Shami: statutory underpinning of press regulation is “political control by the back door”

by Stephen Tall on December 2, 2012

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, is always worth listening to. A member of the Leveson Inquiry team, she has backed much of the Leveson Report — BUT not the crucial element: statutory underpinning. Here’s The Independent today:

…[this is] a crucial intervention that could change the nature of the battle, Ms Chakrabarti, a member of the six-strong panel of assessors, wrote in The Independent yesterday: “The Prime Minister is right to be concerned about any Government-appointed body ‘supervising’ the independent regulator. That would bring about the danger of political control by the back door. It is unnecessary and must be resisted. Furthermore, the report contains a last-ditch alternative of compulsory statutory regulation, should the press be unwilling to implement his proposed scheme. Again, the Prime Minister is right to reject this unacceptable plan B, which Liberty would be unable to support.”

Shami has presented this as a relatively minor disagreement with Leveson, but in reality it’s pretty fundamental. With publications such as The Spectator and Private Eye refusing to be bound by a voluntary regulator the ‘statutory underpinning’ of press self-regulation is not a theoretical nicety. This brings us back to the central problem with that part of Leveson’s proposals: