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Opinion: “Who’s independent?” – Brian Cathcart

The national papers are desperately scratching around for the names of people who might be regarded as sufficiently independent to serve on their new regulator. Let’s give them some help.

First, editors and proprietors are anything but independent. They are not only wholly partisan, but most of them are tainted by their longtime advocacy of the discredited Press Complaints Commission and by their record of, as the Leveson report puts it, ‘wreaking havoc in the lives of ordinary people’. So the less they have to do with setting up an independent regulatory body that is supposed to put the interests of the public before those of the industry, the better.

Second, Lords Hunt and Black are not independent. They are both tainted by their advocacy of a plan for press self-regulation which was rejected as insufficient by victims of press abuses, and fell far short of what was required by Lord Justice Leveson. They promised something independent and offered another thinly-veiled figleaf for editorial whim. Their lordships both also happen to be active politicians, taking a party whip in the House of Lords, which is hardly a very independent thing to be.

Third, anyone suggested by these people is by definition not independent. It is simply not appropriate that editors, proprietors and their associates should lead the discussion about appointing independent regulators. Not just because of their record, but because they are among many stakeholders in the future of the press.

What about serving journalists? The NUJ should have a role. What about the public? What about the people who have suffered press abuses, who have campaigned on this for no other reason than that they want to prevent others experiencing the treatment they have endured?

And that only gets us half way. When the Paul Dacres, Dominic Mohans, Hugh Whittows, John Witherows and others have had their say, who will check that they have come up with something credible?

Will it be the Culture Secretary or the Prime Minister? Surely not. That would be direct political interference in the press, and nobody wants that. Will it be some other bunch of people hand-picked by the editors and proprietors? Never. That smacks just too much of the old PCC.

It’s all a bit complicated and difficult. So complicated and difficult, in fact, that it might be an idea to hand the problem over to a judge and see what he thinks. A judge like Sir Brian Leveson perhaps.

Brian Cathcart is director of Hacked Off. He tweets at @BrianCathcart.


  1. p.cialfi

    So WHO will decide WHO will on the ‘Independent’ Regulator’s Board ?
    The NUJ have among their members people who are also members of the same organisation that is behind inforrm, media standards trust, Leverson inquiry, etc, i.e. where is the independence of those who are advocating independence ?

  2. Dave Roberts

    Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset, Conservative)

    Lord Leveson says on page 169 that “most blogs are read by very few people. Indeed, most blogs are rarely read as news or factual, but as opinion and must be considered as such.”

    However, we discover from Saturday’s Financial Times, a very good source of information and not one that has been involved with any of these problems, that 82% of the UK population receive news online, compared with 54% who receive it from newspapers. So the report is about regulating yesterday rather than dealing with tomorrow; it should make King Canute feel proud,

    because at least he was going to deal with the tide that was coming in, rather than a tide that had receded some years before.

    I am delighted to say that Lord Justice Leveson has used online content himself; it was reported in The Sunday Times that he was caught by a spoof on Wikipedia and said that The Independent was founded by one Brett Straub, who apparently is a Californian student and had no association with the founding of The Independent. So, on the one hand, not much notice is taken of the internet, but, on the other, it has actually been used in putting together this report of almost 2,000 pages.

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