Friday, 12 April 2013

Hacked Off and the new system of press self-regulation

From: john@hackinginquiry.org [mailto:john@hackinginquiry.org]
Sent: 12 April 2013 14:19
To: JONES, Graham
Subject: Hacked Off and the new system of press self-regulation

Download Document(s): Hacked Off six allegations rebutted.doc

Dear Mr Jones

We are writing to you to correct the record about the Hacked Off campaign and the potential impact of the new system of press self-regulation.

In the weeks since the all-party agreement on the new Royal Charter there has been a systematic campaign of misrepresentation in the press, both of how the new system might work in practice and of Hacked Off. Despite our efforts to have numerous distortions and factual inaccuracies corrected in various newspapers, we have rarely been allowed to set the record straight.

This is regrettable and ironic, given the claims by national papers to represent a plurality of opinion. This barrage of misleading propaganda – with almost no counterweight – has obliged us to take the unusual step of writing to every member of both Houses of Parliament to counter some of the more outrageous myths.

We attach, and include below, rebuttals of six allegations that have been repeatedly levelled at the new scheme which Parliament debated and approved, and at us. These are not arguments that have been reflected in media coverage so we would be grateful if you could spare the time to read them. In each case we provide links to further information should you wish to find out more.

After seven public inquiries in 70 years, and innumerable promises from the newspaper industry to put its own house in order, Parliament has, for the first time, been able to take action that meets the expectations of victims of press abuse and the needs of the public. These are moderate measures in line with the recommendations made by Lord Justice Leveson after his year-long inquiry and deliberations.

They cannot, on any reading, be interpreted as an attack on free speech, nor to they impose any political control on our free press.

We would be very happy to answer any questions or concerns you may have on any of these points, or any others you would like to raise about Hacked Off or the proposed new system.

Yours sincerely,
Hugh Tomlinson QC, Chairman
Prof Brian Cathcart, Director
Hacked Off: Six allegations rebutted

1. ‘This is the end of 300 years of press freedom’

Newspapers complain of Draconian state controls that will ‘chill’ journalism and make it hard to hold power to account. In fact the new system excludes politicians from influence over regulation more effectively than the PCC did, and great care has been taken to ensure the new self-regulator has no power to prevent editors publishing what they choose. (Moreover, some of Britain’s best watchdog journalism is done by broadcasters under far tighter regulation than the charter permits.)

2. ‘Journalists around the world condemn the charter’

Foreign newspapers have repeated distortions and misjudgements generated by national newspapers. The National Union of Journalists supports the new system as do free speech stalwarts such as Sir Tom Stoppard and former Sunday Times editor Sir Harold Evans (who has said that “the misrepresentation of Leveson's main proposal is staggering”). Nick Davies, the journalist who forced the hacking scandal into the open, also backs the Leveson regulation scheme.

3. ‘The exemplary damages scheme is illegal under European law’

Government lawyers reject this, as did Lord Justice Leveson. And if newspapers really believe it’s true then they must be sure they can overturn it easily in court – in which case they can have nothing to worry about. Scaremongering about exemplary damages is addressed here.

4. ‘All that was necessary was to enforce existing laws’

Many kinds of press abuse – e.g. forms of harassment and distortion – are not illegal. The Leveson Inquiry also found that journalists had flouted the law in ways that were hard to detect or prosecute, or where penalties failed to deter. The answer is surely not more and tighter laws that would drag police officers into newsrooms, but, as the judge recommended, improved self-regulation to raise standards and end tolerance of wrongdoing. This is an idea the press accepted in principle decades ago when it first adopted a code of practice. Unfortunately that code was not always enforced.

5. ‘The Royal Charter is rushed and undemocratic’

The charter delivers cautious recommendations published more than four months ago by a senior judge after a duly constituted and exhaustive public inquiry. Labour and the Liberal Democrats immediately endorsed the self-regulation proposals in full. In cross-party talks Tory ministers insisted on implementation by Royal Charter, so on 14 March Labour and the Liberal Democrats published a draft charter to deliver the Leveson scheme, closely following the judge’s language. The Prime Minister endorsed that charter in Parliament on March 18, as did the Commons as a whole.

6. ‘Hacked Off was given too much influence over the process’

Hacked Off is a strictly non-party campaign group seeking implementation of the Leveson recommendations on press regulation, which the public also overwhelmingly supports. We speak for many victims of press abuse, whose interests Mr Cameron said should be “front and centre” at all times. We have tried to keep the issue in the public eye, to remind politicians of all parties of the case for change and to help bring about that change by persuasion and advice. We have no ulterior motives and we have always believed, as Lord Justice Leveson did, that the decisive voice in this matter was Parliament’s. We give more information about our approach here.

John Dickinson-Lilley
Head of Government and Parliamentary Relations
Hacked Off
8th Floor
Westminster City Hall
64 Victoria Street
London
SW1E 6QP
T: 020 78087276
W: www.hackinginquiry.org