OK, regulation is probably the wrong word, but the Leveson report released today does suggest some legislative mechanisms to set up a self-regulating board for the press in the United Kingdom. However, if I’m reading the report correctly, the “regulation” appears to be very light. Here’s how Leveson explained it to the Telegraph:
“The legislation would not give any rights to Parliament, to the Government or to any regulatory or other body to prevent newspapers from publishing any material whatsoever,” he says.
“Despite what will be said about these recommendations by those who oppose them, this is not, and cannot be characterised as, statutory regulation of the press.
“What is proposed here is independent regulation of the press organised by the press, with a statutory verification process to ensure that the required levels of independence and effectiveness are met.”
The new body, he says, should have an arbitration system to enable wronged parties to seek swift redress by way of a prominent apology and fines, if appropriate.
That sounds quite reasonable to me, although perhaps I’d react differently if he were suggesting such an approach to the US press. But, the US press — quite objectively — is ethically leaps and bounds above much of the British press. And this approach seems to only create a quick-recourse mechanism for people who’ve been libeled or had their privacy invaded. It’s important to remember that British legislation already allows for damages for privacy and defamation cases — so, it’s not as though they’re creating new oversight from a complete vacuum.
I find myself thinking that the status quo isn’t working in the UK, so why not try something new? Many journalists appear to have operated for more than a decade without much thought for the rule of law. And ethical lapses probably go back further than that. Besides, lawmakers can always go back and undo the system if unintended consequences develop.
But, with huge interests entrenched against the suggestions, I doubt the Leveson recommendations will evolve into anything approaching reality.