'There's no way of prettifying it. Legislation would be the intrusion of the State into the press'

Oliver Kamm

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.


Follow our live coverage on thetimes.co.uk

Leveson: pick of the comment from the web

The report on Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry into press ethics was published earlier today, calling for a stronger press regulator underpinned by new legislation. Soon afterwards, David Cameron, the Prime Minister, rejected the notion of enacting legislation that might impinge upon the freedom of the press - a position that is opposed by his coalition partner, Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, and also the Leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband.

Here’s the pick of the Leveson comment from the web, updated as it comes in. For The Times’s live Leveson blog, head here.

Philip Webster, The Times:

Already tonight, the numbers game is being played at Westminster. MPs are calculating whether an alliance of Labour, Liberals and around 40 Tories can outvote the majority of David Cameron’s Conservative supporters and Labour MPs who are opposed to statute.
The only certainty is that there will be a vote in the House of Commons very soon. Labour will set out to embarrass David Cameron as soon as they can. As Deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman has just said, Mr Cameron will be accused of protecting the press barons if he does not think again.
Mr Cameron will get a good press tomorrow for rejecting state regulation, but his Parliamentary problems are just beginning.

Andrew Gilligan, Telegraph blogs:

Regulation is either independent of the industry, or it’s self-regulation. It can’t be both. You’d expect a High Court judge to know that, wouldn’t you?

Fraser Nelson, Spectator Coffee House:

This is a defining moment for the Prime Minister, invoking ancient liberties to give a calm, eloquent and robust defence of freedom of speech. I hope those 42 pro-regulation Tory MPs were in the chamber listening to him: this is politics at its boldest and best.

Nick Davies, the Guardian journalist who broke the phone-hacking scandal (Video):

He [Leveson] has damned a whole bunch of behaviour that deserves to be damned. And he’s damned the editors responsible for it.

Gary Gibbon, Channel 4 blogs:

The Lib Dems and Labour are now coralled together [in favour of statutory underpinning of Lord Justice Leveson’s proposals], but keeping them together beyond one ambush vote and through a whole process of legislation could be very different. David Cameron’s team still thinks it can hold out against legislation.

Dan Hodges, Telegraph blogs:

Cameron has, not for the first time, secured clever triangulation. He has rung the bell for last orders in the last-chance saloon, but is giving journalists the chance to drink up and leave, rather than send in the bouncers. Miliband, trapped by his own bullish rhetoric on this issue, has to set himself against the media, and continue with his demands for full implementation of Leveson, including a statutory regulatory body. Meanwhile the press, who recognise which way the wind is blowing, will make those demands appear gratuitous by agreeing to a new voluntary framework.

Philip Collins gives his verdict on Gordon Brown’s appearance at the Leveson Inquiry

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