Dec 11

Leveson: it’s all really about privacy (so start with that)

Below is the text of a piece which I’ve written for the British Journalism Review and it argues a different approach to newspaper regulation than the one taken by most witnesses to the inquiry so far. The BJR’s new edition carries other advice to Lord Leveson from a clutch of other commentators including Tessa Jowell, Steve Hewlett, Geoffrey Bindman and Donald Trelford.

Balanced privacy law might be the least bad outcome

George Brock

I blame the Leveson Inquiry’s terms of reference. These ask the inquiry to recommend “a new more effective policy and regulatory regime which supports the integrity and freedom of the press”. No sooner were these words published than editors, pundits, publishers and media lawyers plunged with joyful relish into the business of elaborating “options” for toughening the powers and operation of the existing regulator, the Press Complaints Commission. The idea that the phrasing of the terms of reference is open ended, and doesn’t necessarily imply even the continuation of any self-regulatory or independent regulation, seemed not to occur to anyone at the seminars which Leveson organised as the overture to the formal hearings.

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Jun 10

Tessa Jowell on the BBC’s “fight of its life”

Seminar today at City University on public service broadcasting set up by the enterprising people at OpenDemocracy’s OurKingdom blog, which has been assembling an impressively wide-ranging cast of opinions for the past months. The seminar gave some of them a chance to get into the same room.

Star of the opening session was Tessa Jowell, Culture Secretary and in charge of the government’s negotiations with the BBC for the past six years until the election four weeks ago. The BBC will find itself in the “fight of its life”, she predicted. (Another panellist replied that the BBC had been seen in thes melodramatic terms for at least the last 25 years and several licence fee  renewals).

Other highlights: Jowell said that in the Labour government she had found herself as “the only advocate” for the BBC in government. She criticised the Beeb’s culture and managers as wanting “all the advantages of the private sector with none of the risks.” This seemed like an oblique reference to the high salaries  at the top of the BBC.

She said that BBC accountablity was good enough and that the BBC Trust had failed correctly to read the mood of the moment, not least because the BBC’s hierarchy had spent too much of its time in intmate negotiations with the government, neglecting the broader picture. She also said that the Trust’s power had not been sufficiently built up.

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