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Self-regulation underpinned by law

Lord Justice Leveson's report sets out proposals for the establishment of an independent regulatory body for the press, set up by the press itself but underpinned by legislation and "verified" by statutory regulator Ofcom.

The judge said he was "confident" his recommendations provide a model for independent self-regulation which will protect both the freedom of the press and freedom of speech along with the rights and interests of individuals.

The new body - to replace the Press Complaints Commission - would have the dual role of promoting high standards of journalism and protecting the rights of individuals.

Legislation passed in Parliament would allow its activities to be recognised in legal processes and provide for its independence and effectiveness to be verified by a body such as Ofcom.

Under Leveson's proposals, the chair and board of the new body must include a majority of members who are independent from the industry, and should not include any serving editors, MPs or Government ministers.

They would include a "sufficient" number of members who have experience of the media industry, who could be former editors and senior or academic journalists.

The chair and board would be selected by an independent appointments panel, which could include one serving editor but with a substantial majority who are demonstrably independent of the press.

The body should have responsibility to:

:: Hear individual complaints against members about breaches of standards and order appropriate redress, while encouraging individual newspapers to embrace a more rigorous process for dealing with complaints internally;

:: Take an active role in promoting high standards, including by exercising the power to investigate serious or systemic breaches and impose appropriate sanctions;

:: Provide a "fair, quick and inexpensive" arbitration service to deal with any civil law claims against its members.

Lord Justice Leveson said it was not for him to set out detailed recommendations for how the new regulatory body would conduct its affairs.

But he suggested that it should:

:: Establish a Code Committee to carry out an early review of the existing Press Complaints Commission code of conduct for journalists;

:: Equip itself to deal with complaints, even where legal action is a possibility;

:: Provide warning notifications to the press in respect of people subjected to unwanted intrusion;

:: Issue guidance on the interpretation of the "public interest", and make clear that this should be taken into account as decisions on stories are made.

:: Provide a voluntary pre-publication advice service to editors on how public interest may be interpreted in particular cases;

:: Encourage the press to be as transparent as possible on the sourcing of material;

:: Establish a whistle-blowing hotline for journalists who feel they are being asked to act in an unethical manner, and encourage publications to include "conscience clauses" in staff contracts protecting them if they refuse.

Lord Justice Leveson recognised the danger that newspapers and other publications may refuse to sign up to his new regulatory body.

But he said that the statutory underpinning provided by legislation would permit the courts to recognise the arbitration processes set up by the new body, providing an incentive for publications to belong.

Media organisations could be penalised for failing to sign up to the new body's low-cost arbitration procedures by having costs or exemplary damages awarded against them in court cases, he suggested.

As a last resort, Ofcom could be asked to step in as a "backstop" regulator for publications which refuse to join the new scheme.

Lord Justice Leveson sought to allay concerns that his proposals might give the state control over the press.

"Despite what will be said about these recommendations by those who oppose them, this is not, and cannot be characterised as, statutory regulation of the press," he said.

"What is proposed here is independent regulation of the press organised by the press, with a statutory verification process to ensure that the required levels of independence and effectiveness are met by the system in order for publishers to take advantage of the benefits arising as a result of membership."

The legislation would "enshrine, for the first time, a legal duty on the Government to protect the freedom of the press,... provide an independent process to recognise the new self-regulatory body and reassure the public that the basic requirements of independence and effectiveness were met... (and) by recognising the new body, it would validate its standards code and the arbitral system sufficient to justify the benefits in law that would flow to those who subscribed."

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