The transcripts of the official inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. More…

  • MS ANGELA PHILLIPS (previously sworn).

  • May I ask each of you to provide us with your full names, please.

  • You have provided us with a submission on behalf of the Co-ordinating Committee for Media Reform. I'm not sure exactly when it's dated, but it matters not.

    May I ask you to confirm the truth of that submission, please.

  • Professor Curran, we haven't heard from you before. Could you tell us very briefly about yourself.

  • I have written or edited 21 books about the media. I've been a visiting professor at Stamford University, Oslo University, Stockholm University. I'm director of the Goldsmith Leverhulme Media Research Centre and chair of Media Reform.

  • What is the Co-ordinating Committee for Media Reform?

  • It's an umbrella group that involves people from different civil society organisations and groups concerned with the media.

  • Thank you.

    In relation to submission, you are going to deal with part 1, Professor Curran, I understand, and Ms Phillips, part 2. But at the end I may give you an opportunity to comment on those other proposals that the Inquiry has received such as you wish to, or indeed to say anything in addition.

    So may we look at part 1, Professor Curran, first of all.

    The generating public interest journalism. Could I ask you please in your own words to summarise the twofold problem you are identifying there?

  • The symptoms would be unethical journalism, cowed politicians, a distorted national debate, closing newspapers. Causes -- well, there are multiple causes, everything. But one cause we focus on is media concentration that produces a culture of impunity that breeds unethical practice, a centre of power that intimidates politicians and leads to a dysfunctional relationship; and an unrepresentative power centre that distorts public debate.

    So that's one problem we confront. The other problem is the growing economic crisis of journalism.

  • Thank you. That's very clear.

    Can I ask you, please, just to raise your voice a small amount so everybody in this room can hear. I think that amplifies to some extent, that device. It's important it's not just me and Lord Justice Leveson who hear what you're saying.

  • I don't think it does amplify actually.

  • Can I ask you, please, the decline of investigative journalism, which many have spoken to, could I just put this point to you. Isn't that simply a function of the lack of desire on the part of the general public for what might be called "traditional news stories", and if so, why is it a problem that needs addressing?

  • Well, I think the role of the press shouldn't only be defined by consumer demand. The press has a democratic function, and one of the functions is to act as a watchdog. So my response is yes, the point you are making is partly true, but nonetheless the press has an obligation to be an effective investigator of power.

  • Thank you.

    Your solution has three elements. You define those as: obligations, caps and levies. Obligations first of all. That's our page 00864. On the internal numbering of the document is page 2, Professor Curran.

  • You see certain obligations arising only if certain thresholds are met, as it were. Could I ask you, please, to explain how that works, and also the reasons underlying this.

  • Right. Essentially market leaders have 5 per cent share of the respective markets, have a very privileged position. And in response to that, they should have public duties. This is an extension of the regime we have for commercial broadcasting. Major commercial broadcasters have public duties, and we are essentially applying the logic that applies in broadcasting to the press.

  • Can I understand what the threshold is?

  • It's 15 per cent of specified markets.

  • There are four specified markets. These are the sort of bullet points.

  • National newspapers, television, radio and the Internet.

  • Thank you. As you explain in the paragraph thereafter:

    "Any entity whose combined outlets command 15 per cent or more of any of the above must ensure that public interest obligations are adhered to."

    So is this right: you're not combining shares within the four; it must be any of the four?

  • Each of the respective markets. So there are two proposals: one, a limit on cross media ownership, and the second one is obligations that arise from a 15 per cent share of specified sub-markets, which are national newspapers, television, radio and the Internet.

  • The proposal in relation to cross-media ownership, could you tell us about that one, please?

  • Yes. That derives from the Enders Analysis. They propose that there should be a limit of 15 per cent of the core media industry. And they define it in terms of revenue.

    So, for example, BSkyB has a 14 per cent share of the core media industry revenue, and is very close to the upper limit. And what is being proposed in suggesting there should be limits on press groups is in line with what a former Conservative Prime Minister advocated to you. It's in line with what the leader of the Labour Party opposition. And here are distinguished politicians who are proposing to you that the problem of media concentration is so great that there needs to be a direct limitation on their power.

  • I understand as a matter of principle, where you're coming from is that if the source of the problem is excessive concentration of power, one needs to cut the power off at root almost and therefore look at certain threshold.

    We will come back to that issue. But can I just understand some of the detail --

  • -- just a little bit more.

    When you say in relation to your four bullet points, the last one is:

    "Traffic shares of top 20 UK-based news website."

    Can you clarify for us what that means? Does that mean solely operated from the United Kingdom or does it include aggregators?

  • It's unique visitors as defined by the Alexa measurement, and it replies to visitors to UK websites that could come from anywhere in the world.

  • Anywhere from the world. So it's unique visitors' traffic in relation to UK news and information websites, as derived from Alexa.

  • Right. Perhaps a more general point now, that it's implicit in the proposal that your four different sources, as you define them, are being treated as different markets. Given that there's evidence that the average person uses over four sources of information for news, the idea of a newspaper audience which is distinct from a television audience, for example, may arguably not make complete sense. So why are you treating them as different markets?

