At the moment the way the newspapers, magazines etc. are regulated is through something called the PCC; Press complaints commission which is funded and run by the media themselves without any government interference. There have been calls by members of the public, victims of phone hacking, celebrities and politicians for this body to be placed by an independent body underpinned by legislation, i.e. government supported but away from the “interference” of either politicians or the media. The new body has been likened to Ofcom, which a statutory body that regulates other parts of the media such as TV, radio etc. A cross party debate has been held on Lord Justice Leveson’s report and its central call for an independent self-regulatory body for newspapers; backed by law.
The Culture secretary, whose department would be in charge of the new regulation, Maria Miller said the government had “grave concerns” about underpinning regulation by statute, but had not ruled it out. The Government has now said that it will draw up draft legislation on a new press watchdog that created a statutory body if the press fail to agree on a new tougher way of monitoring themselves.
Labour has said that the Leveson proposal was “ingenious” and should be implemented.
MPs will debate the report in detail, but there will not be a vote on it, which means that effectively the debate doesn’t mean a great deal because it has no effect on the government or any legislation drawn up.
Labour leader Ed Miliband and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg have voiced their support for the Leveson report to be implemented. Labour says it is drafting its own bill in case no agreement can be reached which may happen due to the lack of Conservative support for the whole of the report.
Prime Minister David Cameron has indicated he has “serious concerns and misgivings” about any legislation to regulate the press and wants newspapers to sign up to a tougher new regulator, without the need for legislation.
The proposed law, would guarantee an independent arbitration for complainants and place a duty on the Government to protect the freedom of the press although its hard so how this principle would work in practise. It wouldn’t however, create a body that regulates each act by the press so in effect the press would still be pretty free to do what they want until a complaint is made, which is pretty similar to what happens now and it wouldn’t give any parliament or government the right to interfere with newspapers. Lord Hunt (who is the current chair of the PCC) has spoken to 120 publishers, representing 2,000 editors, and said they had all told him they would sign up to an independent regulator.
Newspapers generally support the idea of a beefed-up independent regulator, but are against it being backed up in law, with the guardian coming out strongly against any form of government interference with its work. .
A Labour Party source said it was serious about the cross-party talks currently taking place, but if the government failed to come up with its own workable bill, it would put its alternative proposal to the Commons for a vote in January. That would simply embarrass the government but not actually make it into law because the government’s majority would simply vote against it and any vote would not be binding on the government.