The BBC Radio 4 PM programme “Privacy Commission” has reported. The “Commissioners”, Sir Michael Lyons, Baroness Liddell and Lord Faulks heard evidence from 17 individuals – campaigners, lawyers, politicians and others (see below) – and yesterday issued a Report – with 7 pages of conclusions followed by a summary of the evidence heard and a number of appendices.
The Commission expressed conclusions under ten headings: covering a wide range of issues concerning the media, well beyond its “core area” of the balance between privacy and the right to know.
Under the heading “A Right to Privacy?” it concluded that
“concern to protect personal privacy is not just a matter for the rich, famous and powerful but extends to all the citizens of an open democracy. The courts will inevitably have to strike the balance in individual cases. We are not convinced that the judges’ interpretation of the law at the moment is unsatisfactory. However we believe that, in the light of public disquiet, Parliament should take further action to define and reinforce the rights of individuals. The necessary provisions could be included in the forthcoming Defamation Bill”
On the topic of “Access to Protection and Redress” the Commission concluded that “Injunctions will continue to have a part to play in protecting individuals’ privacy” but expressed surprise that
“newspapers facing injunctions have not sought more often to argue a public interest defence. This has left the impression that that either there has been no such defence or that the publishers concerned have been content to collude in their own “gagging.”
On the question of “Public Interest”, the Commission was of the view that the definition in the PCC editors’ code was “robust and offers an adequate basis for distinguishing between what is in the public interest and what may be of interest to the public”.
The Commission’s views on Regulation were of particular interest. It was
“satisfied that there is little public confidence in current arrangements and that the revelations of recent weeks suggest that some publishers have themselves demonstrated contempt for the principle of self regulation”.
The Commission expressed the desire that the PCC – or any subsequent regulator – “demonstrate a more energetic sense of curiosity”. It noted that there may be “lessons to learn from the regulation of broadcasting and the work of the Information Commissioner”. It suggested that
“any future regulatory framework should include the scope for sanctions commensurate with the gains achieved by unwarranted intrusion especially where that involves possibly illegally obtained information”.
On the question of statutory regulation, the Commission said that
“there may be scope for a statutory framework establishing a new or revised regulatory body. However the relevant provisions should be couched in terms that do not lead to the charge that the state is in any way controlling press freedom”.
The other areas covered were Freedom of Expression, Social Media, the Behaviour of Individual Publishers and Journalists, the Future of Newspaper Publishing, The Trade in Illegally Obtained Personal Information, Relations Between Government and Newspaper Publishers and the Police and the Press. On many of these areas the situation had changed dramatically over recent weeks and the Commission welcomed the fact that the Leveson Inquiry was going to consider the issues. It suggested that
In addition to careful consideration of a new regulatory framework with appropriate sanctions we believe that the [Leveson Inquiry] should also address questions of good corporate governance within newspaper publishing and ethical and professional standards within journalism.
The Report is an interesting, if cautious, document: in the image of the responsible media organisation which commissioned it. The Report suggests that the current legal framework is generally “fit for purpose” and working well but that the regulatory framework needs careful reconsideration. The Report will, apparently, be presented as evidence to the Leveson Inquiry. It will, at the very least, give that Inquiry a good idea of how much it will have to cover.
The Evidence: Full Audio and Transcripts of the evidence of the “witnesses” heard by the Commission can be found here: