Yesterday the long Leveson report produced different statements from the Prime Minister and from his Deputy. The Liberal Democrats opted for the less liberal option, leaving opinion very divided in the Commons and potential voting tight.
Amidst all the pages filled and ink spilled there was little debate over why people think Statutory regulation would work better. Where is the evidence that it does? The main faults in the press in recent years were crimes – they probably broke the law over eavesdropping and bribery in the worst cases. The answer is to enforce the law properly, and to bring cases to court where there is evidence. How does introducing a heavy handed Statutory Regulator help?
The Statutory Regulators in financial services, introduced in 2000, have not stopped financial crime or deterred it judging by the number of scandals and pending cases that have come out. They also presided over the collapse of large parts of the banking system they were meant to protect.
The irony of this debate on Leveson, ignoring the key question about effectiveness of regulation, is that it comes about at a time when the traditional papers are having the fight of their lives to survive. There is a danger that any Statutory Regulator would add to the cost burdens and the inflexibilities of these organisations just when they need to be cheaper and more flexible to combat the huge competitive challenge of the new media. Regulators tend to regulate the old or the decaying more than the new and the emerging, because they can measure it, talk to it and pin it down.