In the third instalment of our series of interviews with knowledgeable figures in the wake of the Leveson report, I sent some questions via email to Professor George Brock. Professor Brock has been the Head of the Department of Journalism at City University London since September 2009, and before that spent 28 years at The Times. He is a former President of the World Editors Forum.
Editors Weblog: Do you agree with Lord Justice Leveson that 'this is not, and cannot be characterised as, statutory regulation of the press'?
George Brock: It's not statutory regulation of the press but it does introduce an element of statute where none has operated before. That's not without risk.
Putting the issue of whether or not this regulation should be statutory, do you agree in principle with the sort of body that Leveson proposes to establish?
Yes, I think it would be an improvement on what has gone before – most particularly the "arbitral arm" which would promise quicker, cheaper redress in cases of defamation of invasion of privacy. The length and cost of cases has been a major issue and tipped the scale too far in favour of big media.
In recent articles you have advanced the argument that while statutory regulation is undesirable, existing laws could be strengthened and clarified in a kind of 'third way'. In light of the report, do you still think this? What would you change in the proposal?
My proposal for a "bargain," under which public interest defences would be strengthened in law but could only be accessed by media which convincingly demonstrated transparent and enforceable editorial standards, stands as made. When the schemes currently being debated fall down – as they well may – I shall whip out my scheme with a cry of "here's one I made earlier".
In the 'too close' relationship between the press and politicians addressed by LJL, do you think his prescription of 'more transparency' is enough?
I don't think that transparency is relevant. The press and politicians will always be in close proximity; they need to be. What went wrong was a media company, News International, having excessive power because of the share of the market that it holds. That was the root of the problem.
What do you make of the political reaction/fallout from the report? In particular, do you think the Prime Minister is right to have 'serious misgivings' about enacting new legislation?
I share Cameron's misgivings about legislating. What bothers me is that Cameron and the editors are now cooking up a solution without any public debate. But it's also true that the public have mostly lost interest in the whole Leveson event.