Lord Justice Leveson’s statement at Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, 1.30pm.
For the seventh time in less than 70 years, there is a new report, commissioned by the Government, dealing with concerns about the press. It was sparked by public revulsion about a single act – the hacking of the mobile phone of a murdered teenager. From that beginning, it has expanded to cover the culture, practices and ethics of the press and its conduct in relation to the public, the police and politicians.
This inquiry has been the most concentrated look at the press this country has ever seen. In nearly nine months of oral hearings, 337 witnesses gave evidence in person and the statements of nearly 300 others were read into the record. I am grateful to all who have contributed. The report will now be published on the inquiry website which also carries the statements, exhibits and both transcripts and video coverage of the evidence.
For over 40 years, as a barrister and a judge, I have watched the press in action, day after day, in the courts in which I have practised. I know how vital the press is – all of it – as guardian of the interests of the public, as a critical witness to events, as the standard bearer for those who have no-one else to speak up for them. Nothing in the evidence I have heard or read has changed that view. The press, operating freely and in the public interest, is one of the true safeguards of our democracy. As a result, it holds a privileged and powerful place in our society.
But this power and influence carries with it responsibilities to the public interest in whose name it exercises these privileges. Unfortunately, as the evidence has shown beyond doubt, on too many occasions, those responsibilities (along with the Editors’ Code which the press wrote and promoted) have simply been ignored. This has damaged the public interest, caused real hardship and, also on occasion, wreaked havoc in the lives of innocent people.
What the press do and say is no ordinary exercise of free speech. It operates very differently from blogs on the internet and other social media such as Twitter. Its impact is uniquely powerful. A free press in a democracy holds power to account. But, with a few honourable exceptions, the UK press has not performed that vital role in the case of its own power.
None of this, however, is to conclude that press freedom in Britain, hard won over 300 years ago, should be jeopardised. On the contrary, it should not. I remain firmly of the belief that the British press – I repeat, all of it, – serves the country very well for the vast majority of the time. There are truly countless examples of great journalism, great investigations and great campaigns. Not that it is necessary or appropriate for the press always to be pursuing serious stories for it to be working in the public interest. Some of its most important functions are to inform, educate and entertain and, when doing so, to be irreverent, unruly and opinionated.
But none of that means that the press is beyond challenge. I know of no organised profession, industry or trade in which the serious failings of the few are overlooked or ignored because of the good done by the many. Were it so in any other case, the press would be the very first to expose such practices.
The purpose of this inquiry has been two fold. First, it has been to do just that – to expose precisely what has been happening. Secondly, it is to make recommendations for change. As to change, almost everyone accepts that the Press Complaints Commission has failed in the task, if indeed it ever saw itself as having such a task, of keeping the press to its responsibilities to the public generally and to the individuals unfairly damaged.
There must be change. But let me say this very clearly. Not a single witness proposed that either Government or politicians all of whom the press hold to account, should be involved in the regulation of the press. Neither would I make any such proposal.
Let me deal very briefly with the idea that this inquiry might not have been necessary if the criminal law had simply operated more effectively.
There were errors in aspects of the way the phone hacking investigation was managed in 2006 and in relation to the failure to undertake later reviews, and there are some problems that need to be fixed with the criminal and civil laws and also in relation to data protection. In particular, exemplary damages should be available for all media torts. In the end, however, law enforcement can never be the whole answer. As we have seen, that is because the law-breaking in this area is typically hidden, with the victims generally unaware of what has happened. Even if it were possible – and it is certainly not desirable – putting a policeman in every newsroom is no sort of answer. In any event, the powers of law enforcement are significantly limited because of the privileges that the law provides to the press, including for the protection of its sources. That is specifically in order that it can perform its role in the public interest.
What is needed therefore is a genuinely independent and effective system of self-regulation of standards, with obligations to the public interest. At the very start of the inquiry and throughout I have encouraged the industry to work together to find a mechanism for independent self-regulation that would work for them and would work for the public.
Lord Hunt of Wirral and Lord Black of Brentwood stepped forward to lead the effort. They put forward the idea of a model based on contractual obligations among press organisations. On Monday afternoon of this week, with the report being printed, I received two separate submissions from within the press telling me that most of the industry was now prepared to sign self-regulation contracts.
