The press are against statutory regulation of their activities. That is the message they have been sending to the Leveson Inquiry. But most people fear that, without a legislative underpinning, press regulation will be toothless. How then to reconcile those two opposing views? Do it like this …
Create a statutory regulator which has two roles: (1) to exempt from its own regulation all those members of the press who are regulated by another suitable body and (2) to regulate the rest.
If the press can create – or persuade someone else to create – an independent regulatory body which has sharp enough teeth to police the press, the statutory body need do no more than keep a beady eye on the independent regulator. There would be no need to carry on any direct regulation of its own.
But if the independent regulator failed to deliver, the statutory body would be there with the power to step in – a power that had already been enacted.
What if the press couldn’t all agree on a suitable regulator? They don’t need to. With a regime like this, there would be no objection to having multiple regulators. So long as each of the regulators was approved by the statutory body, that would be allowed.
In practice, the cost of having multiple regulators would most likely deter the individual press barons from wanting more than one regulator, but that would be their choice – and at their expense. The State should pay only for the statutory body, not for the independent regulators.
And if one or more publishers wanted to opt out of independent regulation and submit themselves to regulation by the statutory body, that could be allowed too.
[Note: I have written previously about who should be covered by this regulatory system – see Leveson and the Living Trees.]
[Update (30 November 2012): Lord Justice Leveson has now published his report. The ideas articulated above are central to his recommendations although, in the immediate aftermath of the report’s publication, they have proved to be the most contentious – see Leveson – Is the battle already lost?]