  • There are major players in the media that have a dominating influence. If we take the press with which we are particularly concerned, we have a situation where you have major press oligarchs who make tacit deals with Government, who, at the behest of a small number of people, can move into coalition with Government or launch a jihad against Government.

    So the problem is not that there is a mix in terms of the diet of consumption. The problem arises from the concentration of power in key sectors. The point you are making is obviously right. People draw upon information from different sources. But that doesn't obviate the point that a concentration of fire power within particular sectors has enormous political clout and enormously influences the nature of British politics.

  • I understand.

    In terms, then, of who would qualify -- if that's the right way of putting it, Professor Curran. If one looks at the next page, 00865, you have helpfully given us a bar chart. Unfortunately we don't have the colours on the version we have, but we can decipher it.

    If one is looking at national newspapers, which of course are of greatest concern, but not the sole concern, of this Inquiry, those which qualify because they're above the 15 per cent, obviously the News International titles, the Trinity Mirror national titles and the Associated News titles, but no one else. Is that right?

  • So self-evidently then, the Guardian and the Independent titles are below the threshold. They don't owe the obligations which you're going to go on to define and describe to us. But they may owe different obligations; is that correct?

  • Yes. To be brutally frank, the Independent and the Guardian have tiny circulations. They don't correspond in terms of their position to large groups like News Corporation, Trinity Mirror and Daily Mail.

  • Is it right just to count the number of newspapers, or does one also have to take account of the reach of these organs through the Internet? Because, as I understand it, the reach of the Guardian, for example, is dramatically different to its production of papers.

  • That is true. But in response to questions about use, the Internet is not a major source of news. It's a major source of entertainment. But the point you are making nonetheless is correct.

    The Guardian's status is enhanced by its presence online.

  • Yes. I'm sure the Guardian Online editor would hope that the Guardian Online was a source of entertainment, but equally, I would hope that it would be thought that it was also the subject of pretty comprehensive information by way of news and comment.

    The trouble is we may not know why people read it, although one might be able to infer why people read the Guardian website. I have picked the Guardian as one of a type. I could equally have taken the Independent. I'm not getting at or saying anything one way or the other about the newspaper. It's the point I'm concerned with.

  • I understand the point you are making. I would say in response to that that the editor of the Guardian can't swing an enormous media influence behind a government or launch a jihad against the Government. Murdoch can, Paul Dacre can and the Mirror Group can.

    The status of the Guardian doesn't correspond to that of Murdoch. But the larger point is one needs to find some kind of objective measurement.

  • That's the point I'm really getting at.

  • This is the best measurement which is objective, rather than influenced by political or party considerations that we came up with.

  • That was of course the point I was making. I wasn't seeking to make any particular comment about the Guardian or the Independent on the one hand, or the News International titles or the Daily Mail on the other. It may be just an issue of measurement.

    I have interrupted Mr Jay. I'll just interrupt him a bit more.

    It's very important that I tie in what you're suggesting to my terms of reference, and that I don't seek to take on rather more than I have been asked to do, because there'll be no small number of people who are prepared to point out what I have been required to do, and to identify if I have extended my brief.

    So I just need to be careful, and just so that we all bear it in mind, I certainly have to deal with the extent to which the current policy and regulatory framework has failed, including in relation to data protection. And I have to make recommendations:

    "... for a new more effective policy and regulatory regime which supports the integrity and freedom of the press, the plurality of the media, and its independence, including from Government, while encouraging the highest ethical and professional standards ..."

    And:

    "... for how future concerns about press behaviour, media policy, regulation and cross-media ownership should be dealt with ..."

    So how future concerns should be dealt with by all the relevant authorities, including Parliament, Government, the prosecuting authorities and the Police.

    So I'm not sure that extends to my saying, however much former Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have encouraged me, that I think there ought to be this cap.

    So I need to think about it.

  • Can I respond to that?

  • Please do. That's why I raised it.

  • A policy that is designed to support plurality would seem to me to connect with proposals designed to promote plurality.

  • We just need to think about it.

  • My understanding, Professor Curran -- correct me if I am wrong -- there are two aspects to this. The cap is being treated here as a threshold for triggering the public service obligation, but there may be a separate point that if you are over the cap, whether you should be divested in any event, which directly engages the plurality issue, which may or may not directly engage the terms of reference.

    Have I correctly understood where you're coming from?

  • Yes. In the case of public service obligations, one of them we propose is to strengthen the position of the editor, and make the editor more oriented towards his staff.

    That would seem to me to be a proposal supporting the independence of the press that falls within the reference of the Leveson Inquiry, and has the potential to promote the plurality of the press.

    It's in line with the previous Inquiry conducted by the Royal Commission On the Press, chaired by McGregor, where they produced a press freedom charter, and that was informed by the notion that a way of enhancing the independence and plurality of the press was to ensure that press freedom wasn't simply the property of the owner, that it was something shared with journalists.

    So they were concerned to strengthen, through the press freedom charter, the role of the editor and the role of journalists. We have just taken the logic of that proposal and extended it.

  • I just ask you to clarify the last two lines of the third page, 00865, which follows on to the next page, about, in particular, the measurement of local news and the possible role of Ofcom in that context, please, Professor Curran.

