Comment: New rules must stop press homophobia

Alternative Image

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has welcomed the publication of this week’s Leveson Report – in a comment piece for he says he hopes it can lead to greater protection for LGBT people from press intrusion.

Self-regulation isn’t working. The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) is mostly ineffective and a waste of time. Too many LGBT people are subjected to invasions of privacy, homophobic insinuations and sensationalist, inaccurate reporting. The methods of redress are weak, patchy and often dependent on a person being wealthy enough to take on media corporations.

While I am not in favour of state control of the media, I support a journalistic code of ethical conduct, enforceable by an independent, non-government watchdog. If doctors and solicitors can have a code of conduct, why not journalists?

The Leveson report is a welcome first step towards fairer, more responsible journalism. If implemented, it will give wronged LGBT people greater redress.

Lord Justice Leveson recommends the creation of an independent regulatory body to replace the PCC. He wants this body to have a code of practice and be backed up with the power of legal sanctions against irresponsible, unethical editors and reporters who harass or misrepresent LGBT people.

He also proposed a low-cost arbitration system, to enable people who’ve been victims of the press to seek redress without having to go through the courts.

Currently only the rich can afford to bring libel cases to defend their reputations against baseless damaging allegations.

Ordinary LGBT people have little hope at the moment of defending themselves. In place of legal aid for libel, which would primarily enrich lawyers, Leveson’s arbitration idea seems a sensible and workable alternative.

It will help LGBT people who have suffered abuses by the press.

However, Leveson disappointingly failed to explicitly recommend a statutory right of reply for people who’ve been subjected to false media allegations. I believe that newspapers should be required by law to publish an apology and correction of factual errors, on the same page with the same prominence, within seven days.

Light-touch rules to ensure responsible, fair reporting will not inhibit freedom of the press.

Providing there is a strong and clear public interest defence clause, this won’t constrain investigative journalism and the press exposure of wrong doing by people in high places.

I had first-hand, personal experience of media intrusion and fabrications when I stood as a Labour candidate in the Bermondsey By-election in 1983. It is generally regarded as the most homophobic and violent By-election of the last 100 years.

Some journalists door-stepped me day and night, rifled through my rubbish bins and spied on me in my own flat using telephoto lenses.

They published articles that were blatant fiction and doctored photos to make it look like I was wearing make-up. These mostly tabloid dirty tricks may have contributed to my dramatic loss of what was previously a safe Labour seat.

It is a human right to have access to factual information, redress against false reporting and protection against invasions of privacy in cases where there is no public interest justification.

Peter Tatchell is director of the London-based human rights organisation, the Peter Tatchell Foundation, and coordinator of the Equal Love campaign.