‘There’s no way of prettifying it. Legislation would be the intrusion of the State into the press’
Journalists committed gross intrusions of privacy. The press must be free. These two truths are at the heart of the debate over regulation of the press.
Lord Justice Leveson has gone to great lengths to balance them and stresses that any new regulatory body would be independent. It would, however, be supported by law. The required legislation would not itself establish the new organisation, and Lord Justice Leveson emphasised that no new powers would be granted to Parliament. Instead, the legislation would establish the ideals that regulation should embody.
This is a skilful and accommodative set of proposals, aimed at securing political consensus and press participation. But the balance between statute and self-regulation is the crucial issue. There is no way of prettifying it: legislation would be the intrusion of the State into the workings of the press. David Cameron is right to baulk at it.
Nor is it credible to suppose that a new mechanism would be without coercion. Lord Leveson made clear that if a newspaper or magazine failed to sign up to the new system, it would be subject to exemplary damages in cases of libel or invasion of privacy. There are already laws applicable to the journalistic malpractices that Lord Leveson heard evidence of. The proposals he has made to counter them abridge press freedom.