In a report published on 27th March 2012, Parliament’s Joint Committee on Privacy and Injunctions says Parliament should not introduce any new privacy statute. It concludes that in weighing the competing rights to privacy and freedom of expression, each case must be judged on its own merits. The bar for limiting freedom of expression must be set high, but the Committee says that the courts are now striking a better balance in dealing with applications for privacy injunctions. It rejects criticism that privacy law has been judge-made, noting that it evolved from the Human Rights Act.
The Committee says the most important step towards improving protection of privacy is to provide for enhanced censorship of the media. The Press Complaints Commission lacked the power, sanctions or independence to be truly effective. Substantial changes to press regulation are needed to ensure that it encompasses all major news publishers including, in time, major bloggers.
The reformed media censor should:
Have access to a wider range of sanctions, including the power to fine; be cost-free to complainants be able to determine the size and location of a published apology, and the date of publication play a greater role in arbitrating and mediating privacy disputes
The body dealing with complaints should include representatives who have experience of working in the print media, but should not include any full-time employees of news publishers or individuals who have a demonstrable conflict of interest.
To make self-regulation work, all publishers must sign up to the new regulator. One possible mechanism the Committee suggests is for advertisers to agree to advertise only in publications that are members of the press regulator and subscribe to its rules.
A standing commission comprising members of both Houses of Parliament should be established to scrutinise industry-led press reforms and to report on them to Parliament. If the industry fails to establish an independent regulator which commands public confidence, the Government should seriously consider establishing some form of statutory oversight. This could involve giving Ofcom or another body overall statutory responsibility for press regulation, the day-to-day running of which it could then devolve to a self-regulatory body.
The Committee says that major internet corporations should take active steps to limit the potential for breaches of court orders through use of their products and, if they fail to do so, legislation should be introduced to force them to. In addition, the Attorney General should be more willing to bring actions for civil contempt of court in respect of injunctions being breached online.
It also concludes that parliamentarians should ensure that material subject to an injunction is only revealed in Parliament when there is good reason to do so. Gratuitous or repeated revelation of such information could lead to new parliamentary rules to prevent it. The media must be legally protected when reporting Parliament, and so qualified privilege should apply to the reporting of all proceedings in Parliament.