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David Blunkett warns MPs against regulating the press

24 November 2012

David Blunkett, the former Home Secretary, has has his private life in the newspapers often enough to yearn, Hugh Grant-style, for a world where the press is not free but obliged to operate within parameters outlined by the government. But I’ve interviewed him for Radio Four’s Week in Westminster (it airs at 11am this morning) ahead of next week’s Leveson report and he has come out against the idea state-mandated regulation.

It was an unusual discussion: the supposedly illiberal Blunkett, himself a compensated victim of hacking was defending press freedom. A Tory, Nadhim Zahawi, was urging David Cameron to act.

As a former Home Secretary, Blunkett’s words carry some weight. He wants change, mainly a stronger Press Complaints Commission

‘I think we all want a complete transformation of what currently is the PCC  so that it actually does have teeth so it can provide redress. I would like it not just to mediate but to able to make a judgment where the particular journal publication won’t play ball, and I’d like proper compensation. I think we’ve got a long way to go on the back of next week’s announcement in persuading the media, the print media, to go along with something much tougher than is on the table.

But the 42 Tory MPs demanding that government acts now are being too hasty, he says. If the press was to propose a bigger, toothier self-regulatory watchdog then “we don’t need statutory underpinning or requirements, and if we don’t we’re in a different ball game.”

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Blunkett echoed Boris Johnson’s message at the Spectator parliamentary awards  on Wednesday: what is supposed to be a serious discussion about press ethics and freedoms has descended into a sectarian war.

I don’t think we should be in two camps. There is a terrible problem at the moment with some of the print media having a go at people who don’t agree with them and there’s a similar problem on the other side if you’re not in favour of statutory regulation you’re somehow a patsy of the media – well I’m neither. As you rightly say I’ve suffered myself; but that doesn’t mean retrospectively going over history I should want to change the terms on which we have a free press… We’ve got to use all the powers at our disposal not look immediately at legislation to do it.’

Blunkett, who now advises News International on social responsibility, finished by pointing out that newspapers are anyway seem in terminal decline – and that Lord Leveson may end up proposing a solution to an historical problem. He didn’t give figures, but CoffeeHousers may be interested in ones I found this week

In 1981 some 72pc of the public  took a national daily paper. It’s now just 38pc. If current rates of decline continue, the last issue of the Guardian will be sold in February 2020, the last Daily Express will come out in May 2019, the last printed FT in July 2018 and the Independent will fell its last tree in April 2014.

Zahawi said he wanted politicians and the press to work together.To me, this is an deeply worrying sentiment: journalists should not “work with” those whom they are trying to hold to account. The idea of the press working in tandem with the government is the hallmark of an authoritarian regime and, as I said to Zahawi, should send shivers down the spines of free men. The press in Britain has behaved so appallingly that this point has been lost.

Now, Zahawi is not a illiberal MP, I just suspect he hasn’t thought this through enough. But this is the danger: that Britain may be weeks away by joining the ranks of countries where the government tells the press what it can do.

Jeremy Paxman famously said he went into journalism after hearing that the relationship between a journalist and a politician was akin to that of a dog and a lamppost. Several MPs now want to replace this with a principle whereby MPs define the parameters under which the press operates – and “work together”. It is a hideous idea that must be resisted. The last time this happened was under the Licensing Order of 1643, which was allowed to expire in 1695 after the introduction of the 1688 Bill of Rights shortly after the Glorious Revolution. As I wrote in my Daily Telegraph column  yesterday, it’s amazing that so many Tory MPs should want to turn the clock back 300 years.

PS Charles Moore has an excellent piece on Leveson and the surrounding debate in the Daily Telegraph today.

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Show comments
  • Noa

    I thought the Press was was self-regulating anyway.

    For example, many CHrs are still waiting for the long promised Neathergate expose.