  • On your page numbering it's page 3, the very bottom of the page, the last two lines of your page 3.

  • Yes. We just thought the local press was an unbelievably complex area, and the problems of definition and the problems of intervention required very detailed knowledge, and we therefore didn't wish to offer a proposal, and shifted it to Ofcom.

  • I understand.

    Your recommendations then, when a relevant body is above the threshold, there are various elements to it. The first is protecting editorial autonomy. Can I understand what your proposal is here?

    In essence you say that the qualifying news organisations above the 15 per cent set up a panel, including a minimum of five staff journalists, empowered to oversee key decisions. Then you identify the sorts of decisions.

    Could I ask you please to amplify that?

  • The intention essentially is to ensure that staff are -- participate in a consultative way with decisions in a company. And the intention is also to strengthen the position of the editor and to ensure that the editor is oriented towards journalists.

    This I think does connect to the issue of independence and plurality of the press that is a concern of the Leveson Inquiry.

    Our press is different from that of other countries. We're in a kind of time warp in which the controllers of the press operate rather like the press barons of old, and in other countries they have moved on from that, and most media groups have dispersed shareholdings. And editors, managers and journalists have much greater influence, and that leads in our view to better journalism.

    So that is the thinking behind these proposals.

  • May I understand, please, how this proposal would be enforced? Are you anticipating that there be a statute which imposes the minimum requirement you are referring to?

  • So it would be unlawful for either a private or a public company to operate in a way which did not reflect these minimum requirements?

  • So there would have to be an editorial panel established in all leading market organisations.

  • May I put this contrary argument to you Professor Curran. Some might say that this is really an unwarranted interference with the operation of a free market, that if a proprietor has successfully built up his organisation close from scratch -- take the example of Mr Murdoch, for example. That's what he's done. He's been enormously successful. You are now telling him that he can't appoint the editor he chooses. Okay, he has certain obligations in relation to the Times and the Sunday Times, but otherwise he should be allowed to do what which he wishes, certainly in the areas which you are defining here.

    The general law will constrain him and regulation may constrain him, but you're arguably creating serious intrusions into his freedoms.

  • The editorial panel would include both management and editorial staff. The proportions haven't been assigned. But the basic point that is being put is that press groups shouldn't only operate at the behest of very powerful individuals. And it's very important that staff and editors have a greater degree of autonomy than they have, and this is a mechanism designed to strengthen that.

  • So you are thinking it's a necessary and proportionate step to deal with a serious problem which in the public interest must be addressed; is that a fair summary?

  • I understand. Now --

  • Would that really work? Because if the editor has the right of hire and fire, it would take a very strong group of journalists who disagreed with his policy and his view to stand up to him if he was working at the behest of the proprietor. I'm not taking any example in particular.

  • That would be right. The biggest sanction that could be taken is a motion of no confidence. At universities, vice chancellors are exposed to a motion of no confidence from time to time. They generally ignore those votes of no confidence, but nonetheless it's a warning shot, and it means that they have to worry a bit more about presentation to their staff.

    So what is being proposed is not a syndicalist solution, which I don't believe in, where the staff control. It's just creating a buffer. A buffer zone in which journalists and editors have a greater degree of autonomy.

  • The second recommendation, Professor Curran, promoting public interest media, in my understanding, the qualifying entities will be subject to a levy of sorts, which is a contribution out of their annual profits into a trust, and that trust will subvent, subsidise journalism in the public interest. Is that basically the idea?

  • That's correct, and the idea behind that is Channel 4. Channel 4 was set up on the basis of a transfer of resources from ITV to support a minority channel, Channel 4.

    So a levy on market leaders is designed to support greater diversity. In a strange kind of way, the Government's policy on local TV is doing this too. It's taking money from the BBC to support new local TV organisations.

    So the levy is intended to support diversity.

  • Is this going to be done exclusively through the entity you identify on page 5, the top of our page 00867, namely The Bureau of Investigative Journalism?

  • No, that is one beneficiary of such a scheme.

    The levy would be levied in a way that all levies would be levied. The money would go towards the Public Media Trust, and the Public Media Trust would be the agency that would allocate funds to support diversity.

  • What is The Bureau of Investigative Journalism?

  • It's one example of an initiative that was supported by a small amount of money. It's a separate investigative journalism unit, and it has been spectacularly successful. The stories run this week on the influence of banks, on the politicians, the FSA and the Lords all came from this tiny investigative unit. And it illustrates what a small amount of money can do to bolster the watchdog role of the press.

    So the idea is a levy on market leaders would include support for investigative units, such as the one that's been referred to.

  • How are those stories promulgated? Who picks them up?

  • They have a very clever scheme. Nobody would pay any attention to one investigative unit, so they form a partnership. So they had two exclusives this week with the Guardian, which was splashed over two pages on two successive days, which was then picked up by television.

    So they operate with working in partnership with major players. The same thing operates with ProPublica in America. They have done a series of successful stories. They won the Pulitzer Prize by working in conjunction with NBC, the Los Angeles Times and others.

    So here is a specialist unit of really good journalists who develop a story. They then give it to a major organisation as an exclusive, which runs it. It's then picked up by broadcasting. So it's a very cheap way of strengthening the independence, plurality and democratic functioning of the press.

