Hacked Off petition on Leveson heading for 100,000 signatories

By staff writers
December 2, 2012

Nearly 100,000 people have signed a petition calling for the full implementation of the Leveson inquiry findings, just three days after they were unveiled.

The petition was set up by the campaign group Hacked Off, which was established by victims of tabloid phone hacking, and topped 90,000 in 48 hours.

It calls on the three main party leaders to:
* Implement, as soon as possible, the recommendations of the Leveson Report in full;
* Ignore pressure from media barons and introduce legally-backed regulation, independent of politicians and the press;
* Place tighter limits on how much of our media an individual is allowed to own, and
* Promote investigative journalism through effective public interest defences.

Prime Minister David Cameron will meet newspaper editors next week and will urge them to act quickly and cooperatively in relation to the establishment of an independent watchdog.

However, despite previously saying that he would implement the Leveson findings, Mr Cameron immediately rejected the central recommendation of the inquiry into press behaviour and ethics: that an independent regulatory body should be established by statute.

Critics say that without this it risks ending up as tokenistic and ineffective, in much the same way as the Press Complaints Commission was discredited when the full scale of misconduct at New International and other companies was revealed.

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to do something that actually tilts the law in favour of press freedom and real journalism," according to Angela Phillips from Goldsmiths College, University of London, who is also chair of the Ethics Committee of the Media Reform coalition.

Former Downing Street spin-doctor Alastair Campbell wrote in the Guardian on Friday 30 November that Mr Cameron was "sacrificing the national interest on the altar of his fear."

He added: "It really is quite hard to respect a prime minister who sets up an inquiry, allows a judge to state in the first paragraph of his report that he has the personal authority of the PM in the work he has done, and then sees that authority taken away before the ink had dried. It leaves people wondering why we had the inquiry in the first place."

However, Shami Chakrabarti, head of the civil rights group Liberty, says she opposes statutory underpinning of a regulatory body and believes that it may be illegal under the Human Rights Act.

Scottish journalist and commentator Iain MacWhirter also believes that anything other than voluntary regulation is "a licence to kill press freedom".

But supporters of the Leveson proposal for an independent self-regulatory body for the industry, backed up by legislation that sets out last resort sanctions, argue that such an arms-length approach does not constitute state control, and that claims that it threatens free speech are alarmist and misleading.

Though some investigative reporters and civil liberties advocates have expressed misgivings about Leveson, many others strongly support the report's findings and recommendations. It is among newspaper proprietors and Conservative politicians that the biggest opposition is coming.

However, in an editorial on Sunday 2 December 2012, the Observer newspaper takes a different line and declares: "It [Leveson] does not signal a return to state licensing of the press, nor does it open the door to Zimbabwean-style press manipulation. Attempts to portray it as such will not work, as was immediately obvious when most critics of the report's conclusions found they had to concede that Lord Justice Leveson had scored some direct hits."

It added: "Leveson wants to entrench press freedom, but asks for a range of measures in return from the newspapers whose freedoms will become guaranteed, of which the most important is the creation and financing of an independent press trust or commission formed by the industry and backed by law, which will ensure decent standards are maintained."

"Newspapers, whether in print or digital form, constitute part of the public domain... Britain is not very good at distinguishing between the idea of the state and the public. Nobody would call a public footpath a state footpath and most people understood when the Daily Telegraph defended its publication of MPs' expenses because it was in the public rather than the state interest. In the same vein, the BBC is not a state but a public broadcaster. The public is the space to which every citizen has equal access. It is underpinned by the rule of the law, freedom of speech, tolerance and the spirit that differences should be settled through argument, inquiry and ultimately the ballot box."

The paper adds that "any legislation – assuming that all other possibilities have been exhausted – must vigilantly protect the process of journalism and press freedoms, while keeping state agencies out of the proposed new structures."

* Other responses on Leveson: http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom

* Press reformers back Leveson's call for independent scrutiny: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/17498

* 'Leveson, the press, and un-free corporate interests', by Simon Barrow: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/17496

* Hacked Off petition calling for implementation of the inquiry recommendations: http://hackinginquiry.org/petition

* NUJ on Leveson: http://www.nuj.org.uk/innerPagenuj.html?docid=2453
* The Leveson Inquiry report and recommendations on the culture, practice and ethics of the press can be read in full and in executive summary here: http://www.levesoninquiry.org.uk/about/the-report/


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