The Leveson inquiry has to join up three major criteria in the regulation of the press: each with a contradiction in them. They are:
- How should the public be involved?
- How can it be independent of both the press itself and the government of the day? And
- How can it be voluntary when media owners can withdraw from the process?
Lord Justice Leveson can ponder these as he has a week off from hearing witnesses this week.
Who is the public?
It was public outrage at the hacking of Millie Dowler’s mobile that led us to this existential crisis for the press. But who is this public? There is a long history of individual members of the public being “captured” by the bodies they sit on. Just see how many “independent” directors of companies are useful: very few.
“Independent” is the favourite word politicians use when setting up inquiries and regulations. This is an attempt to satisfy the suspicion the public has of politicians. But we do, after all, elect them. So “independent” means, in effect:
- Unrepresentative and
No law and press can opt out
Without a law which says all of the press must be involved, how can a voluntary system work? And if there is law then the politicians are involved, as many have argued that they should not be at all involved. The latest submission to Leveson from the Alternative Libel Project, for example, argues against any government involvement.
A cohort of publishing organisations, including the Professional Publishers Association has submitted its latest iteration of proposals so Justice Leveson has some heavy thinking to do this week.