Sir Stephen Sedley proposes statutory media regulation

The Leveson Inquiry has invited evidence and submissions from the public as well as from the Core participants.  Although not reported widely in the media, last October, the recently retired Lord Justice of Appeal, Sir Stephen Sedley, made his own submission to the Leveson Inquiry. This is available on theLeveson Inquiry website [pdf].  In this submission, Sir Stephen proposes his own model of statutory regulation of the media.

Sir Stephen argues that “Britain can boast some of the best investigative newspapers in the world” but that we also have “some of the most intrusive and foul-mouthed newspapers in the world“.   He characterises the problem as being “how to keep the plums and curb the duff” – by the latter he means not the tasteless, trivial or debased – with which a free society has to live – but rather

“material which has no proper place in a society which respects truth and recognises the rule of law: material which illegitimately invades individual privacy, which depraves and corrupts or which is simply mendacious“.

He points out that while the first and second are illegal, or potentially so, simple lying “carries neither civil nor criminal penalties”.

“it is possible, at present, without fear of redress, to publish untruths which, although neither libellous nor invasive of privacy, can do serious personal or public harm”.

Despite this, he argues that the law’s abstension from the regulation of truth-telling is both principled and wholesome.

In terms of the potential remedies, Sir Stephen rejects the PCC, which he describes as being

“widely and rightly regarded as a body lacking both perceptible independence and any worthwhile disciplinary power“.

He goes on to make what he describes as “A modest proposal” for regulating the press.  This involves

the setting up of a statutory printed media regulator, governed by rules authorised by Parliament and designed to ensure a fair inquistorial, rather than adversarial, procedure Such a procedure will place the responsibility for the initiation and conduct of an inquiry on the regulator rather than the complainant, but will afford the respondent a right to full notice and disclosure and a right to be heard at ever stage

The standards to be applied could, he suggests, could perfectly well be those in the PCC’s Code.

The critical element of such a statutory regulator would be, he argues, its powers.  He suggests that the primary tool should be an uncapped power to impose fines, tailored to the gravity of the offence.  Such penalties should be open to appeal or review.

Sir Stephen argues that the subject-matter of a complaint would not have to be “pigeon-holed” into a legal category and there should be no trade off against civil rights of action.

As to who should be subject to regulation, he suggests that the daily printed media are the obvious candidates.  The fact that international co-operation would be required for internet issues is not a reason for doing nothing now about the mainstream media.

In relation to the non-mainstream media, he suggests a possible solution would be to give the regulator a remit “which allows it to investigate any written publication within the United Kingdom“.

Finally, Sir Stephen rejects the idea of an enforceable right of reply suggesting that the solution is not problematical

“the press should remain free to refuse to publish a required correction or retraction following an adverse adjudicatiion, but if it does so any regulatory fine should rise steeply”.

This proposal is, he says in conclusion

“designed simply to suggest that there is now a powerful case for independent statutory regulation of the mainstream medial that regulation can solve a number of problems for which neither litigation nor self-regulation is proving adequate and that it can be done fairly and effectively without either licensing the press or giving the regulator a monopoly of the truth

Although unattractive to the media, the virtues of this kind of straightforward model of statutory regulation are obvious. As the Leveson Inquiry moves to Module 4 and considers practical proposals for press regulation this is one which clearly deserves serious consideration. (courtesy: informm’s blog)

New Book Announcement: “Privacy Injunctions and the Media – by Iain Goldrein QC”

Our attention has been drawn to a new book, “Privacy Injunctions and the Media: A Practice Manual” by Iain Goldrein QC.  This is intended to be a practical manual that details how to argue a case and contains check-lists and quality control protocols.  It aims to sets out the law relating to privacy injunctions, and best practice in relation to seeking or opposing this form of relief.

In the foreword by Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, MR he writes

In this welcome new book on Privacy Injunctions and the Media: A Practice Manual, Iain Goldrein QC provides a clear, insightful and, perhaps most importantly, practical guide to the way in which the courts have developed the law of privacy in the past decade or so. The book provides a readily accessible and properly comprehensive route through the substantive law of privacy as it now stands, its relationship with freedom of expression, and the balance to be struck between them. On its own, and given the ways in which the law has developed, this would be a significant achievement and should, deservedly, see this work become an essential reference work for lawyers, litigants and those generally interested in the law … I commend it to all those who are interested in the development of the law in this important area, and particularly to those who want practical guidance.

The publishers of the book, Hart Publishing say:

A string of high profile law suits has drawn attention to a rapidly developing and controversial branch of media law – the use of privacy injunctions to restrain publication of information relating to the private lives of individuals. The purpose of this book is to set out the law relating to privacy injunctions, and best practice in relation to seeking or opposing this form of relief. Such best practice is targeted not just at litigators.  This book is aimed also at journalists who are the watchdogs of the freedoms of our society, and other organs of the media”.

The book reflects the agenda (included in the foreword to the book) set by Lord Neuberger’s Report of 2011 and the subsequent Practice Guidance.

The book’s Table of Contents can be read here and the Preface here.

The published price is £125 but there is a special discount for readers of Inforrm of 20%. To receive the discount order online and mention ref: ‘INFORRM’ in the special instructions field (or when contacting Hart Publishing). Please note that the discount will not be shown on your order but will be applied when the order is processed.

For any queries please contact the publisher Hart Publishing:

Hart Publishing Ltd, 16C Worcester Place, Oxford, OX1 2JW, UK 
Telephone Number: 01865 517530; Fax Number: 01865 510710;

(courtesy: Inforrm’s Blog)

McNae’s: still essential, 21 editions later – Judith Townend

A journalist with no formal legal training gave his name to the industry’s media law “bible”.

Leonard McNae, 1902-1996, wrote the firstEssential Law for Journalists for the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ), which was published as a book in 1954, replacing the NUJ’s The Pressman and the Law by G.F.L. Bridgman of the Middle Temple.

Its latest edition written by Mike Dodd, legal advisor to the Press Association, and Mark Hanna, senior lecturer at the University of Sheffield, launched on 30 March at The Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn, London.

Among the lawyers, academics and journalists attending the launch on Friday were Dodd and Hanna’s predecessors, Tom Welsh and Walter Greenwood.

Lord Hunt, chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, gave the keynote speech which outlined some of his experiences at the self-regulatory body so far, as it moves into its transition phase. Against any form of statutory regulation, he has drawn up a draft for a regulatory system [PDF] but is steering clear of a name for the new body at this time.

As he told Lord Justice Leveson at the Inquiry in January,

“I rely on “The Essential Law for Journalists” to point out all the statutory provisions that apply and restrict freedom of the press. I’m not just talking about defamation or the Data Protection Act or the Freedom of Information Act. The list is endless. It’s a massive textbook.”

McNae’s has become “an institution in its own right“, Lord Hunt said on Friday.

Judith Townend is a freelance journalist and PhD researcher examining legal restraints on the media, who runs the Meeja Law blog. She is@jtownend on Twitter.

(Images courtesy of the NCTJ & Inforrm’s Blog, The International Forum for Responsible Media Blog)