The first submission recognises the possibility of improvements to the model proposed so far. The second expresses confidence that the model proposed by Lord Black and Lord Hunt addresses the criticisms made at the Inquiry. Unfortunately, however, although this model is an improvement on the PCC, in my view, it does not come close to delivering, in the words of the submission itself, “regulation that is itself, genuinely, free and independent both of the industry it regulates and of political control”. Any model with editors on the main Board is simply not independent of the industry to anything approaching the degree required to warrant public confidence. It is still the industry marking its own homework. Nor is the model proposed stable or robust for the longer-term future.
The press needs to establish a new regulatory body which is truly independent of industry leaders and of Government and politicians. It must promote high standards of journalism, and protect both the public interest and the rights and liberties of individuals. It should set and enforce standards, hear individual complaints against its members and provide a fair, quick and inexpensive arbitration service to deal with civil law claims.
The chair and the other members of the body must be independent and appointed by a fair and open process. It must comprise a majority of members who are independent of the press. It should not include any serving editor or politician. That can be readily achieved by an appointments panel which could itself include a current editor but with a substantial majority demonstrably independent of the press and of politicians. In the report, I explain who might be involved.
Although I make some recommendations in this area, it is absolutely not my role to seek to establish a new press standards code or to decide how an independent self-regulatory body would go about its business. As to a standards code, I recommend the involvement of an industry committee which could involve serving editors. That committee would advise the regulatory body and there should be a process of public consultation. In my report, I also address the need for incentives to be put in place to encourage all in the industry to sign up to this new regulatory system.
Guaranteed independence, long-term stability, and genuine benefits for the industry, cannot be realised without legislation. So much misleading speculation and misinformation has been spread about the prospect of new legislation that I need to make a few things very clear. I am proposing it only for the narrow purpose of recognising a new independent self-regulatory system. It is important to be clear what this legislation would not do; it would not establish a body to regulate the press; that is for the press itself to do.
So what would this legislation achieve? Three things. It would enshrine, for the first time, a legal duty on the Government to protect the freedom of the press. Secondly, it would provide an independent process to recognise the new self-regulatory body and thereby reassure the public of its independence and efficacy. Thirdly, it would provide new and tangible benefits for the press. As members of the body, newspapers could show that they act in good faith and have sought to comply with standards based on the public interest. Decisions of the new recognised regulator could create precedents which could, in turn, help a court in civil actions. In addition, the existence of a formally recognised, free arbitration system is likely to provide powerful arguments as to costs should a claimant decide not to use that free system or, conversely, if a newspaper is not a member. In my view, the benefits of membership should be obvious to all.
This is not, and cannot reasonably or fairly be characterised as, statutory regulation of the press. I am proposing independent regulation of the press organised by the press itself with a statutory process to support press freedom, provide stability and guarantee for the public that this new body is independent and effective.
I firmly believe that these recommendations for self-regulation are in the best interests of the public and the press; they have not been influenced by any political or other agenda but solely by what I believe is fair and right for everyone. What is more, given the public interest role of which the press is rightly proud, I do not think that either the victims I have heard from, or the public in general, would accept anything less.
Turning to the police, the relationship between police and public is vital to the essential requirements of policing by consent and the press have a very important part to play in its promotion. Although there has been a limit on how far it has been possible for the inquiry to go because of the need not to prejudice any ongoing investigations, whatever Operation Elveden, concerning corrupt payments to officials, might reveal, I have not seen any evidence to suggest that corruption by the press is a widespread problem in relation to the police. However, while broadly endorsing the approach of recent reviews into police governance, I have identified a number of issues that I recommend should be addressed.
As for the press and politicians, the overwhelming evidence is that relations on a day-to-day basis are in robust good health and performing the vital public interest functions of a free press in a vigorous democracy; everyday interactions between journalists and politicians cause no concern. But senior politicians across the spectrum have accepted that in a number of respects the relationship between politics and the press has been ‘too close’. I agree.
