AFTER CAROLINE: Now is Time for ‘Proper’ Press Self-Regulation – Lord Falconer

LORD FALCONER, ONE OF BRITAIN’S MOST INFLUENTIAL LEGAL MINDS, HAS WEIGHED IN ON THE ‘INDEPENDENT PRESS STANDARDS ORGANISATION’ – IPSO – FOLLOWING THE DEATH OF CAROLINE FLACK. HERE, THE VETERAN LABOUR PEER, AND NEWLY ELECTED LIBERAL DEMOCRAT MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT, DAISY COOPER, DISCUSS THE BEHAVIOUR OF THE SUN IN THE FINAL MONTHS OF THE ITV LOVE ISLAND PRESENTER’S LIFE, AND CALL FOR BETTER SELF-REGULATION OF THE TABLOID PRESS


THE SUN newspaper has come under heavy political attack for its negative coverage of Caroline Flack before she took her own life.

Former Secretary of State for Justice, Lord Falconer, said the Murdoch tabloid published “repeated hostile stories” while the television presenter was facing an assault charge.

The 68-year-old peer also criticised the ‘self-regulation’ of Britain’s national newspapers and attacked as “disgusting” Press attempts to “shuffle off” on to social media responsibility following Ms Flack’s death.

Critical:  Liberal Democrat MP for St Albans Daisy Cooper is calling for a new regime of Press regulation following the death of Caroline Flack (c) David Woolfall
Critical: Liberal Democrat MP for St Albans Daisy Cooper is calling for a new regime of Press regulation following the death of Caroline Flack (c) David Woolfall

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions programme, alongside new Liberal Democrat MP Daisy Cooper, Lord Falconer said: “Those tabloid newspapers then feed what goes on to social media… It looks pretty clear that the pressure built and built on Caroline.”

Ms Cooper said The Sun was responsible for a quarter of all articles about Ms Flack, whose inquest has been adjourned until August 5, in the six months to her death, the “vast majority” of which “were negative”.

The St Albans MP hit out at the prevalence of anonymised quotes attributed to supposed “friends” in articles.

She said: “The Press have doubled down, and they took the assault charge made against her, to launch a media frenzy – with graphic references – with the use of photographs from a live crime scene, and spurious quotes from so-called friends.”

Ms Cooper added: “Well we’ve seen who Caroline Flack’s friends are now, and they have launched this petition calling for Caroline’s Law, and I absolutely 100% agree that there should be more rights to protect the privacy of individuals.

“But it must go further, because what we need really is proper independent regulation of the British Press.”

Under Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations, following his 2011/12 inquiry into Press abuse, a Press Recognition Panel (PRP) ‘regulator for the regulator’ was set up to ensure that UK Press regulators are independent, properly funded, and able to protect the public.

But instead of joining a PRP-recognised regulator, the majority of the UK national press opted to continue regulating itself via IPSO.

Although it describes itself as “independent”, IPSO is in fact owned and governed by the publications it regulates.

Its rules are set by the “Regulatory Funding Company” (RFC) , whose board members include senior figures from the publishers of The Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Mirror, The Times, and The Sun; and the RFC has a veto on most IPSO activity through the members it nominates for appointment to the IPSO Board.

Lord Falconer, a barrister who was both Solicitor General and Lord High Chancellor under Tony Blair, also called for “proper self-regulation” of the sort advocated by Lord Justice Leveson after his 2011/12 inquiry into Press abuse.

He said: “If they had any responsible arrangements to make sure that they behaved properly, they would be doing something about it now.”

Ms Cooper said newspapers are enjoying greater power than ever thanks to the internet, and set out a vision for regulatory compliance both for ‘traditional’ and social media.

Countering the popular narrative of a newspaper industry in decline, she said the “vast majority” of news consumed online is “produced by the big five news corporations”.

Urging social media operators to self-regulate, she went on: “[They] should then be audited to make sure they are both independent and effective for the public… I believe it’s a system that social media platforms are actually interested in following, they just need to bring the big beasts, like the Daily Mail and others, with them.” 

Another panellist, Conservative MP Robert Halfon, Chair of the Education Select Committee, called for social media to be placed on the same legal footing as the newspapers.

Social media comments : Conservative MP for Harlow Robert Halfon
Social media comments: Conservative MP for Harlow Robert Halfon

He said: “Anyone on social media, anyone can say what they like, however repulsive, however awful, and very rarely does anything happen to that individual, and when you contact the social media companies you have to go through a whole rigmarole of making a complaint and half the time they just ignore it.”

Earlier this month, the UK Government announced the remit of Ofcom, the broadcasting regulator, would be expanded to take in ‘the internet’.

Byline Investigates has revealed, in our coverage of two major pieces of phone hacking litigation involving News UK, publishers of The Sun, and Mirror Group Newspapers, that references to anonymous ‘sources’, ‘close friends’ and ‘pals’, in invasive stories have become legal short-hand for disguising potentially illegally-obtained private information.

Ms Cooper continued: “There is no public interest served in producing spurious quotes from potentially made-up friends… I think that there’s a very bad track record in the press of saying “a friend said this”, “a source said that”. It’s a very dodgy tactic to use when it can’t be verified in that way.”

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