating. As for financial regulation there might have been an increase in regulations, but there was a massive increase in the lax application of them allowing the scheming bankers to run rings around the regulators as the culture was of no regulation. A shadow banking system was allowed to operate next to the real one. Crony spiv capitalism. How much does the City still take in fee these days after all that has happened? How much does it cost the investors to run with it’s massively inflated scam wage bill often the profits are less than the fees. In one experiment a group of account managers were frightened to compete with a chicken as they said the chicken might just get lucky by picking high risk investments. Communism for the rich no less.

    • lifelogic
      Posted November 26, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

      Indeed the excessive legals costs and risks of litigation cause much of the problem.

  13. Alte Fritz
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    I knew it was time to get out of my former profession (regulated) when I heard its chief regulator describe himself to a meeting of the regulated as someone whose whole career had been in ………. regulation.

    Statutory regulation has become an alibi for failure. It has been an unmitigated disaster. It encourages the regulated to work out what they can get away with rather than adhere to good practice which is imbibed like mother’s milk.

    Mr R’s post should be plastered over every front page.

  14. Neil Craig
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    Good points

    If the intent were justice the horrendous libel laws in Britain would be greatly simplofied & a rtight of reply, top be posted as prominently as the original lie, should be required.

    Because of the expense of libel law thise without deeppockets can be and are libeled almost with impunity, BBC the state controlled BBC at least as much as the press, while thiose who can afford barristers can make it so costly to fight as to deter papers from printing any but the most salacious scandals about the powerful

    This is exactly the opposite of how it should be, but it seems limkely the Levinson proposals will merely entrench the powerful.

    • Jerry
      Posted November 26, 2012 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

      @Neil Craig: Stop ranting, the BBC is not state controlled, try actually reading its Royal Charter…

  15. Robert K
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Press regulation would be a disaster. The idea is abhorrent.

    • Jerry
      Posted November 26, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

      Rubbish, effective regulation would be good for the press, it might be abhorrent to those who receive dividends though, printing the truth has never hurt the press… Regulation is not the same as censorship.

  16. pete
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Comparing the analogy of statutory press regulation to financial services is a good starting point. If you make something too complex with too many boxes to tick it will of course increase costs and make it all too easy to stop seeing the wood from the trees.

    Laws are there to be enforced when they are needed and some sort of code of conduct would probably be more appropriate as a precondition to being allowed to operate in a media environment in the UK rather than heavy statutory regulation.

    The best approach has to be appropriate laws which are properly enforceable which appropriate a fast track redress process should any misconduct be suspected.

    With these in place why would we need big statutory regulation?

  17. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    And every time you introduce more Statutory Regulation, you get more people on the public payroll. Current govrernment expenditure is far too high already.

    • Jerry
      Posted November 26, 2012 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

      In this case it would likely cost very little to ‘police’ but if the costs do rise it will be due to the fact that elements of the press were breaking the said regulations and thus the costs would be born by those section of the industry. Cost should never be an excuse to do nothing in any case…

      • Lindsay McDougall
        Posted November 27, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

        Let’s take a practical issue. If the police or a government department refuse to release information that they ought to release, is it (a) criminal (b) morally wrong to pay for the information from a corrupt insider?

        • Jerry
          Posted November 27, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

          You answer your own question Lindsey if you consider that it needs a corrupt insider to steal the information, it is both (a) criminal and (b) morally wrong. Also as I understand the FOI Act, no one actually has a right to demand information, they have a right to request such information and if their request is refused then a reason for that refusal has to be given.

          But that is not the same as saying that the press needs regulating, the (mostly) tabloid media is scaring the public by using examples of true public interest stories when the real issue is non news stories, the Celeb “Kiss and Tell” sort of clap-trap, that gets splashed across the tabloid front pages to the detriment of proper news and for which the tabloid media then attempts to use the press-code of conduct as a defence by attempting to claim that it is in the public interest to know which Celeb shacked up with which other Celeb etc.

          • Lindsay McDougall
            Posted November 27, 2012 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

            How rapidly FOI rights get eroded by vested interests!!!!!!!

          • Jerry
            Posted November 28, 2012 at 8:57 am | Permalink

            @Lindsay McDougall: …and those who are just basically being nosy and trouble makers etc. As proven by some of the FOI requests that have been made…

  18. Johnny Norfolk
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    This is just what the left want, so the press cannot expose them. The question is why was it so long before exsisting laws were used. just because becasuse you have more regulation does not mean it will stop anything.

