Freedom of the press: An open letter to Argus readers

D-DAY: The Leveson recommendations, and the response of the prime minister and others to them, are crucial to local and regional newspapers

STANDARDS REPORT: Lord Justice Leveson holds our future in his hands

First published in News

Dear Reader, Tomorrow Lord Justice Leveson publishes his long-awaited verdict on future regulation of the Press in Britain. His inquiry was launched by the Government in response to the horrendous phone-hacking scandal at the News of the World.

Today I want to explain to you my concerns for the future of freedom – not just of the Press but of all of us – in this country should Lord Justice Leveson recommend statutory regulation of the press.

Regional and local newspapers will be affected by any recommendations in the Leveson Report. This is not just about attacking the national tabloids or bashing the Murdoch empire. I would be deeply concerned if statutory controls of any nature are proposed.

The Leveson recommendations, and the response of the prime minister and others to them, are crucial to local and regional newspapers.

The debate cannot be confined to the tabloids or the nationals, even though the Leveson Inquiry concentrated almost exclusively on the national Press.

I understand the public reaction to the allegations which led to the setting up of the Leveson Inquiry and were contained in the testimony of some of the witnesses to the inquiry.

In fact, I share the reaction.

The hacking of Milly Dowler’s mobile phone, in particular, was revolting and shamed the journalists responsible for it.

They should be in jail for their actions.

I have worked in regional newspapers for almost 30 years. I do not know anyone in my part of the industry who was not horrified by the revelations of phone hacking and payments to police officers and other officials.

However, you should not be fooled into thinking that phone hacking and other such criminal acts happened because the Press was not properly regulated.

Illegal phone hacking, in particular, was not dealt with appropriately by the police and the justice system.

That it continued for so long apparently unchecked was a failure of those whose job it is to uphold the law, not of press regulation.

The reality is that newspapers are already subject to a variety of civil and criminal laws which restrict investigation, reporting and publication.

We do not need any more laws, we just need those responsible for enforcing the current laws to do their jobs properly.

It is too easy to think that Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations will only have an effect on those who behaved so disgracefully and illegally. They won’t.

They will affect every newspaper in Britain.

Lord Justice Leveson and the Prime Minister made clear: “The problems there have been in our newspaper industry have not concerned regional and local titles, which perform an incredibly important function in our democratic system.”

The Argus is utterly opposed to the introduction of special statutory controls over the Press in any form.

No-one proposing statutory controls has yet produced detailed proposals or drafts to demonstrate what is actually meant and how it would apply – past attempts at press-specific controls would have produced draconian results in practice.

Do you really want politicians in charge of deciding what newspapers can and cannot publish?

This would be a fundamental constitutional change and it would end 300 years of hard-won freedom of the press from specific state control.

It would also be the thin end of the wedge.

Once politicians have even a tiny bit of control over the Press, how long before they increase those powers to prevent publication of material that would embarrass them?

One of the roles of the Press at all levels is to hold those in elected office to account. That would become increasingly difficult to do if statutory regulation is enforced.

Statutory regulation in any form and by any name is unacceptable to the regional as well as the national Press.

Some supporters of statutory regulation talk blithely of ‘light-touch legislation’.

Do not be fooled. There is no such thing.

You cannot be a little bit pregnant, and you cannot have a little bit of legislation.

The Argus has supported the Editors’ Code of Practice and the system upheld by the Press Complaints Commission.

It has worked well for the regional press but I accept it has failed at national level.

Therefore, I understand why there are calls for a tough new independent system of regulation.

The Argus, alongside other national and regional newspaper publishers, supports the proposals for just such a new system of regulation for the press.

However, that does not require statute.

The new system would be based on binding contracts rather than statute and it would – while preserving a fast, free and fair way of dealing with readers’ complaints – also set, oversee and maintain standards, with new investigation powers and severe sanctions, including fines of up to a million pounds.

Bringing in new laws to regulate the Press would take time and cost a small fortune.

The chances of any statutory regulation being in place during this Parliament are slim in the extreme.

By contrast, the scheme suggested by the newspaper industry could be up and running next year with no cost to the public purse in this age of austerity.

If you share my concerns about our future freedoms, please write to your local MP. Statutory regulation of the Press is a sledgehammer to crack a nut and would see the Argus and hundreds of other local and regional newspapers punished for the sins of a tiny percentage of the Press.

That cannot be right.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

As always, the support of our readers means everything to us.

Yours sincerely Kevin Ward Editor, South Wales Argus

Comments (9)

Please log in to enable comment sorting

10:36am Wed 28 Nov 12

Mervyn James says...

I'm all for freedom of the press, but not for their freedom to abuse people to get column inches. Keeping their own house in order clearly doesn't work, we do need an independent body to ensure people are not lied about or spied upon or their phones bugged and mail read.

