Coffee House

Leveson report: Cameron’s defining moment

29 November 2012

I do believe that David Cameron has just pledged to  protect press freedom – and, in effect, reject the most illiberal proposals of today’s Leveson Report. He has asked the media to reform itself, and radically. He accepts the principles of the report and asks the media to ‘implement them, and implement them radically’. But he asks. He doesn’t want to tell. And he draws a very important distinction between the two: parliament hasn’t told the press what to do since 1695 and Cameron doesn’t want to start now.

We argue in our leader in this week’s Spectator that Cameron is a man of principle, a friend of freedom and a pragmatist who will recognize that press regulation would not address the abuses of press freedom. He said today: ‘issue of principle, practicality and necessity. For the first time, we would have crossed the Rubicon of writing elements of press regulation into the law of the land’.

The Commons, he rightly said, has been ‘a bulwark of democracy for centuries’ and should ‘think very carefully about crossing this line’. Any legislation that’s simple at first, he then said, would become more complex later on.  And Leveson’s proposed ‘validation’ of independent press, Cameron said, would create a mechanism for political control that could be ratcheted up later.

This is a defining moment for the Prime Minister, invoking ancient liberties to give a calm, eloquent and robust defence of freedom of speech. It shows that he is, at heart, a classic English Tory who dislikes changing hundreds of years of precedent due to momentary panics.  I hope those 42 pro-regulation Tory MPs were in the chamber listening to him: this is Cameron at his boldest and best.

UPDATE:  This is what Cameron said in the Commons in regards to Leveson’s statutory recommendations:

‘[Leveson] goes on to propose legislation that would help deliver those incentives and also – crucially – provide: “an independent process to recognise the new self-regulatory body”. This would, he says, “reassure the public that the basic requirements of independence and effectiveness were met and would continue to be met”.

‘Now I have some serious concerns and misgivings on this recommendation. They break down into issues of principle, practicality and necessity. The issue of principle is that for the first time we would have crossed the rubicon of writing elements of press regulation into the law of the land.

‘We should I believe be wary of any legislation that has the potential to infringe free speech and a free press. In this House – which has been a bulwark of democracy for centuries – we should think very, very carefully before crossing this line.

‘On the grounds of practicality, no matter how simple the intention of the new law, the legislation required to underpin the regulatory body would I believe become more complicated.

‘Paragraphs 71 and 72 in the Executive Summary begin to set out what would be needed in the legislation if refers to, for instance, validating the standards code and recognising the powers of the new body, for example.

‘And if you turn to page 1772 in Volume IV of the full report, it says this about the new law: it “must identify those legitimate requirements and provide a mechanism to recognise and certify that a new body meets them”.

‘The danger is that this would create a vehicle for politicians whether today or some time in the future to impose regulation and obligations on the press, something that Lord Justice Leveson himself wishes to avoid.

‘Third, on the grounds of necessity – I am not convinced at this stage that statute is necessary to achieve Lord Justice Leveson’s objectives. I believe there may be alternative options for putting in place incentives, providing reassurance to the public and ensuring the Leveson principles of regulation are put in place and these options must be explored.’

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Show comments
  • Sarah

    So Cameron’s decision tells us one of two things about the man:
    Either he is a very principled man who doesn’t want to cross a rubicon despite the public abrobium this could earn him.
    Or he’s in a corrupt and nepotistic relationship with the opinion formers of the world.

    Could there be a clue to which it is in the fact that he’s just sponsored a sham pubic enquiry for PR purposes?

  • swim

    Your freedom our our freedom Fraser? There is no free press, only ugly press barons who want to spout bilge and keep control of the state in the hands of the few. If that is the freedom you want to go to jail for, great, go ahead, make my day!

  • Peter

    Keep the Press ‘free’ so that we might be able to find another viewpoint to whatever stoy it is telling. But continued freedom demands responsibility. Each and every story has to be truly researched and then truly ‘owned’ by the author, so that any challenge can be responded to with truth and objectivity.

  • Graeme Hancocks

    Predictable, self justifying tosh.. Few journalists, editors or media
    proprioters seem to have begun to realize just how low in the public’s
    estimation journalism and the media have sunk. The Spectator and Fraser Nelson included. The pretense that the
    freedom of the press is threatened by Levison’s recommendation just will
    not wash with the public any longer. The press has proven again and
    again and again that is untrustworthy and incapable of self regulation.
    No more chances.

