Press Regulation: An Overview of The Phone Hacking
“If the state regulates the press, then the press no longer regulates the state.”
- Ian Hislop at the Leveson Inquiry
Over the last couple of years, there has been a strong air of condemnation and criticism of press content and conduct. The general opinion being that these press institutions have been poorly regulated and allowed to become an institution unto themselves; doing as they pleased without any fear of repercussions. This spirit is encapsulated by the practice within the press world of phone hacking, which generally involved the illegal interception of phone calls of prominent figures in a bid to access their voicemail. This particularly reached its head when the news came out that the phone of murdered school girl, Milly Dowler had been hacked, allowing voice messages to be recorded and raising false hopes within her family that she may have been alive.
That particular case served as inspiration David Cameron’s decision to initiate the Lord Leveson-led public inquiry into the culture, practices and ethical behaviour of the British press. To paint a better picture of the accusations the press were subjected to, it is worth noting that there were also a wide number of legal proceedings instigated by prominent celebrities’ such as Hugh Grant, Sienna Miller, Gordon Taylor, Steve Coogan and Andy Gray against the press. This scandal also brought about the demise of the News International-controlled ‘News of the World’ which was viewed as the main proponent of the phone hacking culture. It was in light of these revelations and climate that the school of thought suggesting state regulation of the press received some sympathetic attention. This provides a brief snapshot of the reasoning proffered by those favoring press regulations.
The Proposed Regulation
As the movement for the bill designed in response to the Leveson findings has gathered momentum, its intricacies are placed under the spotlight. The model sets out to create and implement a form of independent regulation with statutory basis. Its intention is to be enshrined using the royal charter method which simply is a formal document issued by a monarch with intentions to grant a body or authority the jurisdiction to carry out whatever role it is briefed. The proposed regulation would be able to instigate fines and would also have enough clout to demand corrections coupled with the ability to influence where the corrections can be published when newspapers and websites are found to have breached the terms governing their conduct. This would also instigate the advent of exemplary damages in court. It would allow for the widening of the scope of liability to bloggers and social media accounts by extension. As it is, it has expectedly been widely condemned and rejected by most of the press houses.
*This is the first of a three part series.