Door prof. Chris Frost
(Als reactie op het afluisterschandaal rond News of the World heeft de commissie Leveson donderdag, na 16 maanden onderzoek, haar rapport gepubliceerd, waarin aanbevelingen worden gedaan voor een strenger regime van zelfregulering door de Britse pers. Onmiddellijk na de publicatie is in Engeland al strijd ontstaan tussen voorstanders van de persvrijheid en degenen die het recht van elk individu op privacy willen beschermen. Roept Leveson in zijn rapport op tot striktere zelfregulering door de Britse pers of zet hij een eerste stap naar “state intervention” in de journalistiek ?
Op verzoek van de Stichting Media-Ombudsman Nederland heeft prof. Chris Frost een korte analyse gemaakt van het onderzoeksrapport, die hierna volgt. Chris Frost is Head of Journalism van de LJMU-universiteit in Liverpool en voorzitter van de National Union of Journalists Ethics Council. Hij is een autoriteit op het gebied van journalistieke ethiek en is als getuige-deskundige door de commissie Leveson gehoord).
After 16 months of deliberation, taking evidence from all sections of British society and hearing from those with experience abroad, Lord Justice Leveson has finally issued his report.
In it he calls for an end to the Press Complaints Commission, which he condemns as unfit for purpose, and its replacement with a new, “genuinely independent and effective system of self-regulation”.
This new body could be set up by anyone, but he clearly expects the newspaper proprietors to come together to propose a new body. This would be made up largely of people independent of the press who would be appointed by an appointments panel, although Leveson is vague about who appoints the panel. The panel should, he says, be independent and include at least one person with press experience and no more than one current editor of a publication.
This panel would appoint a board with a chair, all appointed in a fair and open process with a majority independent of the press and no serving editors. Most of this seems fairly uncontroversial and no-one has yet attacked these ideas.
What has sparked outcry and led prime minister David Cameron to oppose the scheme is Leveson’s proposal that this new regulatory board should be certified by a recognition body. Leveson proposes this should be Ofcom, the present broadcast regulator in the UK. Ofcom would be expected to certify that the new board was fit for purpose on a three-yearly basis.
This has been portrayed as state regulation by many in the press and they have managed to convince many in the government.
Leveson is adamant this is not statutory regulation but is necessary in order to ensure the regulator maintains standards, those who oppose him claim it is statutory regulation and is “crossing the rubicon” to state regulation. Since those opponents are largely newspaper owners and editors, they have a strong voice and have already won over the government, but this view does not seem to have a majority in the British parliament so the debate will go on.
He also recommends changing the law and judicial civil procedure rules so that those newspapers that sign up to the new regulator would be able to use it to fast track civil suits at low cost. Anyone who was not signed up to the regulator or who refused to use it though would face increased costs and might even find they have to pay substantial costs if they won the suit on the basis that this could have been done much cheaper through the regulator.
The new board would offer a new code, a kitemark, a complaints and arbitration service and would also monitor standards and issue an annual report detailing its work.
Lord Leveson also proposes some changes in law following the phone and computer hacking revelations that will tighten up the Data Protection Act and the law that controls police ability to search premises for journalistic material. These are more detailed suggestions but are unlikely to be acceptable to the press and already the National Union of Journalists has said these recommendations would be very dangerous to future legitimate journalistic investigations.
Leveson said he was also struck by the need to protect journalists from bullying in the workplace and proposes a conscience clause should be written into contracts of employment that would protect journalists who refused an unethical assignment. There should also be a hotline for whistle-blowers within newsrooms.
Leveson was also asked to examine relationships between the press and the police and the press and parliament. He recommends some changes in the dealings between these groups but largely seems satisfied that there are few problems.