What I am concerned about is a particular kind of lobbying, conducted out of the public eye, through the relationships of policy makers and those in the media who stand to gain or lose from the policy being considered. That gives rise to the understandable perception that the power of the press to affect political fortunes may be used to influence that policy. This, in turn, undermines public trust and confidence in decisions on media matters being taken genuinely in the public interest. This is a long-standing issue, and one which, over the years and across the political spectrum, has repeatedly resulted in opportunities being missed to respond appropriately to legitimate public concern about press behaviour.
The press is, of course, entitled to lobby in its own interests, whether editorially or through the senior political access it enjoys. It is, however, the responsibility of the politicians to ensure that the decisions that are taken are seen to be based on the public interest as a whole. This means the extent to which they are lobbied by the press should be open and transparent; and that the public should therefore have a basic understanding of the process. In this limited area, I have recommended that consideration should be given to a number of steps to create greater transparency about these influential relationships at the top of politics and the media and so address the issue of public perception and hence trust and confidence. A good start would be for those steps towards greater transparency to be taken in relation to press lobbying about this Report.
Similar considerations apply to the role of Ministers when taking decisions about the public interest in relation to media ownership. I believe that democratically accountable ministers are the right people to make these decisions. However, I have made recommendations as to how the process can be made much more transparent to ensure that in future there should be no risk even of the perception of bias. It is essential that the UK retains a plural media with a genuine diversity of ownership, approach and perspective. In my opinion, the competition authorities should have the means to keep levels of plurality under review and be equipped with a full range of remedies to deal with concerns.
I must now place on record my thanks to all those who participated in the inquiry. These are the assessors who have advised in areas of their expertise and who were selected by the Government with the support of the Leader of the Opposition, in the Prime Minister’s words “for their complete independence from all interested parties”; Robert Jay and counsel, for collating and presenting such a massive volume of evidence so efficiently; everyone in the inquiry team who has worked so hard to achieve so much in such limited time; the core participants and their lawyers; and, most of all, the public who have provided evidence, views and submissions.
As I said at the beginning, this is the seventh time in less than 70 years that these issues have been addressed. No-one can think it makes any sense to contemplate an eighth. I hope that my recommendations will be treated in exactly the same cross party spirit which led to the setting up of the Inquiry in the first place and will lead to a cross party response.
I believe that the report can and must speak for itself; to that end, I will be making no further comment. Nobody will be speaking for me about its contents either now or in the future.
The ball moves back into the politicians’ court: they must now decide who guards the guardians.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s statement to the House of Commons, 3pm.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on today’s report from Lord Justice Leveson.
As we consider this report, we should consider the victims. We should remember how the parents of Millie Dowler, at their most vulnerable moment, had their daughter’s phone hacked and were followed and photographed.
How Christopher Jefferies’ reputation was destroyed by false accusations. And how the mother of Madeleine McCann, Kate McCann, had her private diary printed without her permission and how she and her husband were falsely accused of keeping their daughter’s body in their freezer.
These victims – and many other innocent people who have never sought the limelight – have suffered in a way that we can barely begin to imagine.
That is why last summer I asked Lord Justice Leveson to lead an independent inquiry.
It had the power to see any document and summon any witness under oath, to be examined by a barrister, in public.
It has been, as Lord Justice Leveson says, ‘the most public and the most concentrated look at the press that this country has seen’.
And I would like to thank Lord Justice Leveson and his entire team for the work they have undertaken.
Mr Speaker, Lord Justice Leveson makes findings and recommendations in three areas: on the relationship between the press and the police; on the relationship between the press and politicians; and on the relationship between the press and the public.
Let me take each in turn.
First, the press and the police.
Lord Justice Leveson makes clear that he doesn’t find a basis for challenging the integrity of the police.
But he does raise a number of areas which he felt were a cause for public concern such as tip-offs, off-the-record briefings and more broadly, ‘excessive proximity’ between the press and the police.
He makes a number of recommendations including national guidance on appropriate gifts and hospitality; record-keeping of contact between very senior police officers and journalists and a 12-month ‘cooling-off’ period for senior police officers being employed by the press.
These are designed to break the perception of an excessively cosy relationship between the press and the police and we support these recommendations.
