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

The first thing I'd say is I think some of the way that this issue has been cast is deeply unhelpful. Some of the way that -- it's inevitable always -- the debate has become polarised suggests you're either for some Orwellian statutory infringement on the freedom of the press or you're in favour of the law of the jungle. Neither are remotely desirable or realistic.

Actually, the press already operate in a manner which is governed by statute, whether it's competition law, data protection, taxation, you name it. The idea that they operate in a vacuum is not the case now.

I personally see this issue of whether you need statutory powers of one description merely as a means to an end. The end has to be independent regulation, independent of government, Parliament, politicians and the media, with teeth. The question then is: do you need that -- can you secure that independence without statute?

That's why I think those people who say no statutory -- no role for statutory powers at all have to explain how on earth you could have genuine independence, which isn't in one way or another underpinned by statute, and I would suggest there are two areas where statute may, may need to play a role.

The first is one which was actually raised by Mr Dacre, the editor of the Daily Mail, in a seminar associated with this Inquiry, the so-called Desmond problem. As I think Mr Dacre quite rightly suggested, maybe Parliament will have some role in creating incentives or cajoling all parts of the media to be part of a new regulatory environment, because it's hopeless if we end up, as has been the case recently in parts of Canada, for instance, where just great swathes of the media have just opted out of the regulatory system altogether. You have to have buy-in from everybody. As I think Mr Dacre rightly recognised, that may be a place where Parliament could help.

The only other specific area where I think there may be, may be a need for statute, is whatever new body or bodies replace the PCC, I suppose it could be one body, a press commission, and then an ombudsman flanking it, or maybe one body, they clearly cannot be the gift of government, they cannot be in the control of Parliament, they must not anyway be run by politicians directly in any shape or form. They must be self-standing, independent.

But who in a sense guards the guardians? Who stands behind them if things go awry? That's where you might want to have what they call a sort of statutory backstop, what is in the jargon called co-regulation. We have instances of that already, the Advertising Standards -- Agency or Authority? The ASA has a sort of statutory backstop in the form of Ofcom. The Legal Services Board is a sort of self-standing non-statutory body, if I understand it correctly, but has a body a name of which I've forgotten which does have a statutory footing which oversees it.

So I think the sort of one step removed model may be the way to square this circle, because I'm very sensitive to the concerns that people have that anything that has to be in a sense processed by politicians in Parliament, you have to tread a fine line, and I believe maybe that's a way of addressing those concerns.

Keyboard shortcuts

j previous speech k next speech