When Lord Justice Leveson published his report, most newspapers were united in protest. Why only regulate newspapers when news is moving online? What about Twitter, blogs, the Huffington Post?
Regulation’s purpose, which admittedly its practice does not always serve, is to make sure markets function properly in two ways. First, to make sure they are properly competitive and so work for the consumer. Second, to ensure their operation does not routinely cause the infringement of individuals’ rights. Another way to put this is that regulation is supposed to prevent anti-competitive concentrations of power from developing, but also to limit the abuses of power that can still occur. The wider harms of a lack of plurality in the media market are fairly obvious, as are the dangers to democracy of a media whose proprietors politicians are afraid of. The Leveson Inquiry laid bare both.
Lord Justice Leveson’s proposals for a new system of press regulation focus on how to prevent infringements of rights in future. In designing his system, he clearly focused on major national newspapers, knowing that the immoral practices that led to the establishment of his inquiry were entirely concentrated there. He sought to devise a system that would do two main things: prevent abuses from occurring in the first place through a mixture of standards monitoring and the threat of investigations and fines; offer better redress for those whose rights are infringed, while reducing the amount of civil litigation in the system. In so doing, the system would mitigate the disparities in power between large, powerful publishers and ordinary members of the public.