CHAPTER 2: HISTORY OF PRESS REGULATION
IN THE UK |
15. During the last 70 years those concerned
with the system of press regulation in the UK have struggled to
balance freedom of expression with the citizen's right to privacy.
In this Chapter we consider the key inquiries since the First
Royal Commission on the Press in 1947. This is summarised in our
timeline, set out in Appendix 4.
Royal Commissions on the Press:
16. The First Royal Commission on the Press was
set up in 1947 with "the object of furthering the free expression
of opinion through the press and the greatest practicable accuracy
in the presentation of the news".
It was appointed following pressure from the National Union of
Journalists (NUJ) and concentrated on allegations of inaccuracy,
political bias and abuses of media ownership.
17. The Commission reported two years later in
1949. The report found "a progressive decline in the calibre
of editors and in the quality of British journalism".
The Commission recommended the creation of a General Council of
the press with, as 20 per cent of its membership, "fair-minded,
from outside the industry. The General Council was, however, not
set up until 1953, when it was proposed in a Private Member's
Bill against the background of a threat of political action to
impose statutory regulation. The General Council was funded by
18. The Second Royal Commission on the Press
was appointed in 1962 in response to a perceived failure to implement
the recommendations of the First Royal Commission. It criticised
the General Council "for not including lay members, and proposed
statutory regulation unless its performance improved".
19. The report stated, "If
is not willing to invest the Council with the necessary authority
and to contribute the necessary finance, the case for a statutory
body with definite powers and the right to levy the industry is
a clear one."
The General Council became the Press Council and the recommendations
from the First Royal Commission were implemented, including the
introduction of a 20 per cent lay member quota and a lay Chairman.
20. The Younger Report on Privacy in 1972 criticised
the Press Council for the lack of lay representation on its board.
At the time of the report, lay representation comprised one sixth
of the Press Council's total board membership. It also stated
that "in future a critical adjudication by the Council should
be given similar prominence to that given to the original article,
and that the Council should codify its adjudications on privacy".
21. A Third Royal Commission on the Press was
appointed in 1974 to "inquire into the factors affecting
the maintenance of the independence, diversity and editorial standards
of newspapers and periodicals and the public freedom of choice
of newspapers and periodicals, nationally, regionally and locally."
Reporting in 1977, the Commission recommended a written code of
practice for the first time. This was rejected by the Press Council.
Calcutt Reports: 1990 and 1993
22. In 1989, following pressure from Parliament
and "the era of tabloid expose",
the Government commissioned Sir David Calcutt QC to
chair a committee to looks at press intrusion.
23. The Committee's key objective was "to
consider what measures (whether legislative or otherwise) are
needed to give further protection to individual privacy from the
activities of the press and improve recourse against the press
for the individual citizen".
24. This resulted in The Report of the Committee
on Privacy and Related Matters, published in June 1990. Its
key recommendation was to replace the Press Council with a new
Press Complaints Commission (PCC) governed by a new Code of Practice.
The PCC's remit was to adjudicate on complaints alleging breaches
of the Code of Practice. The Code was to be drawn up by a committee
of editors convened by PressBof.
25. The PCC was accordingly set up in 1991. The
report from the Committee on Privacy and Related Matters stated
that the PCC should be given 18 months "to demonstrate that
non-statutory self-regulation could be made to work effectively"
and that if this did not happen then a statutory tribunal should
be established. Discussing the recommendations in a television
interview for Channel 4, David Mellor MP, the Minister for the
Arts, said, "I do believe the pressthe popular pressis
drinking in the last chance saloon."
26. Sir David Calcutt reported back its
progress in his Review of Press Self-Regulation, published
on 14 January 1993. He stated that:
"The Press Complaints Commission is not,
in my view, an effective regulator of the press. It has not been
set up in a way, and is not operating a code of practice, which
enables it to command not only press but also public confidence
is, in essence, a body set up by the industry, financed by the
industry, dominated by the industry, and operating a code of practice
devised by the industry and which is over-favourable to the industry".
27. He recommended that a statutory Press Complaints
Tribunal be set up. The Government did not formally respond until
1995. In its response it said it would not introduce statutory
EDITORS' CODE OF PRACTICE
28. The PCC stated that "The Code performs
a dual function: it gives the industry a firm set of principles
to guide it; and it gives the Commission a clear and consistent
framework within which it can address complaints from members
of the public."
