Lord Justice Leveson has just finished giving his statement to the Inquiry press conference, and told journalists that he would be ‘making no further comment’ about the report’s contents. ‘The ball is back in the politicians’ court,’ he said. We have 40 minutes until we find out how the politicians plan to play that ball.
The judge took great pains to praise the media, saying:
‘I remain firmly of the belief that the British press, I repeat, all of it, serves the country very well for the vast majority of the time. There are truly countless examples of great journalism, great investigations and great campaigns.’
He was so fulsome in his praise that it sounded almost valedictory, and as the judge continued, it seemed that it was:
‘But none of that means that the press is beyond challenge. I know of no organised profession, industry or trade in which the serious failings of the few are overlooked or ignored because of the good done by the many.’
And so we got on to the meat of what Leveson thinks should happen next to challenge those serious failings. He told the conference he was proposing ‘a genuinely independent and effective system of self-regulation of standards with obligations in the public interests’. And continued self-regulation would not do, he said, arguing that any model where editors sat on the main board was simply ‘the industry marking its own homework’. He protested that could not be ‘characterised as statutory regulation of the press’. Instead, what he was proposing was ‘independent regulation of the press, organised by the press itself with a statutory process to itself promote press freedom’.
This doesn’t quite make sense. The judge is saying that a new form of regulation with statutory underpinning cannot fairly be called statutory regulation. MPs will certainly be keen to learn what the government’s understanding of this proposed system is.
Strangely, when he finished giving his statement, the judge received applause from the room. Whether he will be applauded by the press once the report has been digested, or whether MPs in the House of Commons will applaud the new proposals for the press, will become clear very shortly.