The legal chief of The Guardian newspaper says the outcome of the Leveson Inquiry is ‘the worst of all worlds’.
Gill Phillips, whose newspaper was instrumental in sparking the inquiry into media standards, says that what Lord Justice Leveson recommended has been ‘disastrous’.
She describes one key Leveson recommendation, championed by lobby group Hacked Off and Labour politicians and previously backed by The Guardian, as ‘a charter for people with dodgy claims’.
It was an incendiary Guardian report in 2011 – which wrongly accused News of the World journalists of deleting messages on murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s mobile phone – that provoked a public outcry.
The inaccurate story brought about the closure of the Sunday tabloid and led to David Cameron establishing the inquiry under Lord Justice Leveson.
But Ms Phillips says the wrangling over Press regulation following last year’s inquiry and subsequent report has left all sides dissatisfied.
She said: ‘His attempt to please everybody and avoid being a dusty footnote on a shelf somewhere has led him down a road that has proved to be pretty disastrous. We don’t have anything that could be perceived as effective or credible by either side of the debate.’
Since Lord Justice Leveson’s report was published last November there has been disagreement between publishers, politicians and lobby groups over how to implement his recommendations for tougher Press regulation.
The Privy Council is currently considering a Royal Charter put forward by the newspaper and magazine industry after negotiation with ministers. A rival charter, agreed over 2am pizzas by politicians and the Hacked Off lobby group, has yet to be submitted.
The newspaper industry plans to launch early next year a tough new Press watchdog, the Independent Press Standards Organisation, with the power to impose fines of up to £1million for systemic wrongdoing and require editors to publish upfront corrections.
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But some critics of the industry, led by Hacked Off, are demanding politicians have the last say over Press regulation.
Ms Phillips, the Guardian’s director of editorial legal services, dismissed the use of royal charters as a ‘medieval’ tool that had been ‘used by monarchs to circumvent Parliament’.
She told the Protecting the Media conference in London this week she was opposed to any form of state involvement in regulating the Press.
She cited the detention of David Miranda, the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who was detained for nine hours at Heathrow last month on his way from Berlin to Rio de Janeiro carrying hard disks and memory sticks including secret files leaked by ex-CIA analyst Edward Snowden.
Claims that News of the World (former editor Rebekah Brooks pictured) hacked the voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Millie Dowler were made by the Guardian in 2011 but thrown out
‘If anything demonstrates why we do not want a government regulating the Press, David Miranda is that,’ she said.
‘We live in a democratic state and they still did what they did to David Miranda for no good reason at all. It goes back to the whole debate about why we shouldn’t have the state regulating the Press.’
She also voiced concerns about one of Leveson’s key proposals – the setting up of a free arbitration service to decide damages claims against publishers.
Under the Government-backed charter, the industry is obliged to set up the service that many local and regional papers fear is wide open to exploitation by ambulance-chasing lawyers.
She told the conference: ‘We are creating a charter for people with dodgy claims. People will be tempted to go and try to get some money.’