In his final report on the regulation of the UK press, Lord Justice Leveson has claimed that social media and blogs are in an ‘ethical vacuum’ beyond the remit of regulation.
The 2000-page final report features just a single page on digital media, despite a raft of recent cases of defendants jailed or cautioned for racist and threatening online comments.
The press, Lord Justice Leveson observed in his presentation “operates very differently from blogs on the internet and other social media such as Twitter.”
His comments mean that print media organisations are likely to have to operate under considerable new constraints, but big online publishers such as Google, Facebook and Twitter are likely to remain unaffected.
However, the judge said that news web sites with a substantial regular audience should follow the same rules as the press.
‘Some have called it a ‘‘wild west’’ but I would prefer to use the term ‘‘ethical vacuum’’,’ he commented.
‘The internet does not claim to operate by express ethical standards, so bloggers and others may, if they choose, act with impunity,’ Lord Leveson said.
‘The press, on the other hand, does claim to operate by and adhere to an ethical code of conduct.’
No ‘open season’ for print press to compete with online gossip
The report rejects the argument that publication of privacy-invading photos or gossip online should allow ‘open season’ in the printed media.
It uses the examples of the naked Prince Harry photos published by The Sun and the topless pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge, which the British press chose not to use.
‘Publication in a mass-circulation newspaper multiples and magnifies the intrusion,’ Lord Leveson said. ‘Not simply because more people will be viewing the images but also because more people will be talking about them.’
Lord Leveson’s comments will have no bearing on cases where offensive web comments break criminal laws or bring defamation claims from people who are libelled.
The judge acknowledged that British websites are competing against foreign media that are subject to different rules, and which could make them less competitive – but did not offer a solution.
The report then suggests there is a ‘qualitative difference’ between seeing, for example, pictures posted online versus on the front page of a national newspaper, noting ‘people will not assume that what they read on the internet is trustworthy or that it carries any particular assurance or accuracy’.