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Newspapers can’t police themselves, says bishop

by
14 January 2013

by Jessica Bull

DIOCESE OF NORWICH

THE Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James, argued on Friday for a "fully independent" press regulator, "guaranteed by statute".

Speaking in the House of Lords during a debate on the Leveson Report, Bishop James, who sits on the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications, said: "Our newspapers have been very good at defending themselves from independent statutory regulation while calling for it in almost every other walk of life. We need a fully independent body able to investigate the practices of the press without the trigger of a complaint bringing it into action.

"To ensure that the independence of such a body is guaranteed by statute is a long way from state control of the press."

The Leveson report, which was published in November, recommended the creation of an independent regulator, free from political and editorial ties, guaranteed in law. It was described at the time by Bishop James as a "finely nuanced recommendation" ( News, 30 November).

After the report's publication, the Prime Minister expressed "serious concerns and misgivings" about the recommendation of enshrining the regulatory system in statute. Mr Cameron subsequently gave national newspaper editors the chance to form their own plan for an independent regulator early in December.

During the debate on Friday, however, Bishop James said that he was "wary of the claims of editors that they can clean up their act without the independence of their regulator being guaranteed by statute or in some other way".

The Leveson report showed that "some elements" of the national press had made the lives of families who had experienced the abduction or murder of loved ones "unendurable. . . In another age there might have been calls for public acts of penitence."

During the Lords debate, Bishop James spoke in favour of regional and local newspapers, which "are part of the communities they serve, strengthening our sense of belonging, providing information and exchange of ideas, celebrating what is good and reporting on what is disturbing. Occasionally people say newspapers only report bad news. That's not true of our local and regional press."

A transcript of the full debate can be read here.

Jessica Bull is a freelance journalist

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