Steven Barnett speaks to John Cleese about press regulation

31 October 2023

Prof. Steven Barnett recently appeared in the first programme of the new John Cleese series ‘Dinosaur Hour’, broadcast on GBNews. This episode examined some of the worst excesses of the British press  – including the commissioning of burglaries and bugging of cars as well as phone hacking – and why successive attempts to hold newspapers accountable had failed.

Answering the question posed by Cleese about why newspapers in the UK are the least trusted in Europe, Barnett explained that broadcast journalism is overseen by Ofcom while print journalism is essentially unregulated. He described how seven separate enquiries into press abuse had recommended various moderate solutions for accountability, all of which had been rejected by governments which feared the power of newspaper editors to influence voters. The most recent attempt, he said, was the framework for independent self-regulation recommended by the Leveson Report 10 years ago, which the then Prime Minister David Cameron refused to implement.

This inaction, said Barnett, mattered because accurate information was vital for a vibrant democracy, but more importantly because abusive press practices ruin people’s lives without any effective deterrent or sanction. He suggested, however, that the political climate was changing, and it would be interesting to see whether a new government would finally have the courage to stand up to press power.

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