Mr Speaker, when I set up this Inquiry, I also said there would be a second part to investigate wrongdoing in the press and the police, including the conduct of the first police investigation.
This second stage cannot go ahead until the current criminal proceedings have concluded – but we remain committed to the Inquiry as it was first established.
Next, the relationship between politicians and the media.
As Lord Justice Leveson has found ‘over the last 30-35 years and probably much longer, the political parties of UK national Government and UK official Opposition, have had or developed too close a relationship with the press in a way that has not been in the public interest’.
I made this point last summer when I set up this Inquiry – and at the same time I set in train reforms to improve transparency.
This is the first government ever to publish details of meetings between senior politicians and proprietors, editors or senior executives, as
Lord Justice Leveson recommends in his report.
He also recommends disclosing further information on the overall level of interaction between politicians and the press.
This would apply to all parties – and on the Government’s behalf I can say that we accept that recommendation.
Mr Speaker, during the course of this Inquiry a number of serious allegations were made and I want to deal with them directly.
First, that my party struck a deal with News International.
This is an allegation that was repeated again and again on the floor of this House – and at the Inquiry itself.
Lord Justice Leveson looked at this in detail – and rejects the allegation emphatically.
Let me read his conclusion: ‘the evidence does not, of course, establish anything resembling a ‘deal’ whereby News International’s support was traded for the expectation of policy favours’.
Those who repeatedly made these allegations – including members of this House and I have to say the former Prime Minister – should now acknowledge they were wrong.
Second, it was alleged that I gave my Rt Hon friend, the then Culture Secretary, now Health Secretary, the responsibility of handling the BSkyB bid in order to fix the outcome.
Lord Justice Leveson states clearly ‘the evidence does not begin to support a conclusion that the choice of Mr Hunt was the product of improper media pressure still less an attempt to guarantee a particular outcome to the process’.
Another allegation repeatedly made – and again shown to be wrong.
Third, there was the criticism that the then Culture Secretary had rigged the handling of the BSkyB bid.
Again, today’s report rejects that as well.
My Rt Hon friend ‘put in place robust systems to ensure that the remaining stages of the bid would be handled with fairness, impartiality and transparency…’
Indeed Lord Justice Leveson goes further, concluding that my Rt Hon friend’s ‘extensive reliance on external advice… was a wise and effective means of helping him to keep to the statutory test’.
And he concludes ‘there is no credible evidence of actual bias’.
Of course as my Rt Hon friend has said himself, there are lessons to learn about how quasi-judicial decisions are made and we must learn those lessons.
But let me say this: my Rt Hon friend has endured a stream of allegations with great dignity.
The Report confirms something that we on this side of the House knew all along – we were right to stand by him.
And let me also say this, Lord Justice Leveson finds in respect to my Rt Hon friend the Business Secretary that he ‘acted with scrupulous care and impartiality’.
Next – and most important of all – let me turn to what Lord Justice Leveson says about the relationship between the press and the public.
As he says very clearly, even after 16 months of this Inquiry, he remains ‘…firmly of the belief that the British press – all of it – serves the country very well for the vast majority of the time’.
But on the culture, practices and ethics of some in the press, his words are very stark.
He finds that ‘…there have been too many times when, chasing the story, parts of the press have acted as if its own code, which it wrote, simply did not exist’.
He cites ‘press behaviour that, at times, can only be described as outrageous’.
He catalogues a number of examples of such behaviour, going wider than phone hacking.
He refers to ‘a recklessness in prioritising sensational stories, almost irrespective of the harm that the stories may cause and the rights of those who would be affected’.
He finds that ‘when the story is just too big and the public appetite too great, there has been significant and reckless disregard for accuracy’.
And he reports ‘a cultural tendency within parts of the press vigorously to resist or dismiss complainants almost as a matter of course’.
Mr Speaker, in a free society, the press are subject to criminal law, civil law and requirements for data protection.
But there should be a proper regulatory system as well to ensure that standards are upheld, complaints are heard and there is proper redress for those who have been wronged.
That is what the current system should have delivered. It has not.
