Thursday, 29 November 2012

Time, Gentlemen, Please...

The press – the popular press – is drinking in the Last Chance Saloon.

- David Mellor, 1989

In just under half an hour, the Leveson Inquiry report into the Culture, Practice and Ethics of the Press will be published. Subsequently David Cameron and Nick Clegg will give separate - and dissenting - statements on the Noble Lord's findings.
It is anticipated that the report will recommend replacing the existing self-regulation with a system of regulation with "state-underpinning". Cameron is said to be in favour of a tougher, independent regulator whilst Clegg (it appears) seems more minded to accept Lord Leveson's findings. Indeed, the Lib Dem leader is quoted as saying "I hope, when Lord Justice Leveson gives his statement later today, we will remember the reasons why this inquiry was set up." 
As a Liberal, I believe that the state shouldn't interfere in society beyond what is strictly necessary for the good of all. But I also believe that the state has a responsibility to society to prevent abuse of privilege where it occurs. 
I believe that we are at that moment with regard to the conduct of the press. Good journalists, acting legally and ethically within an agreed code of practice should have nothing to fear. Those who could previously transgress with impunity - or just opt out of the Press Complaints Commission altogether - need to know that they can and will be brought to book by a regulator with authority. 
The PCC (set up following the Calcutt Committee into press invasion of privacy - plus ça change...) has failed - it's time to have a regulatory system with real teeth and real sanctions. This isn't about giving the state the power the power to censor the press, as it has been caricatured, it's about the state standing behind a new regulator and giving it real powers to censure the press. 
A free press is essential to a free society - but when it can (and does) transgress - society needs to be free to respond. As it says on my Lib Dem membership card: "The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community..." 
As part of our community, our press must - or must be made to - act responsibly. The press has had it's fill of drinks in the Last Chance Saloon - it's time for a different approach, for the good of us all. 

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