English PEN Statement on Leveson Inquiry Report

English PEN welcomes Lord Justice Leveson’s recognition of the fundamental role played by the press in society, not only in the public interest but in educating and entertaining. We are reassured by his acknowledgment of the importance of regulation that is independent of government, politicians and industry and by his proposal for there to be a positive duty on the government to protect the freedom of the press. We are also delighted that he has supported English PEN and Index on Censorship’s proposals for swift, low cost dispute resolution, which forms an integral part of the recommendations.

However we have serious concerns about the incentives that are at the heart of his proposals, which are underpinned by legislation.
 
Jo Glanville, Director of English PEN, said:

“If the press is to be rewarded or punished in the courts according to whether it is a member of the regulator or not, what are the implications for the publications that choose not to join? And how will guidelines be drawn up regarding who is entitled to join that are fair and inclusive at a time of a swiftly changing media landscape?
 
Lord Justice Leveson may be proposing a scheme that both undermines access to justice as well as the right to freedom of expression. We believe that dispute resolution mechanisms that offer swift, low cost resolution should be available to all and cannot be linked to incentives without infringing fundamental rights.”

English PEN also welcomes Lord Justice Leveson’s endorsement of a ‘conscience clause’ for journalists, so that they would not be compelled by editors or owners to do things that are unethical.  Jo Glanville said:

“A conscience clause would be an important safeguard of a journalist’s right to self-expression.”

English PEN will be publishing a detailed response to the recommendations, and hosting an event on Press Freedom, Public Interest and the Leveson Inquiry on 6th December, with Lord Hunt, Chairman of the PCC, and Brian Cathcart, founder of the Hacked Off Campaign.
 
Notes

  • In March 2012, English PEN and Index on Censorship published ‘The Alternative Libel Project’ which analysed models alternative dispute resolution models and made recommendations for libel disputes.  http://www.englishpen.org/alternative-libel-project-final-report-launched/
  • Clause 4 of the PEN Charter, accepted by the 1948 PEN Congress, states: “PEN stands for the principle of unhampered transmission of thought within each nation and between all nations; and members pledge themselves to oppose any form of suppression of freedom of expression in the country and community to which they belong as well as throughout the world whenever this is possible. PEN declares for a free press and opposes arbitrary censorship in time of peace. It believes that the necessary advance of the world towards a more highly organized political and economic order renders a free criticism of governments, administrations and institutions imperative. And since freedom implies voluntary restraint, members pledge themselves to oppose such evils of a free press as mendacious publication, deliberate falsehood and distortions of fact for political and personal ends.”

References:

1. “Lord Justice Leveson’s recognition of the fundamental role played by the press in society” Leveson Report Executive Summary, paragraphs 8-9
2.  “Swift, low cost dispute resolution” paragraphs 66-67
2.  “a positive duty on the government to protect the freedom of the press” paragraph 72
3.   “Lord Justice Leveson’s endorsement of a ‘conscience clause’ for journalists”, paragraph 64