And as Lord Justice Leveson says: the Press Complaints Commission is ‘neither a regulator, nor fit for purpose to fulfil that responsibility’.
And that is why changes are urgently needed.
Mr Speaker, we welcome the fact that the press industry themselves have put forward their own proposals for a new system of regulation.
But we agree with Lord Justice Leveson that these proposals do not yet go far enough.
Mr Speaker, in volume IV of the Report, Lord Justice Leveson sets out proposals for independent self-regulation organised by the media.
He details the key ‘requirements’ that an independent self-regulatory body should meet, including: independence of appointments and funding; a standards code; an arbitration service; and a speedy complaint-handling mechanism – crucially it must have the power to demand up-front, prominent apologies and impose million-pound fines.
These are the Leveson principles.
They are the central recommendations of the report.
If they can be put in place, we truly will have a regulatory system that delivers public confidence, justice for the victims, and a step-change in the way the press is regulated in our country. I accept these principles and I hope the whole House will come behind them and the onus should now be on the press to implement them and implement them radically.
In support of this, Lord Justice Leveson makes some important proposals.
First, some changes to the Data Protection Act that would reduce the special treatment that journalists are afforded when dealing with personal data.
We must consider this very carefully – particularly the impact this could have on investigative journalism.
While I have only been able to make preliminary investigations about this since reading the Report, I am instinctively concerned about this proposal.
Second, he proposes changes to establish a system of incentives for each newspaper to take part in the system of self-regulation.
I agree that there should be incentives and believe those ones that he sets out – such as the award of costs and exemplary damages in litigation – could be effective.
He goes on to propose legislation that would help deliver those incentives and also – crucially – provide: ‘an independent process to recognise the new self-regulatory body’.
This would, he says, ‘reassure the public that the basic requirements of independence and effectiveness were met and would continue to be met’.
Now I have some serious concerns and misgivings on this recommendation.
They break down into issues of principle, practicality and necessity.
The issue of principle is that for the first time we would have crossed the rubicon of writing elements of press regulation into the law of the land.
We should I believe be wary of any legislation that has the potential to infringe free speech and a free press.
In this House – which has been a bulwark of democracy for centuries – we should think very, very carefully before crossing this line.
On the grounds of practicality, no matter how simple the intention of the new law, the legislation required to underpin the regulatory body would I believe become more complicated.
Paragraphs 71 and 72 in the Executive Summary begin to set out what would be needed in the legislation it refers to, for instance, validating the standards code and recognising the powers of the new body, for example.
And if you turn to page 1772 in volume IV of the full report, it says this about the new law: it ‘must identify those legitimate requirements and provide a mechanism to recognise and certify that a new body meets them’.
The danger is that this would create a vehicle for politicians whether today or some time in the future to impose regulation and obligations on the press, something that Lord Justice Leveson himself wishes to avoid.
Third, on the grounds of necessity – I am not convinced at this stage that statute is necessary to achieve Lord Justice Leveson’s objectives.
I believe there may be alternative options for putting in place incentives, providing reassurance to the public and ensuring the Leveson principles of regulation are put in place and these options must be explored.
Mr Speaker, there are questions, including those on data protection, which are fundamental questions we must resolve in order to implement Lord Justice Leveson’s report.
I have therefore invited the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to join me in cross-party talks, starting immediately after this statement.
Let me be clear: a regulatory system that complies with Leveson principles should be put in place rapidly. I favour giving the press a limited period of time in which to do this. They do not need to wait for all the other elements of Lord Justice Leveson’s Report to be implemented.
While no one wants to see full statutory regulation, let me stress: the status quo is not an option. Be in no doubt – we should be determined to see Lord Justice Leveson’s principles implemented.
Mr Speaker, there is much that we in this country can be proud of: the oldest democracy in the world; the freedom of speech; a free press; frank and healthy public debate.
But this Report lays bare that the system of press regulation we have is badly broken – and has let down victims badly. Our responsibility is to fix this.
The task for us now is to build this new system of press regulation that supports our great traditions of investigative journalism and of free speech but that protects the rights of the vulnerable and the innocent and commands the confidence of the whole country.
And I commend this statement to the House.