29. Under the PCC regime the Code underwent a
number of changes which are documented on their website. Some
notable changes are laid out below.Box
1: Notable changes to the Editors' Code of Practice
|1998: The death of Diana Princess of Wales led to some revisions of the Code, including, "a ban on information or pictures obtained through 'persistent pursuit'
also made explicit an editor's responsibility not to publish material that had been obtained in breach of this clause regardless of whether the material had been obtained by the newspaper's staff or by freelancers."
2012: "The Public Interest rules are amended so they now require editors who claim a breach of the Code was in the public interest to show not only that they had good reason to believe the public interest would be served, but how and with whom that was established at the time."
Source: Press Complaints Commission, Editors'
Code of Practice
30. In 2004 an annual Code review was introduced,
at the suggestion of the then PCC chairman Sir Christopher
House of Commons Select Committees
NATIONAL HERITAGE SELECT COMMITTEE:
31. The Fourth Report of the National Heritage
Select Committee on Privacy and Media Intrusion was published
on 24 March 1993. It said:
"A balance is needed between the right of
free speech and the right to privacy. The Committee's view is
that at present that necessary balance does not exist, and in
this Report it recommends action to achieve it. The Committee
does not believe that this balance can or should be achieved by
legislation which imprisons the press in a cage of legal restraint,
and for that reason rejects those proposals in the recent report
by Sir David Calcutt which could create such a cage. The
Committee would be deeply reluctant to see the creation of any
system of legal restraints aimed solely and specifically at the
press or the broadcast media. It believes that self-restraint
or, as the Committee prefers to call it, voluntary restraint,
is by far the better way".
32. The Committee recommended the appointment
of a new statutory press ombudsman.
CULTURE, MEDIA AND SPORT SELECT
COMMITTEE: PRIVACY AND MEDIA INTRUSION: 2002-2003
33. This inquiry examined privacy and intrusion
by all media, including broadcast and print. It was undertaken
in the context of the reform of broadcasting regulation and defining
of responsibilities for Ofcom, the communications regulator.
34. The Committee's report was published on 16
June 2003. Its recommendations included updating the Code in light
of technological developments such as the interception of phone
calls, and the establishment of a pre-publication team.
35. The report stated that:
the measures we recommend are aimed
at enhancing: the independence of the PCC and aspects of procedure,
practice and openness; the Code of Conduct; the efficacy of available
sanctions; and clarity over the protection that individuals can
expect from unwarranted intrusion by anyonenot the media
aloneinto their private lives."
Operation Motorman and What Price
36. In 2003, the Information Commissioner's Office
(ICO) launched Operation Motorman, an investigation into alleged
breaches of the Data Protection Act. This was in response to a
search of premises in Surrey which concerned the suspected misuse
of data from the Police National Computer (PNC) by serving and
former police officers.
37. The report that followed the investigation,
What Price Privacy: the unlawful trade in confidential personal
information, was published on 10 May 2006.
38. The report found "evidence of systematic
breaches in personal privacy that amount[ed] to an unlawful trade
in confidential personal information."
It discovered that, "Among the 'buyers' [were] many journalists
looking for a story. In one major case investigated by the ICO,
the evidence included records of information supplied to 305 named
journalists working for a range of newspapers."
39. In 2006 Clive Goodman, News of the World's
Royal Editor, and Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator, were
arrested on suspicion of intercepting the voicemail messages of
the Royal Family. They were found guilty and sentenced to jail.
In court it was "revealed that Mulcaire received a total
of 2,266 requests from News International journalists in the period
covered by his paperwork, 2,142 of which were made by four employees."
40. In July 2009, The Guardian published allegations
that the practice of phone hacking had been used to gain information
about a number of people, in addition to the Royal Family.
It stated that it included politicians as well as others in the
public eye, such as sportspeople. The police decided not to revisit
the 2006 inquiry. As a result, some of the alleged victims began
private legal proceedings against News International (the owner
of the News of the World) and Glenn Mulcaire.
Joint Committee on Privacy and
41. This inquiry examined the often conflicting
issues of the right to privacy and the "evolution of the
law on privacy",
and the public interest and freedom of expression.
42. The Report of the Joint Committee, published
on 12 March 2011, said that "the current system of self-regulation
is broken and needs fixing." 
They found that the PCC "was not equipped to deal with systemic
and illegal invasions of privacy"
and set out details for a reformed regulator.
