When one door closes, another opens. So, if your legal aid or PI business looks a little shaky at the moment, have you considered opportunities in media law?
The Recognition Panel whose royal charter was approved today in the latest tortuous step of the Leveson process opens up plenty of opportunities for work in the specialism, and not just for gilded celebrity libel firms.
For those numbed by the politics of the past few days, the charter agreed by the three party leaders and given legal force by an amendment to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill creates a recognition panel with the task of supervising an independent press regulatory board.
This new independent board (we don’t yet know what it will be called) is going to be busy. Its membership will be open to all publishers of newspapers, magazines or websites ‘containing news-related material’.
It will have the power to hear complaints about newspapers, magazines and websites:
- From anyone personally and directly affected by alleged breaches of the press standards code- By a representative group affected by the alleged breach- From a third party seeking to ensure accuracy
It will also have the authority to examine issues on its own initiative.
The board will provide an arbitral process for civil legal claims against member publishers. It will have at its disposal sanctions including fines of up to £1m and requiring publication of corrections or apologies.
Interestingly, the charter says the Recognition Panel is also endowed with ‘the capacity and powers of a natural person’ in particular ‘the capacity to sue and be sued’.
Even with the (it is to be hoped) low-cost arbitration scheme, all this suggests plenty of opportunity for legal skirmishing. In particular we can look forward to vigorous activity by individuals and groups who consider themselves traduced by bloggers. Much of the so-called mainstream media will also have to devote far greater resources to the systematic handling of complaints by readers and pressure groups.
So what, I hear you say: legal professionals go to work every day knowing that they would face ruin for making the kind of error that journalists laugh off, or at worst are forced to correct on an inside page. Isn't it time for journalism to grow up?
Sorry, but in my opinion that balance of responsibility is about right: I would much rather live in a society where lawyers are trusted and journalists are not than live in one where it's the other way round.
Michael Cross is Gazette news editor
Follow Michael on Twitter