The Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, and Labour all agreed to new reforms and an agreement on how best to regulate the UK press. A new regulatory body will be given the power to determine factors surrounding apologies made by the press. Publishers that do not sign up to the new regulations may face damages plus exemplary damages and at least two thirds of parliament must agree to any changes before they can be made and considered legal. However, the reforms have a number of critics that have attacked the agreement on a number of fronts.
The Leveson Enquiry was launched following the News International phone hacking scandal. Celebrities, crime victims, and newspapers were caught up in the scandal. Everything came to a head in July 2011 when the police discovered that the News of the World had tapped the phone of Millie Dowler. The government, headed by Prime Minister David Cameron, announced that an enquiry would be headed by Lord Justice Leveson. The enquiry initially found that a regulatory body should replace the Press Complaints Commission.
The new agreement was announced on Monday 18 March following extensive all-party talks that went on into the early hours of the morning. One main area of the agreement determined that the regulator would be responsible for determining who should make apologies, the extent of the required apology, and where the apology should be placed.
However, for critics, the main area of concern was not the details that were discussed but the policing of them and the potential effect on media freedom and press freedom. Media groups and proponents of free speech believe that the new regulations would limit press freedom while there are those that also believe the haste in which decisions had to be finalised has led to errors and rushed decisions.
Critics say that because the regulatory body requires a two third parliamentary majority to make changes it equates to a statutory underpinning that will reduce and even completely remove the freedom of the press. The harshest critics paint a picture of a media industry that is not able to report on any matters for fear of being fined and criticised.
Another area for concern is the impact that it will have on Internet publishers, including bloggers and other so called citizen journalists. Included in the reach of the enquiry are websites that contain “news-related material” and critics are worried that the term leaves too much ambiguity over exactly which websites.
Another key point of the reform is that the regulator should have the power and ability to impose a fine of as much as £1m. Although there are critics, there are also strong supporters of the changes but the support is tempered with caution regarding who should head and make up the regulatory body. There are those that believe simply shoehorning former members of the Press Complaints Commission into the new body would be detrimental and would render the process and changes pointless.
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