This letter was sent to the Financial Times on Tuesday 30th October in response to the leader ‘Leveson, the British media and the law’. It has has not – as yet – been published. Update: letter published in the FT on Thursday 1st November.
I am perplexed by the FT‘s u-turn with respect to the role of legislation to support a new system of media regulation (‘Leveson, the British media and the law’). Less than four months ago the FT argued that ‘It may well be that some sort of statutory underpinning will be necessary. So long as the regulatory body itself is genuinely independent, this should be workable’ (2nd July, 2012). Now the FT suggests that the use of legislation would be crossing a ‘legal Rubicon’.
This is a strangely contradictory position to take, especially given that the same leader states that ‘the UK already has a plethora of legislation to deal with media excesses’. This is surely to have your cake and eat it. The UK does have a plethora of legislation that affects the media, some of which is overly restrictive and some not. Legislation per se is neither a ‘legal Rubicon’ nor a guarantor of freedom. It depends entirely on what the legislation says. Finland, for example, passed The Act on the Exercise of Freedom of Expression in the Mass Media in 2003. This provides the public with a right of reply, gives news outlets a duty to correct, and says that each outlet must nominate a ‘responsible editor’ (to avoid editors claiming to have been ‘on holiday’ and therefore avoid responsibility). This has not had a constraining effect on media freedom. On the contrary, in eight of the last ten years Finland has been Number 1 on the World Press Freedom Index.
To take an inflexible position on the use of legislative measures in media regulation ignores our current situation and prevents open and measured debate about the future. I hope that the FT’s new position will not stifle such debate.
Martin Moore, Director, Media Standards Trust, London