In a fascinating piece in the latest Index on Censorship magazine, Julian Petley suggests that the Leveson Inquiry represents a “twice in a lifetime opportunity to reform the behaviour of the press and the manner in which it is regulated“. “Twice in a lifetime” because, we have “been there before” in the 1980s. At that time, the excessive behaviour of the popular press led to a number of private members bills and debate on press standards.
This led, in 1988, to the appointment of the eminent QC Louis Blom-Cooper (pictured) as the new head of the then “self-regulatory” body, the Press Council, with the aim of making it a more respected, authoritative and effective. However, Blom-Cooper found little support and was the target of press mischief making by the press. He pointed that that he was trying to make the Council a body whose
“primary function was not to protect the industry but to give the public something which they could recognise and accept with confidence as being on their side”.
In the end the press supported the abolition of the Press Council and its replacement by the PCC.
In a piece entitled “Louis Blom-Cooper: Leveson Inquiry “A Golden Opportunity“, Julian Petley interviews Sir Louis Blom-Cooper about these issues.
Blom-Cooper comments that Leveson is a “golden opportunity to do something on the grand scale“. He goes on to say “we need to get rid of the word “regulation”; what we actually need is an independent body which carries out monitoring”.
He favours an “entirely independent body”, conceived on the grand scale
“For example, it should be involved in the question of the education and training of journalists, and in ensuring that there is plurality of press ownership, so that in the case of mergers they can examine whether or not they should take place. In all of these matters it should be undertaking investigations, not exercising executive power. What I do think vitally important would be the Commission’s ability to conduct public inquiries, and the statute would have to give it all the necessary procedural powers to conduct such inquiries, in particular the power to subpoena witnesses”.
He accepts that one function should be dealing with complaints but suggests that “accuracy” is far more important than “privacy”
“The real problem is the daily lying, cheating and distorting in the press, all of which fall under the first clause of the Code”.
The full interview can be read on the Index on Censorship website.