With the publication of the Leveson Report imminent it is clear that the central issue will be whether the press should, for the first time, be subjected to statutory regulation or have the opportunity to put in place a new system of binding self-regulation.
As Parliamentarians, we believe in free speech and are opposed to the imposition of any form of statutory control even if it is dressed up as underpinning, it is redress that is vital not broader regulation. The prospect of drafting legislation may have the dual benefit of exposing the dangers of the statutory regulation and at the same time focus the minds of those seeking to further strengthen the existing tough independent proposals.
No form of statutory regulation of the press would be possible without the imposition of state licensing – abolished in Britain in 1695. State licensing is inimical to any idea of press freedom and would radically alter the balance of our unwritten constitution.
There are also serious concerns that statutory regulation of the print media may shift the balance to the digital platforms which, as recent events have shown through the fiasco of Newsnight- Twitter , would further undermine the position of properly moderated and edited print journalism.
The press abuse chronicled at Leveson was almost wholly about actions which were against the law. It demonstrated not a sole failure of regulation but rather of law enforcement.
However the status quo is not an option. We cannot countenance newspapers behaving as some have in the past. The solution is not new laws but a profound restructuring of the self-regulatory system.
Lords Hunt and Black have come forward with a detailed proposal for a much improved, genuinely independent regulator with the power to intervene proactively, to levy substantial fines, and to enforce membership for the first time through a system of civil contracts. They need to deliver on this promised reform.
We agree with the report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee which came out against any form of regulation – not least because of the signal it would send to emerging democracies around the world.
Rigorous public debate will necessarily follow publication of the Leveson report and will be needed to provide confidence in a rigorous tough new system of self-regulation. Such a debate will lead to a speedy way of establishing a new regulatory regime that can restore confidence in the press.
Nick de Bois
Lord Howell of Guildford
The Lord True