In 2011 there was widespread shock throughout the UK at the revelations of the phone hacking scandal. Accusations were made of extensive criminality in parts of the press and many people spoke publicly about their unfair treatment at the hands of the print media. This led to the Prime Minister setting up an inquiry into press ethics, chaired by the Rt Hon Lord Justice Leveson. The Leveson Report was published on 29 November 2012 and recommended significant reforms to the regulation of the press. For almost a year there followed parliamentary debate, political wrangling, numerous press articles and commentary on the Leveson Report.
What has happened since the Leveson Report was published?
On 30 October 2013, a Royal Charter on press regulation was granted, which incorporated key recommendations from the Leveson Report, allowing for one or more independent self-regulatory bodies for the press to be established. Any such body would be recognised and overseen by a Recognition Paneland those publishers who joined a recognised regulatory body might expect to receive more favourable treatment if action was taken against them in the courts. The Press Recognition Panel came into existence on 3 November 2014.
The Royal Charter was backed by Parliament through the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013, which gave statutory backing to the new arrangements. It was endorsed by many victims of the phone hacking scandal but was rejected by the bulk of the British print media who claimed that this approach amounted to "government control of the press."
What is the current system of press regulation?
Most national newspapers joined the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) which was set up on 8 September 2014, replacing the Press Complaints Commission (PCC). IPSO has confirmed on a number of occasions that it does not intend to seek recognition under the Royal Charter. In a further twist, The Independent Monitor of the Press (IMPRESS) project, first set up in mid-2013 as the development organisation for a second regulator, appointed a Chairman in November 2014, in anticipation of establishing a regulator. It has not yet declared whether the regulatory body it is forming will seek recognition. To date no publishers have decided to join it.
It is important to remember that the major catalyst for the Leveson Report and subsequent events was the appallingand in some cases illegalbehaviour of certain sectors of the press. In 2011 there was near universal agreement that changes were needed to make it less likely that such behaviour would be repeated and that, if it were, to ensure quicker, cheaper and more straightforward redress for the victim.
Is the new system compliant with the recommendations made by the Leveson Report?
At present no regulatory body exists for the press that complies with the strict requirements for independence from publishers set out by the Leveson Report. The recommended steps have not been taken to establish satisfactory whistle-blowing arrangements for journalists to speak out, or to set up an arbitration system for early resolution. IPSO does not comply with the Leveson Report's independence requirements for the selection of board members or the requirements for detachment from its funding body (the Regulatory Funding Company) which retains ownership of the Editors' Code of Practice, against which press conduct is judged.
Are changes to the current situation in the pipeline?
It appears that under the leadership of Sir Alan Moses, IPSO intends to fulfil more of the main recommendations of the Leveson Report. IPSO has now incorporated some of the features of a regulator advocated by the Leveson Report. That said, the major publications are not, at present, willing to allow IPSO to become either fully 'Leveson compliant' or to seek recognition under the Royal Charter. This means that any statutory advantages of being a member of a self-regulatory body accredited by the Press Recognition Panel, will not be enjoyed by IPSO members, or by those who are not a member of any regulator.
What is the current process for a member of the public wishing to make a complaint against a publisher?
Potential claimants today may be confused as to how they can make a complaint against a publication and what redress they can expect. We have had the benefit of hearing from experts on this topic, and readily understand the confusion. The current situation is that potential claimants should first seek to resolve their complaint with the publication directly. If this does not produce a result which is satisfactory to the complainant, they can take it up with the regulator of which the publication is a member. This will be IPSO in most cases (but there are separate arrangements for The Guardian, Financial Times and The Independent).
The system of press regulation allowed for by the Royal Charter is new and the arrangements put in place by the industry through IPSO do not meet all the criteria of the Leveson Report and the Royal Charter, although IPSO's Chairman told us he hoped to achieve further changes. We think that the progress of IPSO, and of the IMPRESS project, should be monitored.
At the end of our inquiry we were left with a number of questions. We set out these questions in detail in Chapter 5. They hinge on a central issue: whether the current situation, whereby the majority of the press refuse to submit to the Royal Charter, will be allowed to pertain indefinitely. We ask when the Government intends to assess whether its aims, and those of Parliament, have been met, and under what circumstances it would consider the situation unsatisfactory and take further action.