  • When we come to the issue of caps, which is the separate aspect of pluralism, which may or may not engage the terms of reference, but nonetheless you will speak to them, what you're proposing is that there should be two caps: one in relation to single entities controlling a given media audience, and we are looking at the four categories you had identified earlier; and then a different cap at a lower level for cross-media market revenue; is that right?

  • So are you proposing then -- I think you are -- that if one overreaches the cap, one will be cut back, shorn back to the cap --

  • -- by compulsory action by the state?

  • Forcing you to sell the excess?

  • That's correct. And the thinking behind that is not a single acquisition of a major newspaper has been denied in the last 46 years. So if the Leveson Inquiry is concerned with a policy for supporting plurality, which I submit is in your terms of reference, then it must be concerned with ways of tackling the problem of media concentration, which constrains the plurality of the press.

  • We see in the recent recommendations from Ofcom that they don't favour absolute caps. So that's one aspect. But the other aspect as well is that why can't all this be dealt with adequately by a combination of existing competition laws and the plurality test which we see in the Enterprise Act, which is imported back into the Communications Act of 2003. In other words, why do we need this rigidity?

  • The simple answer is history. Our competition policy has failed. If you're faced with a situation where no major newspaper acquisition has been stopped, clearly something has to change.

    Ofcom is a deeply impressive organisation. Its research is wonderful, and the people I have met in it are very impressive. But it operates within a framework which is deregulatory. The DCMS paper that came out this week essentially said technology is generating diversity and competition, which is what it said ten years ago. The Government has changed, but the message is the same.

    So Ofcom will be operating in a deregulatory framework probably. It also operates within the thinking about the press that is shaped by the press.

    I suspect that is something that you will realise when you deliver your report: that thinking about press regulation is strongly influenced by the press.

    So my response to the notion of an intimate plurality test, is I think that's a way of parking a problem, rather than solving it.

    It is unbelievably difficult for an agency to tackle the massive concentration that's developed over the last 40 years.

    Only a striking tocsin call from an inquiry such as this might possibly start a new ball rolling.

  • Can I understand how it would work? You have a press entity which has overtopped the 15 per cent. It will be the 20 per cent if we're looking at a single market. So you are at 25 per cent. How does one get rid of the excess 5 per cent?

  • They will simply have to sell their properties.

  • Sell their properties. So in the case of News International, it will be divested of those papers that enable it to come within the 20 per cent target. And that would almost certainly lead to a form of ownership that has more dispersed shareholdings, which would be enormously in the public interest.

  • I can see how it might work at least in principle with News International, because they're at 35 per cent at the moment, and they would say, "Okay, we will sell the Times and the Sunday Times, and that will bring us just below 20 per cent".

    How would it work with DMGT, the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday? They would have to choose which to sell. It would be all or nothing, wouldn't it?

  • Yes, it would be. So the Mail and the Sunday Mail -- the Mail on Sunday -- would be separated. And this may seem a very extraordinary policy to propose.

  • You commented upon the reaction that I'm going to face talking about press regulation. I shudder to think of the reaction I'm going to face on this type of recommendation.

  • I understand entirely the point you are making. Let me nonetheless put the case for this. Then let me put --

  • I'm not saying you are not right.

  • I understand. The temptation is to bite off what one can chew and leave the rest for another day.

    If one goes back to the second Royal Commission on the Press. They regretted the way in which daily and Sunday papers were being bundled together. And they saw that as a reduction of plurality.

    We've come to accept that as being the natural and normal state of affairs. I think the second Royal Commission on the Press was right, and our assumption of what's normal is not right.

    But in response to your comments about hostages to fortune, doing what is possible, the bar could be set at different levels. One could set it at 25 per cent, 30 per cent, 20 per cent. We have gone for the 20 per cent in order to effect a substantial change, because we think substantial change is desirable.

  • Can I move on to the funding aspect of this, which is levies.

    You refer expressly, Professor Curran, to a levy on search engine and social media advertising sales, which, given that that is so profitable, as it were, could easily generate, on your arithmetic, GBP50 million-worth of funds for reinvestment.

    Are you also proposing a levy on media organisations otherwise?

  • No. So the levy would only be for market leaders -- sorry, for -- let me retract.

    The levy on social media and search engine advertising would be restricted to that, not to other forms of Internet advertising. And the thinking behind that is there's been an enormous migration of advertising from the press to the Internet, not concerned in many cases, or in some cases, with journalism.

    That is a potential source of revenue that could fertilise new shoots, and that is to return to the Channel 4 model. To look for profitable areas of the media and to use part of those profits to generate greater plurality, which is a concern of this Inquiry.

  • Given that the majority of Internet traffic is not news-related, why isn't this wrong in principle?

  • Well, the problem is essentially that advertising is increasingly being decoupled from the production of journalism, and that is the underlying crisis, the cause of the crisis.

    So one response is to say that it is desirable to have healthy journalism. How can you have healthy journalism where you look for where revenue has been redistributed, and part of that revenue is ploughed back into journalism? And the justification for that is the public interest.

  • Then, finally on this section, professor, we have the Public Media Trust. Could you tell us about that please?

