UK Media Wins A Huge Victory -- No Leveson 2.0

You could be forgiven for missing it, but amid all the furore of the Conservative Party's manifesto launch this lunchtime, there was a tiny pledge. For the media industry, it's a huge deal. If elected, and Theresa May almost certainly will be, there will be no Leveson 2.0. There will be no Section 40.

To explain, the Conservatives are siding with the media on this one. The Leveson enquiry came about after it became clear that national newspaper journalists had hacked into mobile phones to unearth stories. Around the same time, the police launched Operation Elveden, which found several cases of police officers taking money for stories. Things didn't look good. The guilty were charged, and eight journalists and police officers went to prison. Dozens were also arrested and charged over phone hacking, and 13 were convicted.

The key word here is "convicted." Hacking phones was already illegal, as was police officers selling private "tipoff" information. The perpetrators were dealt with. Whether the bigwigs got off lightly is another matter, but the crimes were pursued, people went to prison. Hopefully, the lesson was learned.

This led to the Leveson Enquiry stipulation that a new regulator should be formed that would be formed by Royal Charter. The press were incensed that they were to be regulated not by themselves, but rather by -- perhaps indirectly -- the very politicians in the Houses of Parliament they stand guard over. A sweetener was offered, which was pretty much an iron fist in a kid glove. Section 40 laid out that if a paper were to accept the Royal Charter regulator, it would be protected from paying the legal costs of people who take you to court.

Yes, that's right -- you didn't read that wrong. The UK government was attempting to blackmail the press into signing up to a system where if they chose the "wrong" regulator, they would pay the fees of anyone accusing them of wrongdoing. In other words, there would be no deterrent to raising a case against a paper, only the opportunity to have a cost-free punt at getting some damages. Don't worry. Either way, the paper pays up.

Regular readers will recall that I have predicted this crazy rule would be dropped. The press was staring down the Government and the politicians have blinked. Can you imagine the Prime Minister, if re-elected, going into battle with the EU without the support of the press? Would she really want them harbouring a grudge, all for the sake of a crazy rule that would have run contrary to every other part of UK law?

So far Impress, the independent press regulator backed by Royal Charter, has an unimpressive list of members that are effectively a couple of dozen magazines and local newspapers. It would be conjecture, but these are the sort of titles that may have felt threatened by the prospect of paying both sides' fees in a legal case -- win or lose -- and so went for the safe option.

Following in the footsteps of the Press Complaint's Commission, which was deemed too ineffectual, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) now regulates 1500 titles and has all those big guys that you have actually heard of. It is the de facto press regulator of the mainstream press, even though it is not backed by Royal Charter but instead by the press industry itself. It is called independent, however, because the majority of its twelve board members are not tied to any newspaper group. 

The one reason that a title would shun the industry's IPSO for the Royal Charter's Impress seems likely to be taken away by the next Conservative government, should Theresa May win the anticipated landslide victory on June 8th. 

You have to ask -- the whole Royal Charter stick and carrot game. It's over, isn't it? The press stood firm. The Prime Minister blinked.

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