Belfast Telegraph

Paisley welcomes plans for Northern Ireland media standards review

By Staff Reporter

The Government, backed by the DUP, has narrowly voted down attempts to establish a new inquiry into relations between the media and police.

Former Labour leader Ed Miliband led moves to amend the Data Protection Bill to establish a statutory inquiry dubbed 'Leveson Two', but this was rejected by 304 votes to 295 when pushed to a vote in the Commons.

Government amendments were approved, with one ensuring the Information Commissioner's Office conducts a review of journalists' compliance with the new law over the next four years, including in Northern Ireland.

Later, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said: "Within this ICO review, or aligned to it, we will make sure there is an independent named reviewer for Northern Ireland."

The move was welcomed by Ian Paisley, who told MPs that the media here "were exempt from proper scrutiny by Leveson".

He added: "That is why people feel aggrieved. Many members whose phones were hacked, like myself, were completely ignored by that process. Now, perhaps, we will have the chance of fairness."

Last night former Ulster Unionist leader and former broadcaster Mike Nesbitt said the media in Northern Ireland played an important role in holding institutions to account.

"For that reason, our media should be willing and keen to be scrutinised to ensure they are factual, open, transparent and honest about their reporting, including their right to promote a political viewpoint (excepting the BBC/UTV)," he said.

"It is a question of who or what body represents independent scrutiny and I am uncomfortable with the idea of trusting politicians to make those decisions, given the reasons Leveson was established in the first place.

"We also need to reform NI's laws of defamation and rebalance freedom of expression versus protection of individual rights."

During yesterday's debate Culture Secretary Matt Hancock also confirmed that Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary would be undertaking a review of how police forces were adhering to new media relations guidance, as recommended by Sir Brian Leveson.

A second Opposition amendment, which would have forced publishers not signed up to a state-backed regulator to pay their opponent's legal costs in relation to alleged data breaches even if they won the case, was dropped after the SNP withdrew its support.

Mr Hancock warned the measure would have had a "catastrophic" impact on local papers.

He said it would have meant newspapers having to risk paying costs even if a story was accurate and in the public interest. The minister warned the clauses would have made it "near impossible" to uncover stories of abuse - and highlighted the work of The Times' chief investigative reporter, who uncovered the Rotherham child abuse scandal.

Of the Opposition amendments, Mr Hancock said: "Consider the impacts of these clauses on an editor: faced with criticism of any article by anyone with the means to go to court, a publication would risk having to pay costs even if every single fact in the story is true and even if there was a strong public interest in publishing.

"I am determined that we have a system that is strengthened so people have recourse to justice when things go wrong."

He said regulator IPSO had brought in a system of "compulsory low cost arbitration" which means "ordinary people" can take claims to newspapers.

Several MPs spoke of occasions when they thought they may have been subject to questionable information-gathering activities.

Local newspaper editors said the amendments could have destroyed regional journalism.

Belfast Telegraph

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