There are three big, international NGOs based in London that specialise, full time, in campaigning for free speech around the world.
Interestingly, Article 19, arguably the biggest and best known, has come out in favour of the Leveson Report because, it argues, “Legislation to provide a statutory basis for self-regulation does not mean state control”. In fact Article 19 went so far as to “welcome” the new report.
Index on Censorship is against. Leading Index light John Kampfner has said that he is “instinctively” against “statutory regulation.”
The other key NGO in this space, Reporters Without Frontiers is silent on this issue. Privately colleagues there tell me they have been discussing Leveson but find it difficult to find a clear position. This blog pointed out earlier this week that many of the countries with statutory press councils (such as Denmark) tend to score very highly in the RSF Press Freedom Index. To also to make a principled stand against alleged “statutory regulation” being introduced in the UK could be difficult.
Whatever the outcome, the fact of different views among NGOs, together with the plurality of views among politicians, can only be good for debate. Lets hope the standard of debate improves as there are still huge misunderstandings about what Leveson is actually proposing. See here and here for some background.
Interestingly this is the second blog I’ve just read calling for the debate to improve. Not sure I agree but the sroc blog makes some very nice observations. The author seems to think the question boils down to how privacy and defamation laws are implemented, quite rightly pointing out we mere mortals actually have very limited access to redress.
Which raises a question why not simply focus on enforcing privacy rights properly rather than bother with a regulator? Following their chain of thought you end up arguing for the creation of a kind of “truth and privacy” tribunal which sounds far more scary for press freedom, although that’s probably all ion the name as it will do nothing to improve press ethics and focus entirely on libel and privacy.
A lower court to provide low-cost verdicts on press complaints, with the option of batting up to a higher court for full trial, leaving serious concerns about press methods and other ethical issues unanswered, failing to fix the “problem” (perceived or otherwise) that resulted in Leveson.
A counter-view is that privacy and libel laws are the real reason we can’t have a free press and we should scrap both, instead relying on a state-backed system of self regulation.
Final point: is a state-backed system of self regulation just a jolly fudge to justify state regulation of the free press? There is LOTS to debate!
I am not sure how great the debate will be until a few more people read the 2000 page Leveson. It seems that many were too quick off the blocks, before they understood some of the key elements of the report. Perhaps that is why a few NGOs are silent for the moment – taking the time to digest this report. The best critique I’ve read so far is by Simon Jenkins in The Guardian this morning. If you can’t read the report, do read his editorial: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/nov/30/leveson-law-end-press-freedom