    • Jerry
      Posted November 26, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

      Mr Norfolk, exactly the same comment could be written back at you, simply replacing the single word “left” with the single word Right and it would be just as applicable… This has nothing what so ever to do with left or right, it is about undesirable elements within the (mostly) print media from abusing both the law and the people they write about, simply out of a wish to make money at the expense of gullible people.

  19. Barbara Stevens
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps a code of conduct laid down in law pertaining to journalists behaviour and articles, would be better. I know there are lible laws already available, if one can afford to go to court, many people cannot. This would clarify where and what jounalists can and cannot write about, i.e. personal details which are of no interest to the public. Its a thin defining line to determine, but with their intelligence surely they can see this line. Taking legal action against papers is expensive, papers know this, and they hope this will deter people from seeking redress. It does the person(s) no good but only benefits the papers. Its a form of repression for the person who is their limelight, and in most cases unfair. Therefore, making laws saying what they cannot and can do would be much better, with the press complaints organisation having more powers is disputes arose. This would save money from court cases, and the likes of celeberaties having special treatment which ordinary people cannot afford. Its such a mess something has to come out of this expensive enquiry for the benefit of all not just the few.

  20. Mark
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Bravo!

    Perhaps what we do need is a little more transparency about the media themselves. A sense of honour would also not go amiss. We are surrounded by misinformation and propaganda. Are we in a war where truth is the first casualty?

    • sm
      Posted November 26, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

      Agreed on the need for more transparency, particularly within the public sector!

      at the BBC… it must be made clear by parliament they are a public body and therefore should seek to comply fully with all freedom of information requests and more so embed a culture of openness.

      Why do we need superinjunctions?

      • uanime5
        Posted November 27, 2012 at 12:00 am | Permalink

        Under the FOI act it was made clear that the BBC is not bound by FOI requests because they’re a public body, not a Government department. So the BBC has acted correctly by denying FOI requests from cranks.

        • Lindsay McDougall
          Posted November 27, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

          Public body, government department, what does it matter? The BBC is taxpayer funded and it should be under the same obligations as a government department. And who are you to say who is a crank: rearrange this phrase or saying ‘Pot kettle black calling’.

          • Jerry
            Posted November 27, 2012 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

            Lindsey the BBC is not taxpayer funded, and in any case even if it’s a tax (like VED) no one is being forced to watch TV, like with VED one only pays if one wishes to use a car in the public highway.

  21. forthurst
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    There is already far too great an inhibition of free speech whether for the Press or anyone else.

    It is in the very recent past that the criminal conspiracy behind the catastrophic global warming hoax started to represent sceptics as ‘deniers’ and worse and were successful in denying broadcasters and writers with sceptical views, the oxygen of publicity, “the science is settled”. No law prohibited the sceptic view.

    When Bl(ai)r conspired with neocons to invade Iraq using (questionable) evidence in support of their WMD claims, the DG of the BBC was fired; when the scientist who exposed the …. WMD claims (died-ed), the case was locked up for 70 years.

    When Bl(ai)r in 2006, conspired to change this country irreversibly with substantial immigration, something that Cameron, very revealingly is making little attempt to mitigate, the press were silent; but their silence was encouraged by draconian thoughtcrime laws, in which any discussion of the topic can quickly be smeared as ‘racist’, a term the aforementioned Cameron used against a politicial party with more than 10% support. Apart from the future of this country which affects us all, some of the main victims of these laws have been sports fans with their tribal banters and Christians.

    The major problem with the press, apart from a lack of freedom of speech, is the concentration of ownership. It simply is not right that the eccentric views of the Murdoch empire, foreign owned, or the Cultural Marxist views of the BBC should account for so much that is broadcast and printed in this country. It is all very well criticising the BBC, but how is the market able to drive them into the same loss-making hole enjoyed by the grauniad? What about the Murdoch empire and the fawning over it by Cameron and his entourage?

    Those behind the recent illegal excesses of the Red Tops, are being brought to justice; the failure was not a lack of law but of enforcement. The only area which needs examination is that of unwarranted muckraking intrusiveness against people who do not have the resources to respond; there needs to be a ombudsman/official solicitor function to award such people compensation against the offending organ.

    Reply Mr CAmeron set out a policy for a substantial reduciton in immigration, and has asked Ministers to make the changes to bring this about.

    • lifelogic
      Posted November 26, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

      To Reply “Mr Cameron set out a policy for a substantial reduction in immigration, and has asked Ministers to make the changes to bring this about.”