  • The Public Media Trust is the body that would promote diversity in the press. It would fund investigative units like the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. It would fund jobs for young journalists in a way that's been developed in the Netherlands, and it would also promote new start-ups under different forms of ownership, and provide support where there is a demonstrable need.

    This is targeted towards the local press. Local newspapers are closing. Local newspaper offices within newspapers are closing. There is a growing problem in the local press that people in London tend not to notice. It is extremely important in terms of the health of our democracy that something be done about the crisis in the local press, and our proposal is a way of trying to inject money into a flagging sector.

  • Isn't there a danger though that this trust builds up journalism, including journalism which you may rightly say is in the public interest and serves our democracy, but at the end of the day, no one wants to read it?

  • I think there has to be clear criteria. So, for example, if a local website applied for a grant, it would have to have a certain level in order for it to be eligible to apply. So there has to be a clear demonstration that there is a level of demand.

    Secondly, there would have to be demonstration of need, a need in terms of a problem of local newspaper closure. In other words, you would have to show that the applicant would promote diversity where there is a gap.

    And the thinking behind this is completely standard in Norway, in Sweden, in Finland. This is not new territory. So it's not something that is unthinkable. It's something which has been developed and successfully implemented in a way which promotes diversity.

  • Is that by compulsion of law in Norway?

  • Yes, it is.

    If I could say in relation to that, when the subsidy scheme was developed in Sweden, there was very considerable opposition from the Conservative Party, on the grounds that that was a threat to press freedom. 40 years later, all political parties in Sweden support the operation of the subsidy because publications that support the wide spectrum of opinion get support.

    So a system that supports press diversity gets support from the diversity of the political spectrum.

  • And people. Norway has the highest newspaper readership in the world I believe -- unless it's Finland.

  • I think Finland is. But it's very high.

  • Thank you.

    May we move on to part 2 now, and this is Angela Phillips. Ethical practice: a new settlement for British news publishing.

    First of all, the analysis of the problem, the cycle of ethical crises and the sharp divide. Could I ask you, please, to elaborate that point.

  • I think if we look back at British newspapers, we get ourselves into this kind of pickle on a kind of ten-year cycle.

    I think when something happens as regularly as it does in the British newspaper, you have to sort of look at what are the systemic reasons why this is happening.

    I think that's partly why the question of media power actually can't be completely uncoupled from the question of ethics.

    We have some very powerful newspaper organisations that run -- and I think I quote Paul Dacre here himself, who said to you quite recently -- described his organisation as being "extremely hierarchical".

    In the tabloid and mid-market press, we have press that's very much directed from above, which is very hierarchical, where people at the bottom, new entry journalists, are under an enormous amount of pressure to deliver. And the kind of stories they are asked to deliver are stories that will be interesting to the public.

    One of the things that I find most alarming about the way in which that pressure operates is journalists who talk about the way in which their own ethical compass is being distorted by what they're being asked to do. And there is an increasing amount of evidence of that, that the newspaper industry is divided between the very popular press, where pretty much anything goes, as long as you make sure you don't get into a very expensive libel suit. But that means that quite a lot can kind of go under the wire that is pretty dodgy, but you know that the people who you have just maligned cannot do anything about it.

    Then we have another -- probably -- I haven't looked at the figures, but there's probably more journalists who work for what I would call "the ethical press", and I think that one of the problems of this Inquiry is that they tend to get lost, and we have to bring them back into the picture.

    I was talking recently to a bunch of magazine journalists who are absolutely outraged at the possibility that new regulation will be brought in, which they consider to be completely unsuitable for their purposes, and all because, as they put it, a bunch of tabloid hacks can't behave ethically.

    I do think they have got a point.

    I think that whatever we end up with here, it's got to support ethical journalism, while at the same time trying to curb what I can quite happily call "unethical journalism", because I think they are two different things. They tend to be quite often done by two different groups of people.

    I think it would be a pity if we end up with changes that are very slight because the only people who really matter are the editors of the very biggest newspapers. Because we have to keep reminding ourselves that they are the problem. Why do we expect them to be the solution?

    So I think what we need to be doing is looking for a system which creates a balance. It's got to protect what I would call "real journalism", which is journalists doing their job properly. Ethical journalists in the public interest. But that does not quite provide the same level of protection to journalism which might be amusing, but quite often hurts people.

    Now, I don't want to see the end of the tabloid press, and I'm a great believer in journalism being funny when it can be. I think humour in newspapers is enormously important, and I think Britain probably leads the world in having newspapers that are often extremely funny. But I don't think you should produce humourous articles by way of destroying people's lives.

    I think there used to be a kind of a way of looking at stories where the editorial position was: don't send their children crying to school. And that was a kind of an ethical benchmark.

    Do not say things about people which are so inflammatory that you destroy their families and you upset their children. I think we have completely lost that even as an ethical benchmark. I think we need to try and get back to it.

    So everything that's in this paper is actually about trying to create a framework which will encourage journalism to return to a more ethical place, and that is about changing the culture.

    I think a change in culture requires journalism and journalistic organisations to be involved in the new settlement. Because unless they are fully involved and engaged in it, none of the change we need to see will actually take place.

