U.K. Press Regulation: Judge Leveson Hopes Report Is Not 'Bonkers'
LONDON – Lord Justice Brian Leveson, the judge behind the much-vaunted report into press regulation published after months of evidence taken in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal that engulfed Rupert Murdoch's newspapers The News of the World and The Sun, made his second appearance in as many days in the British Parliament.
Thursday saw Leveson this time appear before the House of Commons Culture Media and Sport Committee to answer questions on the fallout over his far-reaching report on press reform published last November.
His outing in the other parliamentary house followed Wednesday's outing before the House of Lords committee, which saw him repeatedly refuse to be drawn into the ongoing debate.
In his second significant public outing in two days, Leveson opened his evidence to the Commons committee by saying he did not believe his recommendations "jeopardize the right to freedom of the press."
The Commons committee chairman, John Whittingdale, who told The Guardian he had no intention of letting Leveson avoid questions immediately after his Lords' appearance, told the judge he was extremely frustrated as he continued to offer no comment or opinion on the current political hot potato of press reform.
But Leveson did tell the Commons committee that he hopes his extensive report and recommendations is not regarded as "bonkers" and that his recommendations are not "lost" in the political row over setting up a new industry watchdog.
Leveson was referencing a widely reported comment made by the British prime minister David Cameron, who promised on the eve of the Leveson inquiry report findings that he would consider the recommendations so long as it did not propose "anything that is bonkers".
But Leveson did distance himself from a new regulatory system underpinned by the royal charter.
He noted that British politician Oliver Letwin's idea that a royal charter would be the best way of preventing political interference in the new press regulator was not his and had not even been considered by his inquiry.
"You are right to say the concept of the royal charter was not mine. I did not think of it. What's more, nobody suggested it," Leveson said. "I received submissions from hundreds of people, dozens of bodies, and it wasn't a concept that came to me then or at any stage over the course of my deliberations."
Leveson said he wants the press industry to come up with a new regulatory system that was "independent and effective." But he also noted that any system "has to work for them, but it also has to work for the public."
Leveson was asked about a tweet by Murdoch earlier this month claiming that U.K. print media was about to be "gagged to protect toffs" by a new regulatory regime.
"I certainly am very frustrated at representations of my report which are not accurate," he replied, adding that this included Murdoch's tweet.
"The regime that I proposed does not in any way impact the freedom of the press to publish anything it wants," Leveson said.
The judge, whose report sparked a heated standoff between newspaper groups and politicians, took the opportunity to express frustration at how his report had been wrongly characterized as something that recommended statutory regulation for the press.
"I'm certainly frustrated that people talk about statutory regulation of the press, which I do not believe is what I recommended," he said.