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Press cannot regulate itself, says bishop

30 November 2012


Verdict: Lord Justice Leveson unveils his report at the QEII Conference Centre, in London, on Thursday

Verdict: Lord Justice Leveson unveils his report at the QEII Conference Centre, in London, on Thursday

THE press has lost the right to regulate itself, the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James, said on Thursday after the publication of the Leveson Report.

Bishop James, who sits on the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications, backed Lord Justice Leveson's calls for an independent body to regulate the press. This must "have as one of its primary tasks the protection of citizens from unfair and damaging portrayal in the press and give them a proper chance of redress. When members of the general public are unfairly traduced in a major press story, it is not a necessary consequence of press freedom but an abuse of it."

The Leveson report - An inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press - is the product of a 16 month review. It was set up after it was revealed that mobile phone of Milly Dowler, a murdered teenager, had been hacked by the News of the World. It recommends the creation of a new regulatory body, underpinned in statute, "which is truly independent of industry leaders and of Government and politicians". This body would not include any serving editor or politician.

Introducing his report yesterday, Lord Justice Leveson concluded that this new approach to regulation "cannot be realised without legislation". He was not proposing statutory regulation of the press, he said, but a "statutory process to support press freedom, provide stability, and guarantee for the public that this new body is independent and effective".

On Thursday, Bishop James described this as a "finely nuanced recommendation", and argued that "it takes a vivid imagination to think it readily opens the door for state control of the print media."

The Prime Minister welcomed the Leveson report yesterday, but said that he had "serious concerns and misgivings" about the recommendation of enshrining the system in statute.

"We would have crossed the Rubicon of writing elements of press regulation into the law of the land," he told Parliament yesterday. "We should be wary of any legislation that has the potential to infringe free speech and a free press."

The Labour leader, Ed Miliband, thanked Lord Leveson for his report and said that the party would "unequivocally endorse both the principles set out and his central recommendations". This included support for "a truly independent regulation of the press, guaranteed by law". He paid tribute to "people who did not seek to be in the public eye, who suffered deep loss and grief, and then faced further trauma at the hands of sections of the press".

Defying his coalition partner, the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, also supported the system proposed in the report, which he argued could be done "in a proportionate and workable way." Changing the law was "the only way to give us all assurance that the new regulator isn't just independent for a few months or years, but is independent for good. . .

"A free press does not mean a press that is free to bully innocent people or free to abuse grieving families," he told Parliament yesterday.

Lord Justice Leveson concluded that "the British press - all it - serves the country very well for the vast majority of the time". But he said he would "wholly reject" the analysis that examples of malpractice, including phone hacking and harrassment, were "abberations and do not reflect on the culture, practices or ethics of the press as a whole".

Bishop James called yesterday for a culture within the national press "which does not treat ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events so callously and casually".

What is needed, he writes in an article for the Church Times to be published next Friday, is "a deeper examination of the moral and theological themes raised in the Leveson inquiry".

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