  • What you're proposing is the creation of a new regulator which you are calling "The News Publishing Commission" -- of course the label doesn't matter -- which is independent, is backed by statute but is voluntary. So people aren't compelled to join it, but there are a series of strong incentives which you believe will cause people to want to join it. Is that a fair epitome --

  • That is what we are looking for. There's been a lot of debate backwards and forwards, and I know that this is the key issue: just how statutory should this be?

    I think we have to be very weary of licensing the press, and I think compulsion requires licensing.

    I think that a licensing regime is a dangerous road to go down. But we do need a clear underpinning. We do need an organisation that is able to take action. And we do need an organisation that provides sufficient incentives to join, that no organisation that is engaged in serious journalism can afford not to join it. I realise that this is a very fine balance.

    This is an area where there's been a huge amount of debate, I have to say, and I'm quite interested in the completely alternative position that the Media Standards Trust have come up with, which is the idea of an external auditor. I only read that quite recently, because it's only an idea that they came to quite recently themselves.

    But I think that a lot of the organisations such as ourselves -- where our main role is to co-ordinate and to try and create bridges between civil society organisations. I think what we're all looking for is an organisation which clearly has teeth, but doesn't amount to licensing.

    I think, looking across Europe -- and I'm delighted that you are going to be listening to somebody from Reuters Institute who has done much more research on this than I have. But looking across Europe, it seems to me that the only place where there is statutory regulation is in Denmark.

    I think one of the problems of statutory regulation is you might actually have a tendency to water things down. Because nobody is going to want to take a licence away from a newspaper.

    So I think what you end up with is exactly what we have, and issues of plurality. People will say, "Well, you can't ask a newspaper group to divest". We, on the one hand, want plurality. On the other hand we can't take action, because to take action is seen to be draconian. And I think we would find ourselves in exactly the same situation if we had compulsory registration of the press. Nobody would actually be able to do anything.

    We need a regulatory regime which has a sufficient flexibility so that real action can be taken, short of saying, "You can no longer publish". Which I think would be anathema and would cause, quite rightly, uproar.

  • In relation to your voluntary scheme -- I know there are incentives to it, and we will look at those -- but why would the most powerful bodies wish to touch this scheme with a metaphorical bargepole? Isn't it an aspect of their power, they say, "Well, your scheme is far too independent; it doesn't involve us as editors at the centre. That in essence it's anathema. We're not going to sign up." Why do you think they would?

  • I think that that is a very, very real problem, and I know it's exactly the problem you are grappling with. You have to have an organisation that you want people to join. How do you make them do it?

    My feeling is that if you attach to it a tribunal system with an adjudicatory function, that provides -- it's quite similar to the scheme that Hugh Tomlinson has come up with. I think you've already heard from him.

  • No, later on today.

  • So it has been looked at, and it is clearly possible, and I gather there is a similar arrangement that operates in the building industry.

    If you provide a tribunal system which has a faster, shorter, cheaper means of resolving disputes, those people who are in the tent have a means of sorting out their problems in a straightforward way. Those who are outside the tent will have no recourse but to the courts. And one would hope that the courts would take a fairly dim view of their not being a member of the organisation, and that that would have an effect on the way in which legal action would be brought.

    Now, that is, as I understand it, what the scheme that Alastair Brett -- originally mouthed this idea, and Hugh Tomlinson has fleshed it out.

    I notice -- and I'm slightly concerned about the fact that Hugh Tomlinson has picked up the idea of making this organisation responsible for issuing press cards. Which, I have to say, we would absolutely oppose, and I would go into that in some detail if you like. But the idea of licensing individual journalists is, in many ways, even worse than the idea of licensing --

  • It's an idea that emanates from Mr Dacre.

  • I believe it does. I have read that. And I was really upset to discover that Lord Black has picked it up as well. Because there is something almost surreal about somebody who says that he is ideologically opposed to the statutory regulation of the press and yet is prepared to set up an organisation which effectively the tabloid press would decide who was allowed to be a journalist in this country.

    I just -- I'm absolutely -- I am actually astonished that they could make such a proposal, because it seems to me to be such an extraordinary limitation of the freedom of the press. Much more draconian than anything that anybody else has suggested. It would mean that very large numbers of people who do work -- but probably they are completely unaware of the existence of those journalists who work at the bottom of the field, who they never come into contact with, because they run very large organisations where they run their journalists.

    And if a journalist transgresses, it would be very easy for them to say, "Off you go, and I'm going to take your press card away". And that person would never be able to work anywhere else, even if they were following the instructions of their editor. I think that's an appalling power to put in the hands of very hierarchical, extremely powerful organisations. I won't have it. It's not in our system.

  • In terms of the incentives though, because the voluntary system, you do want to corral everybody within it. Your first level of incentives, in no particular order, is the fast-track arbitration system, which would be mandatory, would it, for those who have signed up, so that a complainant, knowing that publication X is a member of the scheme, would have to go down that route in the first instance, rather than to litigate; is that right?

  • That is the idea, yes.

  • How would the public wear that, though? That in some cases, if they're traduced by journal X, they are forced to go down the tribunal arbitration route. In another case it's journal Y, who hasn't voluntarily participated in the system, they have to go off to court. Do you feel there would be public acceptance of such a regime?

