Tuesday 4 December 2012

Leveson: Green Party wants conscience clause, union representation and action on concentration of press ownership

 The Green Party has welcomed many aspects of the Leveson report, while expressing disappointment that there was little in it to practically address the concentration of ownership in the press.

 Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said the call from Lord Justice Leveson for a new independent self-regulatory body, with the majority of its board comprising non-industry representatives and no serving editors, was a step forward.
 "We would welcome the creation of independent oversight with majority civil society involvement.”
"But although there is the call for independent regulation here, the mechanism suggested is indirect, clunky and open to subversion, rather than the direct creation of an independent body along the lines of Ireland's Press Council. There's also no reference to union representation, which would provide an important expert, hands-on view within the new regulatory body."
 Natalie said that although the call for the new regulator to run a whistle-blowing hotline, and for a "conscience clause" to be inserted in journalists' contracts of employment was positive, the judge had failed to recommend direct action to ensure this happened.
"The NUJ has long been calling for journalists to be protected if they refuse to act in manners they consider unethical, and it is essential for a future decent, independent press that this right is provided."
 Natalie also welcomed the judge's call for a legal duty for the freedom of the press to be enshrined in law, which is not currently the case. She said: "Whilst the Leveson inquiry has rightly focused a spotlight on inappropriate and outright illegal behaviour by the press, we must never forget that a tenacious, questioning, independent press has in the past served Britain well, from the Sunday Times thalidomide campaign, to the Guardian's exposure of Jonathan Aitkin.
"This must be preserved and protected, and Leveson has rightly made his opposition to government regulation clear right from the start."
 Natalie also welcomed the judge's recognition that the public was rightly suspicious of close relations between press and politicians when it came to lobbying about media issues.
"He was right to say that this undermines public trust and confidence, and his call for transparency in the form of registration of lobbying contacts was a good one, and potentially revolutionary, insetting a model that could be used across other industries and sectors. Registration of lobbyists is something the Green Party has long been calling for and this report provides a real opportunity to return to that broader issue."
 The Green Party's chief criticism of the report is in the area of media ownership. While the judge makes a strong statement about the importance of plurality, he fails to make a direct recommendation for action, or taken board submissions made to him about limits for media concentration.  Natalie said:
"His call for greater transparency when ministers consider whether or not to refer a media merger to the competition authorities on plurality grounds is welcome, but does not go far enough. An independent regulator or overseer should have the power to make this referral."

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