30 Nov 2012

Video debate: after Leveson, what next for the media?

Is the Leveson inquiry revenge? Are censorship fears “nonsense”? And what about the internet? Krishnan Guru-Murthy and a panel of experts debate the future of the media in an online Google+ Hangout.

If you are having any problems with the video above, you can also watch the Google+ Hangout on our YouTube channel by clicking here or on our Google+ page here.

One day after “old media” found itself in the dock with the publication of the Leveson report into the culture, practices and ethics of the press – Channel 4 News teamed up with the LSE Media Policy Project to use “new media” to try and get a handle on the implications of the report for the entire industry.

A panel of experts joined Krishnan Guru-Murthy via a Google+ Hangout – a video web chat – to discuss what the Leveson report, and the political response, might mean.

Neil Wallis, formerly deputy editor of The News of The World, did not hold back.

“There is no doubt in my mind, and that of the public as well, that this is revenge that comes out of the expenses scandal. We are going to see the neutering of the British press,” he said.

We are going to see the neutering of the British press. Neil Wallis, ex NoTW

However, Hugh Tomlinson QC, who represented celebrity victims of phone hacking such as Sienna Miller, described fears of “mission creep” as “nonsense”.

“The idea that there is mission creep and people plotting to suppress the press, or that the freedom of the press is under threat, is nonsense. What Leveson said is a very, very modest proposal, with statutory intervention only at the second level. There is no content regulation at all,” he said.

‘Mission creep’?

The Leveson report proposed that an independent regulator be established, set up by the industry itself and supported by legislation, and regulated if necessary by an external body like Ofcom, the broadcast regulator. However Prime Minister David Cameron was concerned about what legal intervention could mean for the free press.

Martin Moore of the Media Standards Trust, who also founded the Hacked Off campaign group, said any new plan for regulating the press needed to be independent and robust.

“If the press came up with a new plan, how on earth is anyone going to have any trust in it if there is not some sort of independent, external way of saying this is a decent plan. Otherwise we’re just going around the same block again,” he said.

Dr Damian Tambini of the LSE Media Policy Project added: “If we talk of mission creep or slippery slopes, these are potential issues that we should take very serious, but if you look at the proposals there is no institution being established by this piece of legislation that would lead to any potential slippery slope.”

Instead, Mr Moore said, any law based on Leveson’s proposals would set up a legal duty on the government to protect the freedom of the press.

What about the web?

As well as discussing the potential role of Ofcom or another regulator to, in effect, regulate the new regulator of the press, the panel also rejected suggestions that Lord Justice Leveson ignored the internet in his report.

Lara Fielden of the Reuters Institute, a former regulator and journalist, said the regulation would be open for anyone to join, adding: “He’s been very platform neutral, as far as I can see.”

Charlie Beckett, director of the LSE’s POLIS, said: “Some have mocked Leveson for the fact that there are only five paragraphs on the internet but in a way I’m delighted that he hasn’t tried to park his bus in cyberspace as well.

“I think he has realised that the drivers of news online are still going to be the newspapers, with some bloggers, and as we move we can see the flexibility of that regulatory system, but what I still don’t understand is why that has to have some sort of statutory underpinning.

“I think the internet is going to change the nature of this debate over time…but newspapers, if they have got any sense, will realise that they need to take some of these standards on board so that they can show the public they are not like all that other filth and rubbish on the internet, they are a brand you can trust.”