Following our post a couple of weeks ago, the Leveson Inquiry continues to struggle with its terms of reference and the particular question of whether it should make recommendations on media ownership. Leveson himself chose yesterday (at 94-103 minutes) to ask Ed Miliband whether he could avoid making detailed recommendations on the controversial topic. The Judge, perhaps seeking political cover for a possible decision to duck the question of media ownership, sought to clarify the responsibility set for him by the terms of reference of the Inquiry.
Lord Justice Leveson: “Can I ask you to reflect upon your answer in this way, Mr Miliband? You are the first of a very few people who I can legitimately blame, if that’s the right verb, for the breadth of the terms of reference of this Inquiry. I have to get on with it, and I am, but I am concerned about the extent to which it is appropriate for me to start to opine about percentage market shares, because that involves all sorts of competition issues which would require themselves quite detailed analysis … both in fact and in law. I said earlier today that I wasn’t, either in the bar or on the bench, a media lawyer, although I’m picking that up and have done some during my career. I’m certainly not a competition lawyer. I wonder what you would say — and I’ve not reached a view about it, but just for you to comment — if the limit of my aspirations in this area was to set out the concerns that various witnesses have expressed, and the counterbalancing arguments, and suggest appropriate authorities examine the position.”
Miliband: (nods head).
Lord Justice Leveson: “I’m not trying to shirk my responsibility, but neither am I trying to bite off more than I could or should legitimately take on.”
Miliband: “Obviously it will be for you to decide the way forward.”
My reading of this exchange is that Ed Miliband has not sanctioned any decision by Leveson to avoid making recommendations on media ownership. With Ofcom potentially releasing its own report on the measurement of media plurality at the end of the Month (i.e. in ample time for Leveson to read them) and a range of other activity including a major EU public forum on the topic, it will be difficult for the Inquiry to avoid discussing this in detail in module 4.
The message from civil society and the public is likely to be relatively clear: in the light of the track record of all major political parties on the issue of media ownership, they expect some very clear policy direction from the Inquiry, and not just a ‘to do’ list from the Judge.