After months of debate and the in-depth investigation of the Leveson Inquiry, we finally have a blueprint for the regulation of the press in the UK.
The revelations of phone hacking over recent years confirmed the wider problem of a poor ethos in the press where the national tabloids sought to destroy people’s lives purely to make a profit. This unethical prying into human tragedies from the murder of Millie Dowler to the disappearance of Madeleine McCann might have interested the public, but it was not in the public interest.
On top of this, we’ve discovered a questionable relationship between newspaper proprietors and top politicians and even more worryingly a widespread problem of the relationship between the papers and the police. All of this was either ignored or insufficiently investigated by the current press regulator.
The Government will now set up a new body that is independent of both the press and politicians, enshrined by a Royal Charter, a process which guarantees the independence of a body, as is done with the BBC.
This should achieve two crucial goals. One, of course, is to prevent the press from repeating the mistakes of the past. The other is to ensure that the freedom of the press is maintained. Although we often focus on the mistakes like phone hacking, it’s important to recognise the important investigative work the press does to uncover corruption and unethical behaviour in public life, not least in the political sphere. The new system must not prevent the press from reporting something like the MPs expenses scandal, for example.
This is, however, only the start of the process. There is a long way to go for the media to return to its role of boosting democracy by holding politicians to account and informing the public. A new press regulator won’t stop politicians and journalists having a close relationship and it won’t stop the news being presented through the particular views of editors and proprietors. What’s good news is that the public are now much more aware of what constitutes good behaviour by journalists.