      Does that make him too a “fruitcakes, loony and closet racist” I wonder?

      Mind you putting a toy wind turbine on a house in non windy Notting Hill clearly does make you a fruitcake and loony.

  22. Normandee
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    Hopefully in your next blog you will deal with Michael Fabricants blasphemy, and discuss how the deputy chairman of the party is allowed to even say “”you know what”” let alone propose a pact.
    You might also tell whether I should vote for a openly pro Europe Tory, or for an “”alternative”” party who shall remain nameless. It’s not as if you are even going to win in 2015.

  23. David Price
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    I have little trust of the government and so I agree with your position and don’t want statutory regulation. I also want a ban on media people funding political parties and activities. Failing that I’d like clear indications in broadcasts of what political funding a broadcaster provides.

    The laws associated with media naughtiness should be straightforward and properly enforced. Recourse in cases of libel or slander should be cheaply accessible to protect those without deep pockets and where enforcement doesn’t scare the media enough to behave properly.

    I would also prefer the ability to chose whether or not I subscribe to media so I don’t want to be forced to pay for the BBC when I don’t use it.

  24. Winston Smith
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    I’m not so concerned about what the mediareports, more about what they conspire to hide with the left-wing establishment and political elite. Its great that the Mail has broken ranks with the rest of the media to publicise the secretive quasi-Marxist organisation that seeks to infiltrate all areas influence within the State machine: Common Purpose. Its a network of leaders and senior management in the media and public sector. Soem bloggers and campaigners have been trying to draw the media’s attention for years, but the left-leaning, metrpolitan elite of editors and commentators have deliberately concealed Common Purpose, partly because they sahre their goals and partly because they hope to benefit from the network.

    From the Head of Social Services at Rotherham Council to David Cameron, the tentacles of Common Purpose are squeezing influence and creating policy.

    David Cameron’s link:

    http://ukinindia.fco.gov.uk/en/news/?view=PressR&id=22609209

  25. Antisthenes
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    All regulation has done is reduce competition, choice and increased costs. Coupled with all the other ludicrous policies and practices that have been introduced by successive governments and the EU we are seeing the destruction of wealth, wealth creation and democracy; our freedoms of thought and expression being suppressed. Press, despite how inept and corrupt they are, statutory regulation if it comes into being will be yet another step in furthering the erosion of our liberties. If we continue along this path then the collapse of our society is inevitable and the left will have their socialist utopia where we are all equal as we will all be equally impoverished economically, socially and politically except of course those at the top of the socialist party tree.

  26. REPay
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    I heard several qualified commentators say that all the abuses levenson was supposed to address could have been tackled through the criminal law…re relationships with politicians, what worse way to bring the two estates closer together than by statute!

  27. alexmews
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    I would add to my earlier comment that the horse has already to some very large degree bolted on this. The ‘press’ is dying as the economics of newspapers as they are currently known does not work – as anyone on this site already likely knows. This has led to very large cuts to all newspaper groups – especially journalists. this then has led both to shoddy journalism (and the bbc has not been immune despite 3.5bn a year in license fees) as well as cut throat competition to get the ever more scandalous story. None of the traditional press groups can be said to have successfully moved online – in part because so much news, not least from the bbc, is free online. While the Daily Mail has a very highly trafficked website – a look down the right hand side of the page shows almost all of the traffic is turtle tattle. Did News of the World close for reasons due to bad practice or, really, ultimately, because it had no future. Will the Guardian survive even though it is structured in a tax efficient manner (etc)?

    Regulation in this context seems pretty pointless given the whole industry faces more primary issues of economic survival.

    Reply The Murdoch group launched the Sun on Sunday to replace NOW, so they clearly think they have a profitable business opening here. The Mail group is successful and profitable.

    • Jerry
      Posted November 26, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

      @Reply: Indeed but how much news is actually contained within, and how much ‘gossip’, the average daily tabloid (the Sunday editions are usually even worse in publishing the gossip) and what news there is has often been sensationalised. How profitable would any Tabloid newspaper be if regulation made them only print – err – news and is this not what the print media is actually frightened off should Leveson go down the statutory regulation route?!

  28. Elliot Kane
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    Excellent article, John. Very well said.

  29. Vanessa
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    We already have all the laws we need in this country. The trouble is that none of them is enforced. If the police were not controlled by Brussels and in bed with politicians they would be enforcing our excellent laws. But these laws have been buried under humungous amounts of EU directives and so have been forgotten by the institutions which should be enforcing the rule of law and keeping the British people safe and banging up criminals in prisons rather than letting them roam the streets because of their “human rights”

    • Jerry
      Posted November 26, 2012 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

      @Vanessa: When has the civil law ever been any concern of the police?…

  30. Jon
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    Agree with everything there.

    Part of me would like the regulation just so that the media can see what it does to them because it would make them think first before always calling for regulation as the stock answer to everything.

