Victims or Villains – is the freedom of the press under threat?
Guest post by Dr Julie Doughty, who teaches media law at Cardiff University Law School, reporting on a recent debate on the future of press regulation.
‘Victims or Villains – is the freedom of the press under threat?’
This was the question for debate at Cardiff University School of Journalism on 24 May, an event originally envisaged as a discussion on the possible implementation of section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 as a threat to the freedom of the press or, alternatively, an opportunity for those wronged by the media to find justice. By last week, however, it seemed increasingly unlikely that the legislation will be put into effect, with the Conservative manifesto abandoning any further attempts at regulation, post-Leveson.
There was still plenty to debate, however. The debate was organised by the Journalists’ Charity and chaired by Professor Richard Sambrook, with a panel comprising Sir Alan Moses, Chair of Ipso; Tryst Williams, editor, South Wales Echo; Tracey Singlehurst-Ward, partner with Hugh James, solicitors; and Martin Shipton, chief reporter with the Echo and a NUJ activist. The audience included a range of journalists in press and broadcasting.
Sir Alan’s view was that any attempt to actually use s 40 in the courts would have created a nightmarish series of disputes, such that we would never have known how it might work anyway. A far greater threat to a free press, he said, was that young people don’t read it; they absorb all their news from uncurated and irresponsible sources, online.
Martin Shipton blamed the greed of newspaper proprietors who had been making excessive profits but then cut staff to a minimum, and started to close less profitable titles. He and Tryst Williams argued for a strong local press holding power to account, but Shipton criticised other editors who valued ‘clicks’ above any attempt at engaging with issues of genuine public interest.
Sir Alan was dismissive of the Press Recognition Panel and IMPRESS (the latter ‘regulating titles that don’t need regulating’). He emphasised that progress, although slow, was being made at IPSO – and made a wry comment that the audience seemed to forget that the two titles that are most complained about are also the two that most people in the country read. All three said that editors fear hearing from Ipso.
However, Tracey Singlehurst-Ward said that she was still seeing plenty of clients who had serious grievances against the press. All the panellists were a little despondent about the seemingly inevitable demise of s 40 if the Conservatives are returned to power – not because any of them were confident it would have been effective, but more because Leveson’s findings still needed to be addressed.
For a survey of all the main national parties’ manifesto pledges, not just on media law but also other key areas such as legal aid and access to justice, crime, employment and family law, see General Election 2017: what the party manifestos say about law and justice.