The phrase “independent self-regulation,” used by Lord Justice Leveson, was presumably crafted to make his proposals seem less threatening. It’s certainly having the desired short-term PR effect: it’s been unthinkingly parroted in all the instant media reaction. But it may end up being an own goal.
Because if you actually stop to think about it, it’s nonsense. Regulation is either independent of the industry, or it’s self-regulation. It can’t be both. You’d expect a High Court judge to know that, wouldn’t you?
Similar troubling syntax is employed on the alleged distinction between “statutory regulation” and the “statutory underpinning” of the supposed “independent self-regulator.” There is, in fact, no essential difference. Any legislation, “underpinning” or otherwise, will, as the report makes clear, have to set a series of statutory criteria for a regulator which will amount to government involvement in the affairs of the press.
At the very least it establishes a precedent, a crack in the door, which future governments will have no difficulty in widening. Indeed, at worst, the criteria could be immediately drawn in ways which would at once establish state control over some aspects of the press.
Leveson himself also recommends that if newspapers do not cooperate with this approach, then there should be a swift move to a statutory “backstop regulator” – that is, full state regulation of the kind almost no-one claims to want.
Leveson’s choice of words paradoxically underlines the central point made by the press – that there is no nice-sounding Third Way. The press is either regulated by the state, or it isn’t.