  • I think that's unfair. I'm aware of that. I think it's a problem.

    I can't see an immediate solution to the problem. If we're going to have a voluntary organisation, it seems to me that the effort has to go into corralling at least the biggest organisations into the system.

    I'm really looking forward to the person who comes up with a perfect solution which will solve all the problems.

  • But I think that if you come up with a voluntary system, which does have sufficient incentive, and which has organised itself in such a way that members of the organisation are seen to be respectable organisations, I think it will join.

    My worry is that this is an idea that needs to be generated by the newspapers themselves. It's interesting that some of the ideas in the latest version of the Press Council's suggestion do seem to be moving a little bit in this direction.

    My major concern about the Press Council idea -- well, twofold. One is the appalling idea about licensed press cards, which practically keeps me awake at night. But the other one of course is that it isn't independent. The entire system is still run by editors and proprietors, and that is just wrong.

    I think there is an extraordinary arrogance amongst -- I suppose one would expect it. They are very important people. They earn huge salaries, and they are surrounded by people who agree with them. But they don't really seem to have -- it's interesting that when Paul Dacre was speaking to you, he talked about the fact that he felt it was a pity that there was nobody here who represented the tabloids. Well, what I would say to him is it is a pity that you don't have a greater understanding of the life lived by ordinary journalists. Because I think there is a real disconnect, and I think it is astonishing that the Press Council doesn't think that it's necessary to bring into their organisation ordinary journalists. They just don't like the idea.

    They don't like the idea that they might be questioned by their juniors, perhaps.

    But any system -- and every level of their system as they have drawn it up -- is dominated by editors and proprietors who are also responsible for appointing the other people. There is an element of -- I think they have brought in an element of an independent assessor or something, to decide who will be on all these different bodies, but basically they control it.

    As they do now.

    They decide who is going to be their -- I mean, how can you decide who is going to be the independent person on your panel?

    The other thing I have noticed is that in their arbitration panel, they would agree that they wouldn't have serving editors, but the people who would take their place would be ex-editors and people with senior editorial responsibility.

    They don't, for example, suggest that journalism academics might have a role in their organisation. I mean, I'm not entirely surprised. And they don't suggest that rank and file journalists or the NUJ -- they really want to run it themselves. And I think that's a real problem.

  • May we look at other aspects of your proposal. This is all part of the incentives, really.

    The public interest aspect, bottom of your page 8. Is this right, Ms Phillips, that reliance on the public interest defence can only be relied on in either civil proceedings or elsewhere if you are signed up to the system?

  • What I was looking here -- and I'm glad you have somebody from the Irish Press Council coming, because what I was looking at was their ideas about the way in which membership of this organisation would not give you a complete defence, but it would be part of your defence.

  • You have to be a bit careful about that, haven't you, because -- for two reasons.

    First of all, it's quite difficult to see why somebody who had been maligned by the press should be in a more difficult position about recovering a remedy if the particular press body was signed up to a scheme as opposed to if it wasn't. The damage to them is the same.

    But secondly, in relation to the press body, it's quite difficult to see why a press body shouldn't be able to say, "Well, look, it's true I'm not in this club for these reasons. I'm happy to explain them. But actually I maintain my own very, very high ethical approach. Here is my system. Here are my rules for my journalists. Here is how it worked in my case." It's difficult to say why they should be treated differently if their ethical stance is indeed the same as that of somebody that has signed up to the club.

  • I think that in the end they wouldn't be treated differently, because if they could do all that, if they could say, "We have these ethical standards; we have everything in place," and if they brought that to court, then the probability is that they would be able to --

  • That's true, but then it's not a carrot.

  • I don't think we need provide a carrot for a highly ethical organisation. What we're trying to get into this -- I mean, it seems to me that it's likely that the most ethical journalist organisations, who do have all this inner compliance and they have it all sorted out, probably will join, because they will want to be inside the tent.

    So I think that what you're suggesting is -- it's difficult to see exactly where they would -- they wouldn't really have an interest in not joining.

  • Except that it will cost them money.

  • It will cost them money to join, but they will also have recourse to adjudication, which will be a lot cheaper than going to court.

  • This is the arbitral idea that I have floated periodically over the last nine months. So I'm pleased you think it's not a bad one.

  • I think it solves a lot of problems. I think for newspapers like the Guardian, or indeed Private Eye, who is always a useful one to look at, it would be very much in the interests of Private Eye to join this organisation actually, because when they have had legal action taken against them, it has been very, very expensive. And it might be possible for them to deal with those sorts of issues in a lower court at much less expense.

  • And still go on doing exactly what they do.

  • What Mr Hislop said when he gave evidence was: why on earth should he be part of a team that allowed his magazine to be judged by the very people that he spent his life criticising?

  • Well, I absolutely agree with that. But it's the team that has to change.

  • Can I ask you, please, to explain the section of your evidence which deals with the right of reply? Differentiating as well between those who have signed up to the system and those who have not. How does that work.

  • I think it's a problem. I'm not going to pretend it isn't a problem. I think that those who aren't signed up to the system would -- I mean, the right of reply would still exist in law, and people would be able to take that to court, just as they do in Finland. But I think that it would certainly put those people at a disadvantage.