43. In addressing the news media directly the
"Whilst there is clearly demand for scandal
and gossip, this should not stray into intrusion into people's
private lives without good reason. Chief executives and boards
of holding companies should take responsibility for ensuring that
news publishers uphold high standards, with processes for protecting
privacy firmly adhered to."
Lead up to the Leveson Inquiry:
Operation Weeting: 2011
44. Further to evidence that had been heard in
some of the private prosecutions following the conviction of Clive
Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire in 2007, the police launched Operation
Weeting in January 2011 into allegations of phone hacking. It
was conducted alongside Operation Elveden, which looked into allegations
of inappropriate payments to the police by those involved with
45. The outrage from this, and subsequent accusations
including the hacking of the voicemail accounts belonging to deceased
soldiers and victims of the 7/7 terror attacks,
led to the closure of the News of the World in July 2011.
Launch of the Leveson Inquiry:
46. Two days after the closure of the News of
the World by News International, the Prime Minister announced
the inquiry led by Lord Justice Leveson. He stated:
"Starting as soon as possible, Judge Leveson,
assisted by a panel of senior independent figures, with relevant
expertise in media, broadcasting, regulation and government, will
inquire into: The culture, practices and ethics of the press;
their relationship with the police; the failure of the current
system of regulation; the contacts made, and discussions had,
between national newspapers and politicians; why previous warnings
about press misconduct were not heeded; and the issue of cross-media
ownership. He will make recommendations for a new, more effective
way of regulating the press. One that supports their freedom,
plurality and independence from government
but which also
demands the highest ethical and professional standards. He will
also make recommendations about the future conduct of relations
between politicians and the press."
47. This was to be part one of a two-part inquiry
and was intended to report within 12 months. Hearings started
on 14 November 2011. At the launch of the inquiry, Lord Justice
Leveson stated, "The press provides an essential check
on all aspects of public life. That is why any failure within
the media affects all of us. At the heart of this inquiry, therefore,
may be one simple question: who guards the guardians?"
Leveson Report: 2012
48. Lord Justice Leveson's report into the
Culture, Practices and Ethics of the Press was published
on 29 November 2012. Box 2 below shows the key points raised in
2: Key points of the Leveson Report
|· New self-regulation body recommended
· Independent of serving editors, government and business
· No widespread corruption of police by the press found
· Politicians and press have been too close
· Press behaviour, at times, has been "outrageous"
Source: BBC, 'Press "needs to act" after
49. Lord Justice Leveson made several criticisms
of the PCC's role as well as the funding it received. He stated
that, "The fundamental problem is that the PCC, despite having
held itself out as a regulator, and thereby raising expectations,
is not actually a regulator at all. In reality it is a complaints
The report also pointed to the funding of the Commission and stated,
"Financially, the PCC has been run on a tight budget and
without the resources to do all that is needed."
50. The Leveson Report also identified key failings
within the Commission itself: "In practice, the PCC has proved
itself to be aligned with the interests of the press, effectively
championing its interests on issues such as
Human Rights Act 1998 and the penalty for breach of
Data Protection Act 1998. When it did investigate major issues
it sought to head off or minimise criticism of the press."
51. One of the main recommendations of the Leveson
Report was the creation of a new self-regulatory body. The details
of this body are summarised in Box 3 below.Box
3: The new self-regulatory body
|· The new self-regulatory body should be underpinned by a statute which should provide for a process to recognise the new body and ensure that it meets certain requirements and enshrine in law a legal duty to protect the freedom of the press. Ofcom should act in a verification role to ensure independence and effectiveness.
· The Chair and board members of the body should be independent of the press and Government and should be appointed by an independent appointment panel. There should be no serving editor on the board.
· The membership of the new body should be open to all publishers on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms, including making membership potentially available on different terms for different types of publisher.
· The new system should be funded by the media industry by agreement with the board of the new regulator.
· The new regulator should have the power to direct appropriate corrections and apologies and impose sanctions of up to 1 per cent of turnover with a maximum of £1 million.
· The new body should establish its own code with the aim of developing a clearer statement of the standards expected of editors and journalists.
· The new body should continue to provide advice to the public in relation to issues concerning the press and consider whether to provide an advisory service to editors in relation to the consideration of public interest.
· The new body should establish a whistle-blowing hotline for journalists who feel they are being asked to do things which are contrary to the Code.