    I’ve long since come to realise what regulators work towards. They want fewer players so its easier to regulate. They want just a few big firms to regulate so don’t want a competitive market. The don’t want anything dynamic so look to cut the edgest off the square peg so it fits into their simple round hole. They don’t want newcomers to the market as thats more to regulate so they make it impossible for them to enter. It is all detrimental to the public. Regulation for the press would just put most out of business. The others would have to get ingenious to make money and that will cause all kinds of problems that won’t be to our benefit.

    My own preference would be a ratings agency. A star rating on each paper that judges their accuracy, impartiality etc for each subject (news, politics, sport, culture, governance or due diligence etc). Let the public and market forces respond accordingly. In other words label the product. If someone is sitting reading a paper with one star on impartiality and they tell you what the paper says then they will just look silly for believing it.

    • Vanessa
      Posted November 27, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

      What an excellent idea !

      • Jon
        Posted November 27, 2012 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

        Thank you

  31. Jon
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

    The blog is worth another read, a lot in there.

    “In the City we have moved from a world where the mainstream decent companies applied moral and upright standards to their own conduct, to a world where the main players ask lawyers and compliance officers what they can get away with and are often tempted to push the many rules as far as they can. Rules compliance has all too often replaced a sense of decency in conduct.”

    Hedge funds and Credit Default Swaps were a useful tools used sparingly in the old days. In the noughties 2/3rds of pan European hedge funds were based here. Who can unravel the Credit Default Swaps out there ? Was that Basel, I don’t know I’m not a banker but it all seemed to go pear shaped when the post war boom ended and got replaced with leveraging to meet the shortfall and regulation thrown in at the same time.

  32. uanime5
    Posted November 27, 2012 at 12:06 am | Permalink

    The press needs more regulations to ensure minimum standards are met. I’d recommend greater privacy laws so that becoming a celebrity doesn’t mean having everything you do splashed across the papers.

    Also it seems that austerity may last for 8 years rather than 5:
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/budget/9702135/Think-tank-warns-Chancellor-to-keep-his-hands-off-QE-windfall.html

    • Edward
      Posted November 27, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

      uni,
      Celebrities want all the free publicity they can get when they are promoting their next new film or book or tour or DVD.
      They employ people to ensure they get in as many newspapers as possible and on as many TV and radio shows as possible.
      But if they are exposed by the press as having a drink or drug habit or having secret affairs which has a good chance of reducing their box office value they then want a right to privacy.

  33. Martin
    Posted November 27, 2012 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    The one section of the press that isn’t helped by the print/libel damages if wrong model are the local press. Most local papers have been reduced to reporting courts, press releases from the emergency services, local sport and local photo events of charities etc. All very safe but dull as local papers can’t afford to pay damages.

    • Jerry
      Posted November 27, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

      @Martin: Shock, horror, hold the front page, a local newspaper reports the local news… What ever next!

      But you are right, both the national and local popular press need to find new business models, in this respect I suspect that the local newspaper will likely survive if the tabloids are forced to drop their more salacious ‘kiss and tell’ front page scoops -that hold little resemblance to what was actually said.

  34. Atlas
    Posted November 27, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    Statutory Regulation – “No” I say.

    The real issue has been ( a few?) in the Police (allegedly) acting in a corrupt manner. This press brewhaha is a smoke screen for a failure of the Police. The law to control what happened already exists.

    • Jerry
      Posted November 27, 2012 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

      @Atlas: …and in the cases were it was nothing to do with the police, or anyone else in public life (other than being the victims), such as in the case of the tabloid press hacking Celeb’s mobile phones etc?

      • Atlas
        Posted November 28, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

        Jerry,

        Indeed what you say about hacking is true, but hacking is already illegal – so why little police action on the matter?

  35. John Wilkes
    Posted December 2, 2012 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    There is an online petition in support of implementing statutory regulation of the press.

    Does anyone know of a counter e-petition where people who support freedom of the press can sign up to record their opposition to legislation?

  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood has been the Member of Parliament for Wokingham since 1987. First attending Kent College, Canterbury, he graduated from Magdalen College, and has a DPhil from All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.
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