    My feeling about the right of reply is that the -- most of the objections to right of reply are to do with the use, understandably, of it in practice.

    My reason for supporting the right of reply is mostly because it will change culture. And I think that it is the one instrument that we have at our disposal which reaches into a newsroom. Because journalists, even those who have been kind of hardened on the flame of tabloid journalism, if somebody comes to them and says, "You have got this completely wrong, and I have the right to correct what you wrote, what you said that was wrong," are affected. People don't like being corrected after the fact.

    I think that it will make journalists more careful. I think one of the biggest problems we are facing at the moment, which is also to do with the enormous financial pressure, is that journalists are under increasing pressure to work faster and faster and faster, particularly, certainly in the press. And if you're working too fast, you don't have time to check properly. If you don't have time to check properly, you make mistakes. And journalists who are making mistakes ought to correct.

    What we're suggesting, which is completely different to anything that's been suggested before, is that given that we now have the possibilities of the Internet, we have the possibilities of doing very fast corrections. And people can't just say, "Well, it takes up too much space". The space is limitless.

  • The space issue would still apply to paper editions.

  • Well, what we're talking about is the paper editions -- and the home page of every news organisation always has a direct big button link to a corrections and clarifications page, where you would have brief descriptions of each correction and each clarification, and that would be linked to the place where you will find the rest.

  • If there is a compulsory right of reply, isn't there a risk that that could be hijacked by somebody whose views were perfectly legitimately criticised, and be used as an opportunity to further develop views which the press were perfectly entitled, within their free speech rights, to say something about?

  • You are absolutely right, and that's why we are saying that it should be a right of reply to do with matters of fact.

    I think that where you have a specific space, which is a right of reply space, which is what I would like to see online, underneath every article -- I was told in fact by science and health journalists that that was the wrong place, that any correction should be at the top, underneath the headline, which is what you have to do in a science publication. But that is a fine detail.

    I think that the correction needs to be with the article. Because increasingly now everything is stored online. If people go back to the article in the future, they will see the correction immediately. It is there. And it's not part of the comments column. The comments column is the place for debate. The corrections column, space, should be a place for rejoinder saying, "You got that wrong".

  • Is the right exercisable even if the newspaper says, for good reason, "We haven't made a mistake"?

  • That's where it would have to go to arbitration. We have two levels within the organisation. There's an ombudsman and there is arbitration. And if there is a real dispute, then it would need to go to arbitration and decision would need to be made.

    But what I would hope is that just by having a change in the law, every single newsroom, big or small, would have its own compliance procedure to prevent them having to go to court, because it's not actually that difficult to say, "If you think we have got it wrong, here is your opportunity to reply".

  • So if you're signed up to your voluntary system and there is a dispute as to whether there has been a factual error, then the arbitrator of the dispute will be ombudsman at first level, arbitration system at second level. But if you are not signed up, the aggrieved person would have to go to court to exercise his or her statutory right of reply. Is that a fair summary?

  • That is a problem. And it's not a problem that I think I can immediately solve, but I do hope you can.

  • It's rather more serious than that as well. It might have a problem with a capital "P", because those who don't want to correct may very well say, "Well, the financial disincentive of having to go to court is so great that we will have far fewer people going to court if we are not in the scheme than if we are in the scheme. Because if we are in the scheme, it's easy for somebody to say, 'I would like you to correct this'." And it's not expensive, and one could have a system that dealt with all that. But if they are and not in the scheme, therefore the person has to go to court and risk money or whatever, unless there's some costs shifting arrangement. So it has complexity.

  • It does have complexity. There is a right of reply in both Germany and Finland. It's not the first place that it's come up. There are different kinds of right of reply in other countries in Europe, but in both those countries it's statutory.

    My feeling is that should we have a statutory right of reply, and we have an organisation that has an ombudsman and possibilities of conciliation, that I don't see that being a reason to stay outside, but -- but then I think, which is another reason why I am interested at least in the Media Standards Trust idea, which is completely different from ours, which looks at compliance. And the Media Standards Trust is also suggesting a right of reply. And if you have a compliance mechanism where every large organisation has to put certain things in order, then right of reply would be one of them, and that does --

  • How does the system work in Germany?

  • I'm going to refer you to your next person from Reuters who has done much better research on that.

  • Yes. I have read it, but I couldn't remember. But I'll be reminded. Thank you.

  • The other aspects of your system, and this chimes with what some others have recommended as well, is a conscience clause and a whistleblower's code, which are self-explanatory.

    Are there any other points either of you would wish to develop which you feel you've not sufficiently covered orally? Of course we have read the written submission very carefully.

  • Thank you very much.

    Professor, anything from you?

  • Thank you both very much indeed.

    I have said to all those who have contributed to this part of the Inquiry, and have obviously put a lot of thought into what they have said, how grateful I am to them for the work they've done.

    Quite how I'm going to be able to express that to the person who is responsible for a document that takes up half a lever arch file, I'm not quite sure, but I will find appropriate words. Thank you.

  • (The witness withdrew)

  • We will have a few minutes' break.

  • (A short break)

  • Next witness, please, is Professor John Horgan.