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Leveson Inquiry: The devil's in the detail - but some early thoughts
2:34pm Thursday 29th November 2012 in Columnists
In broadbrush terms, my initial reaction to the Leveson report is that there will be a degree of relief in the newspaper industry about the headline recommendations.
It's a half-way house aimed at reassurance that there will still be independent regulation of the press - while giving the state a degree of control over how that independent regulation will operate. Is that a fudge or clever diplomacy in offering something to everyone?
It's not as good as most editors would have liked, which was totally independent regulation, but it is also not as bad as some had feared which was more blatant state control.
On Wednesday, I wrote a piece calling for state-free regulation but accepting that the independent watchdog needed more teeth. That is essentially what Lord Justice Leveson is advocating and those teeth include fines of up to £1m for the most serious breaches of the code.
The devil, of course, will be in the detail and it would be risky to jump to too many solid conclusions without reading the 400 pages of the report.
It's hard to grasp what Leveson really means by an independent regulator which is "underpinned" by legislation. Equally, there will be concerns about whether an independent regulator can be truly independent if it is overseen by a Government body such as Ofcom.
It is worth underlining the fact that despite Lord Leveson's insistence that this will enhance the freedom of the press, it will be the first time since 1695 that the state has been involved in the running of the press.
David Cameron's response at 3pm, followed by a separate reaction from Nick Clegg, will be every bit as important as the unveiling of the report itself.
If, as is widely understood, they fundamentally disagree on the underpinning by legislation, we are in for a long political battle before any of Leveson's recommendations get through parliament.
Although Leveson was a cross-party creation, we may well be about to see the beginning of a bitter political feud, with Labour desperate to split the coalition.
The new era for the British press is still a long way from taking shape.
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