People cannot afford costly court cases to then only get a bit of an apology stuffed away on the back page somewhere while these papers have made thousands via the abuse. I would not support the law moving in via the state, they CANNOT be trusted, but an independent body yes.
I'm all for freedom of the press, but not for their freedom to abuse people to get column inches. Keeping their own house in order clearly doesn't work, we do need an independent body to ensure people are not lied about or spied upon or their phones bugged and mail read. People cannot afford costly court cases to then only get a bit of an apology stuffed away on the back page somewhere while these papers have made thousands via the abuse. I would not support the law moving in via the state, they CANNOT be trusted, but an independent body yes. Mervyn James
  • Score: 0

1:14pm Wed 28 Nov 12

Katie Re-Registered says...

Unfortunately, what passes for 'the press' in Britain has very little to do with safeguarding the liberty of the general populace by providing us with knowledge of events and issues but has everything to do with the promotion of the vested interests of a handful of super-rich media barons. Most of what passes for 'news'papers now don't contain actual news, but are little more than propaganda sheets that regularly spread misinformation often to the extent of erasing important news stories from public view by selective reporting of them. The argument espoused by opponents of press regulation is that there are laws in place already by which those wronged by the media are able to gain redress. However, in order to challenge the vast power of these media organisations and take them to court an individual who feels they have been wronged needs plenty of cash and influence. Not so hard to muster this if you happen to be a Lord McAlpine, but supposing the media does a hatchet job on Jo/e Public - the designated 'local weirdo' who doesn't own an estate but lives on one? Maybe an answer could be to put a system in place to make it easier for us 'plebs' to challenge and sue newspapers if they wrong us? Otherwise, if journalists want 'de-regulation' then why don't we even the sides up a bit, take the gloves off and allow us non-journalists to rip into them and their families, drag their names through the mud and say what we like about them(!) If the wild west is what you want then don't come out with teh violins already when you discover you're not the only 'gun' in town and the reputation of you and your loved ones has been torn to shreds!
Unfortunately, what passes for 'the press' in Britain has very little to do with safeguarding the liberty of the general populace by providing us with knowledge of events and issues but has everything to do with the promotion of the vested interests of a handful of super-rich media barons. Most of what passes for 'news'papers now don't contain actual news, but are little more than propaganda sheets that regularly spread misinformation often to the extent of erasing important news stories from public view by selective reporting of them. The argument espoused by opponents of press regulation is that there are laws in place already by which those wronged by the media are able to gain redress. However, in order to challenge the vast power of these media organisations and take them to court an individual who feels they have been wronged needs plenty of cash and influence. Not so hard to muster this if you happen to be a Lord McAlpine, but supposing the media does a hatchet job on Jo/e Public - the designated 'local weirdo' who doesn't own an estate but lives on one? Maybe an answer could be to put a system in place to make it easier for us 'plebs' to challenge and sue newspapers if they wrong us? Otherwise, if journalists want 'de-regulation' then why don't we even the sides up a bit, take the gloves off and allow us non-journalists to rip into them and their families, drag their names through the mud and say what we like about them(!) If the wild west is what you want then don't come out with teh violins already when you discover you're not the only 'gun' in town and the reputation of you and your loved ones has been torn to shreds! Katie Re-Registered
  • Score: 0

1:22pm Wed 28 Nov 12

Katie Re-Registered says...

Btw...the kind of populist argument that the press are utilising now, which seeks to appeal over the heads of legislators to the people by harking back to some idealised historical tradition about being the 'safeguarders of liberty', is precisely the same sort of argument that has been used by military juntas in latin america when they have enacted coup d'etats against elected democratic governments. Replace a cadre of 'generals' with 'media barons' and you will also see how both similarly attempt (and often succeed) in using government's as puppets often through the threat of failure to support.
Btw...the kind of populist argument that the press are utilising now, which seeks to appeal over the heads of legislators to the people by harking back to some idealised historical tradition about being the 'safeguarders of liberty', is precisely the same sort of argument that has been used by military juntas in latin america when they have enacted coup d'etats against elected democratic governments. Replace a cadre of 'generals' with 'media barons' and you will also see how both similarly attempt (and often succeed) in using government's as puppets often through the threat of failure to support. Katie Re-Registered
  • Score: 0

6:36pm Wed 28 Nov 12

Mervyn James says...