  • FrenchNewsonlin

    He should not be left standing along either. Lord Justice Leveson and his coterie represent a dangerously slippery slope for democracy in the UK and many places else. Freedom of the press is indivisible from free speech. Freedom of speech cannot be limited to the inoffensive but, according to English case law, is extended to “the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome, and the provocative, as long as such speech does not tend to provoke violence”. Time to head for Hyde Park and Speakers’ Corner.

  • dalai guevara

    The simple fact is that press can only be meaningfully ‘regulated’ by….other press, and of course by applying the laws that are already out there.

  • Jules

    Zahawi should be deselected as should ANY Tory MP who supports regulation of the press. We have had a free press for hundreds of years and the Country has been fine, heck we even ruled an Empire FFS. Suddenly we won’t survive without a tamed press? Nonsense. It was put out there that Milly Dowler’s phone had been hacked, later found out that there is actually no evidence this claim is true but the self interested with an agenda (Coogan, Grant, Mosley etc al) seized on an opportunity.

    What News International did was wrong and ALREADY illegal. NOTW was closed and action is being taken against wrong doers. That should be the end of the matter. It seems the Establishment want to turn us more European were the press is cowed.

    Do we really want the likes of Max Mosley setting our press laws or deciding what is in the public interest? Privacy Law protects the rich, famous, elite and powerful, free speech and free press protects the masses. We needs less of the useful idiots like Zahawi and more politicians who will stand up for free speech. We need an American style First Amendment.

  • HooksLaw

    Shock horror journalist does not want to be regulated. Pity that you did not pay more attention to what your fellow journalists were up to at the time.

    Note that Blunket does in fact want more regulation. How will we get that without some statutory framework?

    Do you have any proposals Mr Nelson? You spout self serving rubbish but offer nothing as an alternative. You were the dipstick who suggested that victims could not be offended by twitter abuse/libel because you were not ‘following’ the abuser. Pardon me if I am not overwhelmed by your logic which Lord McAlpine is about to test to destruction.

  • In2minds

    So looking for a job is he? Blunkett was keen on ID cards when a minister and after his time in office served as an advisor to a US company working in that field. Tricky little thing is our David!

  • telemachus

    He might have wanted regulation if he had seen the Telegraph this morning.
    Can we believe the main headline about UKIP?
    I would decry it if it were true but there have to be other factors
    Rotherham could not be so stupid

    • Fergus Pickering

      Seen Nicholas around lately, or is he over at the vicars hate filled racist website?

      • telemachus

        I am concerned about your comments on a day I have been encouraging Peter to free speech
        I have heard nothing from Nicholas and miss him
        I am hoping for a post on the Telegraph calumny

        • Fergus Pickering

          I read on his website, the oddball Peter wanted to buy a Scottish island and a surplus tank.

      • Fergus Pickering III

        I’d be a tad careful in what you write if I were you. Nicholas is his real Christian name and whether he is around or not is no business of yours. Your comment comes very close to personal libel – as well as stalking. The Spectator will be getting a letter.

    • anyfool

      Why does there have to be other factors, Rotherham really could be so stupid after all they colluded in child rape by a group of Muslims, also they left the children with them for a few days so there was no obvious dangers, it is seemingly peculiar that most children in danger are in Labour controlled areas and the situation has become worse.
      I would not trust your lot with a Barbie doll.

      • telemachus

        The borough did not collude and since folk are talking letters I thinkmyoumhavevtime to retract

        • anyfool

          They and the police knew of it, not doing anything about it is colluding by default.

    • Bruce, UK

      “Rotherham could not be so stupid”

      Dennis McShane

    • HooksLaw

      So its true, there are no limits to your naivety. Rotherham are using ‘UKIP’ as a desperate excuse. Rotherham are appalled that white people may want to adopt coloured children. Such a stance offends their highly refined sense of bigotry.

      Rotherham Labour, quite perversely believe in apartheid.

      • telemachus

        This is fostering and I even Telemachus cannot believe that anyone could be so base
        The left in general are caring for all and usually more intelligent than the right which is why I cannot believe the Telegraph which I understand might lean to the right

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