· The new body should consider requiring that newspapers publish compliance reports in their own pages and that a named senior individual within each title should have responsibility for compliance and standards.
Source: Olswang, The Leveson Report; a quick guide
to the key recommendations for the media
52. There are clear parallels which can be drawn
between the issues raised in past inquiries on the press and those
raised in the Leveson report. The important issues are still the
freedom of the press, the concern of private individuals over
privacy, the limited effectiveness of a self-regulatory body and
the ideological importance of a self-regulatory system. In the
following chapters we consider the action taken after the Leveson
Inquiry and Report.
9 John Jewell, 'How Many Drinks in that 'Last Chance
Saloon'? The History of Official Inquiries Into the British Press',
After Leveson, The future for British Journalism, ed. John
Mair (United Kingdom: Abramis academic publishing, 2013), p 39 Back
Hugh Tomlinson QC, 'The New UK Model of Press Regulation',
LSE Media Policy Brief 12, (March 2014) p 7: http://www.lse.ac.uk/media@lse/documents/MPP/LSE-MPP-Policy-Brief-12-The-New-UK-Model-of-Press-Regulation.pdf
[accessed 10 March 2015] Back
John Jewell, op. cit., p 39 Back
MediaWise, PCC History and Procedural Reform (October 1999)
p 1: http://www.mediawise.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/PCC-History-and-Procedural-Reform.pdf
[accessed 2 March 2015] Back
John Jewell, op. cit., p 39 Back
Media Standards Trust, Written evidence provided to the Leveson
Inquiry (June 2012): http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20140122145147/http:/www.levesoninquiry.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Submission-by-Media-Standards-Trust.pdf
[accessed 10 February 2015] Back
Hugh Tomlinson QC, op. cit., p 7 Back
John Jewell, op. cit., p40 Back
Press Complaints Commission, 'About the PCC': http://www.pcc.org.uk/about/history.html
[accessed 10 February 2015] Back
See Footnote 5 for an outline of PressBof's role and remit Back
Press Complaints Commission, 'About the PCC', op. cit. Back
Bob Franklin, Martin Hamer, Mark Hanna, Marie Kinsey, John E Richardson,
Key Concepts in Journalism Studies, (London: SAGE, 19 May
2005), p 30 Back
John Jewell, op. cit., p 41 Back
Press Complaints Commission, 'Editors' Code of Practice': http://www.pcc.org.uk/cop/intro.html
[accessed 5 February 2015] Back
Press Complaints Commission, 'Editors' Code of Practice', op.
National Heritage Committee, Privacy and Media Intrusion
(Fourth Report of Session 1992-1993) p 6 Back
Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Privacy and Media Intrusion
(Fifth Report of Session 2002-03, HC458-I) Back
Information Commissioner's Office, What Price Privacy (2006)
p 4: https://ico.org.uk/media/about-the-ico/documents/1042393/what-price-privacy.pdf
[accessed 6 February 2015] Back
'Leveson inquiry uncovers 28 NI staff linked to phone hacking',
The Guardian (14 November 2011): http://www.theguardian.com/media/2011/nov/14/phone-hacking-news-international-staff-named
[accessed 17 February 2015] Back
'Trail of hacking and deceit
under nose of Tory PR chief', The Guardian (8 July
[accessed 17 February 2015] Back
Joint Committee on Privacy and Injunctions, Privacy and injunctions
(Report of Session 2010-12, HC 1443, HL Paper 273) Back
'News of the World: bereaved relatives of 7/7 victims 'had phones
hacked' The Daily Telegraph (5 July 2011): http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/8619373/News-of-the-World-bereaved-relatives-of-77-victims-had-phones-hacked.html
[accessed 10 February 2015] Back
HC Deb, 13 July 2011, col 312 Back
The Leveson Inquiry, 'An inquiry into the culture, practices and
ethics of the press': http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20140122145147/http:/www.levesoninquiry.org.uk/
[accessed 26 January 2015] Back
'Press "need to act" after Leveson', BBC (29
November 2012): http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-20543133
[accessed 10 March 2015] Back
The Leveson Inquiry, Executive Summary, op. cit. p 10 Back
Ibid. p 12 Back
Ibid. p 12 Back
Olswang, 'The Leveson Report: A Quick Guide to the Key Recommendations
for the Media': http://www.olswang.com/articles/2012/11/the-leveson-report-a-quick-guide-to-the-key-recommendations-for-the-media/
[accessed 10 March 2015] Back