I don't think tabloids are ever going to stop the abuses. Today Louise Walsh was awarded 400K and 140K costs after the S*N falsely labelled him an abuser in Ireland. That these newspapers can afford to do this and pay fines and STILL carry on, I think the case for independent scrutiny proven. Punishments do not fit the crime. Maybe withdrawing their right to print for 6 months may concentrate their minds a bit. Tabloids are out of control really, they set up the groundwork for twidiots... I find the pleas about free speech a common theme when they are caught out ! Free speech doesn't mean you can print what you like. If I can't do it, then neither can they.
I don't think tabloids are ever going to stop the abuses. Today Louise Walsh was awarded 400K and 140K costs after the S*N falsely labelled him an abuser in Ireland. That these newspapers can afford to do this and pay fines and STILL carry on, I think the case for independent scrutiny proven. Punishments do not fit the crime. Maybe withdrawing their right to print for 6 months may concentrate their minds a bit. Tabloids are out of control really, they set up the groundwork for twidiots... I find the pleas about free speech a common theme when they are caught out ! Free speech doesn't mean you can print what you like. If I can't do it, then neither can they. Mervyn James
  • Score: 0

6:37pm Wed 28 Nov 12

Llanmartinangel says...

What's interesting is how the press now point to illegality, like phone hacking, and say 'its already illegal, therefore no additional power required' and ignore some of the character assassinations they carried. The Sun paid Elton John £1 million for a totally made up story. It's that sort of behaviour which needs regulating.
What's interesting is how the press now point to illegality, like phone hacking, and say 'its already illegal, therefore no additional power required' and ignore some of the character assassinations they carried. The Sun paid Elton John £1 million for a totally made up story. It's that sort of behaviour which needs regulating. Llanmartinangel
  • Score: 0

8:17pm Wed 28 Nov 12

Lenin says...

If we had a trustworthy and independent press I would agree that state regulation was not needed. However most papers have a political bias and many report inaccurately. The PCC is a joke, editors monitoring others and, apologies where actually ordered appear in a small corner of page 26 when the original story was Front Page and ran for days.

Perhaps formal licensing of newspapers and an independent regulatory body is the way forward.

Seems the clamour to carry on regardless is fuelled by the offenders themselves and the Open Letter from Lords and MPs was orchestrated by David Blunkett, a man who has been, and may still be, on the Murdoch payroll.

As they say in legal circles "I rest my case."
If we had a trustworthy and independent press I would agree that state regulation was not needed. However most papers have a political bias and many report inaccurately. The PCC is a joke, editors monitoring others and, apologies where actually ordered appear in a small corner of page 26 when the original story was Front Page and ran for days. Perhaps formal licensing of newspapers and an independent regulatory body is the way forward. Seems the clamour to carry on regardless is fuelled by the offenders themselves and the Open Letter from Lords and MPs was orchestrated by David Blunkett, a man who has been, and may still be, on the Murdoch payroll. As they say in legal circles "I rest my case." Lenin
  • Score: 0

9:02pm Wed 28 Nov 12

Limestonecowboy says...

I agree there is enough Regulation in place to deal with sloppy reporting & have no problem with political slant of newspapers as it keeps each other in check. The term 'independent' (whatever that means) is not healthy in a political climate.

As far as I'm concerned the risk comes from greedy media barons wanting access into our homes not just through newspaper ownership but the owning of TV companies. While newspaper circulation is becoming less year on year getting news from the internet or TV is increasing.

While this sounds convenient media barons will become more powerful & without check it will be them who will influence what we should see & hear which can be far more damaging.
I agree there is enough Regulation in place to deal with sloppy reporting & have no problem with political slant of newspapers as it keeps each other in check. The term 'independent' (whatever that means) is not healthy in a political climate. As far as I'm concerned the risk comes from greedy media barons wanting access into our homes not just through newspaper ownership but the owning of TV companies. While newspaper circulation is becoming less year on year getting news from the internet or TV is increasing. While this sounds convenient media barons will become more powerful & without check it will be them who will influence what we should see & hear which can be far more damaging. Limestonecowboy
  • Score: 0

11:06pm Wed 28 Nov 12

GwentVoice says...

I don't think this applies to the Argus. You just need a job lot of dictionaries. Lets face it you couldn't have the top off an apple never mind a phone.
I don't think this applies to the Argus. You just need a job lot of dictionaries. Lets face it you couldn't have the top off an apple never mind a phone. GwentVoice
  • Score: 0

11:07pm Wed 28 Nov 12

GwentVoice says...

I don't think this applies to the Argus. You just need a job lot of dictionaries. Lets face it you couldn't hack the top off an apple never mind a phone.
I don't think this applies to the Argus. You just need a job lot of dictionaries. Lets face it you couldn't hack the top off an apple never mind a phone. GwentVoice
  • Score: 0

Comments are closed on this article.

Send us your news, pictures and videos

Most read stories

Local Info

Enter your postcode, town or place name

About cookies

We want you to enjoy your visit to our website. That's why we use cookies to enhance your experience. By staying on our website you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more about the cookies we use.

I agree