The latest on Leveson
1 June 2016
Chris Frost, chair of the NUJ ethics council
The union’s recent biennial delegate meeting (DM) re-visited the Leveson inquiry and the future of press regulation and called for protection for journalists from editors pursuing stories regardless of ethics.
The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) whistleblowing hotline for journalists was condemned as "little more than lip service" to promises made by publishers when setting up the new regulator. DM said it was disappointed that after spending millions of pounds of taxpayers money on the Leveson inquiry, that regulation of the press had not significantly improved. The NUJ later met with IPSO staff to discuss a new hotline service being set up.
DM heard that an application to the Press Regulation Panel had been submitted by an alternative regulator, Impress, which had promised to be Leveson compliant and wished to involve journalists and the NUJ in developing and maintaining its code of practice. DM welcomed this new application and called on the union's national executive council (NEC) to work with the new regulator.
DM was also concerned about government plans to shelve the second part of the Leveson inquiry that would:
- Inquire into the extent of unlawful or improper conduct within News International, other newspaper organisations and, as appropriate, other organisations within the media
- Investgate the way in which any relevant police force investigated allegations or evidence of unlawful conduct by persons within or connected with News International
- Examine the extent of corporate governance and management failures at News International and other newspaper organisations
- Consider the role of politicians and public servants in any failure to investigate wrongdoing at News International
- Recommend action over relationships between newspaper organisations and the police, prosecuting authorities, and relevant regulatory bodies.
DM believed that the second part of the inquiry, postponed pending a number of criminal trials for phone hacking and bribing public officials, was necessary to expose those really to blame for phone hacking rather than the scores of journalists and whistleblowers arrested and charged following the release of confidential information by News Corporation Management Standards Committee.
DM congratulated the juries in corruption trials who found journalists not guilty and accepted that payments made to officials were in the public interest. DM instructed the NEC to challenge the government’s decision, to call for the inquiry to go ahead, and to work with other campaign groups seeking the same end. DM agreed that the blame for the phone hacking scandal should be placed firmly with the newspaper publishers and owners who authorised and paid for them thus allowing the NUJ to build a new public confidence in British journalists and journalism.
DM also condemned David Cameron and John Whittingdale the secretary of state for culture, media and sport for refusing to introduce legislation agreed by parliament following the Leveson report. At a later meeting between the NUJ and John Whittingdale he said that despite reports to the contrary no decision had been made on S40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 and that it was "parked" pending a decision by the Press Recognition Panel. However, he also said that circumstances had changed since the introduction of the Act.
Whittingdale was a feature of DM with news breaking during the conference that newspapers had backed off a story about him and a sex worker in 2013 in order to pressure him about regulation. Whittingdale was not a minister at the time but was the influential chair of the media select committee. DM commended NUJ member James Cusick for exposing the hypocrisy of media organisations in their treatment of the story concerning his relationship and the claims that the story was investigated by several national newspapers as early as October 2013.
DM agreed it was deeply concerned at the possibility that national newspaper owners had used their investigative powers to pressure a secretary of state. It went on to instruct the NEC to campaign for John Whittingdale to resign as secretary of state and it reaffirmed its belief that the principle that investigative journalism should be used in support of democracy not for the private benefit of newspaper owners.