The last year was dominated by the continuing fall out of the News of the World phone hacking scandal. The main media and law story of the year concerned the question of what to do about Report of the Leveson Inquiry into the Culture, Practices and Ethics of the Press.
The Leveson report was published on 29 November 2012 and the politicians and the press spent much of the next twelve months trying to work out what to do about it. The scene was set by David Cameron’s refusal to accept the recommendations of the report in full.
On the day of the launch he said he had “serious concerns and misgivings” in principle to any statutory interference in the media. He said “It would mean for the first time we have crossed the Rubicon of writing elements of press regulation into law of the land.”
Instead, Conservative ministers came up with the suggestion of a “Royal Charter” on press regulation. Hacked Off and a number of pro-Leveson politicians complained that this arcane mechanism was undemocratic and unnecessary but it appeared to be a compromise which would assuage press paranoia about political interference. And it was meant to provide a quick and effective way to set up a self-regulator.
Rather predictably, the process turned out to be painfully slow and ultimately failed in its main aim of providing a Leveson compliant mechanism which would be acceptable to the Mail, the Sun and the Telegraph. The year ended with David Cameron warning the press of the risk of future statutory controls if it did not cooperate with the Royal Charter recognition process.
But the year was dominated by the debate over the implementation of Leveson and, in particular, over the terms of a proposed Royal Charter on the Self-Regulation of the Press. Between 31 December 2012 and 11 October 2013 no less than seven draft Royal Charters were prepared – three by Conservative ministers, one by Labour and the Lib Dems, one by PressBoF and two “Cross Party” drafts. The Media Standards Trust produced a full analysis of the first six in June 2013.
These were some of the important “press regulation milestones” in 2013:
- In January 2013, no less than three draft “Leveson bills” were published – by Labour [pdf], Lord Lester [pdf] and by Hacked Off [pdf].
- In January 2013 and February 2013, the press entered into extensive negotiations with Conservative ministers with a view to producing a draft Royal Charter which removed the Leveson recommendations they did not like (see Brian Cathcart’s post here).
- On 12 February 2013, Conservative ministers published a draft Royal Charter [pdf] resulting from these discussions. It was welcomed by the press as the “fruit of two months of intensive talks” involving the industry It was described by Hacked Off as “a surrender to press pressure”.
- On 25 February 2013, the so-called “Puttnam amendments” to the Defamation Bill were passed by the House of Lords – inserting a slimmed down version of the Leveson recommendations.
- On 14 March 2013, the Conservatives pulled out of cross-party Leveson talks, but then changed their minds a few days later.
- On 18 March 2013, cross party agreement was reached on a Royal Charter on Self-Regulation of the press. Contrary to the myth promoted by the press the terms of the Charter were agreed by the three main parties on the afternoon of 17 March 2013. There was no “late night pizza deal” involving Hacked Off.
- On 25 April 2013, the Crime and Courts Act 2013 received Royal Assent. This included provisions about costs and exemplary damages relating to “relevant publishers” (the subject of a complex definition designed to assist small bloggers). This meant that relevant publishers who were not members of approved regulators faced adverse costs awards – win or lose. But the provisions would only apply if a regulator had been recognised by a body established by Royal Charter.
- On 25 April 2013 a number of newspaper groups proposed their own Royal Charter. This was submitted to the Privy Council on 30 April 2013.
- On 3 May 2013, the Government announced a consultation on the PressBoF Charter – with a deadline of 24 May 2013.
- On 8 July 2013, in a press release from News UK Limited, it was announced that the “newspaper and magazine industry” were taking steps to set up an “Independent Press Standards Organisation” – IPSO. This was based on the Hunt-Black plan – submitted to (and rejected by) Lord Justice Leveson.
- On 10 July 2013 the PressBoF charter was referred to an eight member Privy Council Committee for consideration
- In October, Sir Brian Leveson gave evidence to the Commons Culture Media and Sport Committee. He was reluctant to expand on his report but told the Committee that his recommendations were “not bonkers”.
- On 8 October 2013, the Privy Council Committee finally rejected the PressBoF Charter and Maria Miller announced that the Cross Party Charter would be on the agenda for a special Privy Council meeting on 30 October 2013
- On 11 October 2013, the DCMS published the final draft of the Royal Charter
- On 30 October 2013, PressBoF unsuccessfully applied for a last minute injunction to restrain the consideration of the Cross Party Royal Charter.
- On 30 October 2013, the Privy Council finally granted the Royal Charter on Self-Regulation of the Press [pdf]
- On 5 December 2013, it was announced that publishers had met to sign contracts for IPSO a body which, it was said, would be launched by 1 May 2013. The previous week, the MST had published an independent assessment of IPSO.
- On 9 December 2013, the IMPRESS project was launched – involving a plan to develop a Leveson compliant self-regulator for small publishers and websites.
- On 23 December 2013, the Commissioner for Public Appointments finally received the letter from the Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport authorising him to begin carrying out his functions of appointing the Recognition Panel under the Royal Charter.
In short, the position at the end of 2013 – 13 months after the publication of the Leveson Report – was that the appointment of the Recognition Panel was beginning but the press were, apparently, refusing to use it. Two rival self-regulators were on the horizon – the PressBoF version, PCC Mark 2, IPSO and the independent but as yet embryonic IMPRESS. There seems little doubt that the struggle over Leveson implementation will continue well into 2014.
In Media and Law Review of the Year, Part 2: Phone Hacking: Elveden, Pinetree and the Old Bailey Trial