    Cameron’s line is disingenious. His position guided by
    nothing more noble than trying to curry favour with the media and in
    return receive their their
    support at the next election. If evidence were needed, just look at his
    headlines today. He has badly let down those he
    said he wanted to most protect when he set up Levison and when he
    appeared at it. He has let down the British public. The man is cad.

  • Simpleton

    “We should I believe be wary of any legislation that has the potential to infringe free speech and a free press. In this House – which has been a bulwark of democracy for centuries – we should think very, very carefully before crossing this line.”
    Rubbish. As Peter Simple pointed out in the 1960s, freedom of expression had even then been enormously eroded by legislation. The truth is that Mr Cameron served his political apprenticeship far too close to the Murdoch press and it has warped his perceptions. If not, perhaps he could start reversing some of the legislation introduced by his predecessors.

  • Anthony Makara

    How much of the Prime Minister’s misgivings are actually David Cameron making sure hes onside with certain sections of the media in the run up to the next election? From hacking the mobiles of murdered children to vulgar zoom shots of celebrities, the media, across the board, from print press to TV and electronic print, needs to operate under a code of ethics. Serious investigative journalism would not be under threat, to say it would is akin to saying that all journalism is yellow press.

  • Barry

    The fact remains, we still live in a country that considers it appropriate to imprison an oaf for wearing an amateurishly offensive T shirt. Freedom?

    I’m not optimistic.

  • Sarah

    Turns out your pledge wasn’t necessary, Fraser.

    Was it a shot across the bows, froth on the lips of a propagandist or just showing off?

  • sunnydayrider

    It may turn out in the end a good day for Dave. Played out corrrectly it should be seen as a stand against the socialist thought police, MP’s who want revenge for the expenses scandal and celebrity luvvies caught red handed: or red something!

    • Gary Wintle

      So, its perfectly fine for the police to serve the press while being paid by the taxpayer, then?
      If the rozzers want to work for the press barons, fine, but they should no longer be paid by the taxpayer. Scotland Yard should be sold off like the whores they are.

  • maurice12brady

    Dave wants to keep the status-quo — He is a coward! — No organisation (The Press) that wields such enormous power — Should remain unregulated.

    • Gary Wintle

      The press does not represent free speech; indeed, the British press is frequently censorious (witness its hysterical reaction to Brass Eye, and anything controversial). What it does represent is the small group of men who own the papers, who revel in, and abuse, their power.
      The relationship between the press and police is IMHO very sinister and fascistic. The press frequently covers up police venality and incompetence; the clear collusion in the cases of Hillsborough and De Menezes being truly sickening and disturbing.

  • Paddy

    Yes, I hope Cameron has his tin hat ready……all the carping from Labour’s front bench and the usual suspects.

    We even had Alastair Campbell in the wings ready to spin.

  • MaxSceptic

    Well done Cameron, Gove (and you too, Fraser)

  • DavidDP

    Excellent resposne from Cameron. We are clear now on who to turn to for defence of freedom of speech and the press, and who would subjegate both to the whims of politicians.

    • Gary Wintle

      The same press which has repeatedly protected the police by the smears against the Hillsborough victims and Charles De Menezes?
      Have you not noticed how the press often covers up police incompetence?

  • Bluesman

    23 to go.

  • Curnonsky

    Does anyone imagine for a minute that the parliamentary expenses scandal would have come to light were the press at the beck and call of the political establishment? All the outrage over murder victims’ families, etc. is so much chaff designed to distract the public from the real goal: to provide the political class with free reign to plunge their greedy snouts deeper into the public trough. I can’t believe I am saying this, but good for Cameron.

    • Fergus Pickering

      How right you are, sir.

    • HooksLaw

      Cameron is suggesting that we do not have any shred of political interference. I do not see how the proposals could be classed s that anyway.

    • Sarah

      Why wouldn’t it? What do you think parliament could have done to stop it coming out? Even in your doomsday scenario of press being at the “beck and call of parliament”?

      • Curnonsky

        Because as should be blindingly obvious, the “independent” regulators will in fact be drawn from the same pool of compliant stooges that always seem to populate official bodies, and just to ensure that Leveson calls for Parliament to have the last word.

        • Sarah

          You seem to have missed the point that the proposed regulation is to break the *current* corrupt and nepotistic relationship between the press and some parts of government and other democratic institutions.

          Leveson’s regulator would have powers to ensure penalties were carried through *after* an offending press article was published. That’s it. They don’t approve stories before publication, they don’t even design the standards articles are measured by.

  • swatantra

    So after all this time and millions spent, DC has bottled it. In fact Levenson himself bottled it, by recommending a voluntary self regulation system. The fact is voluntary self regulation never works, because some people think they are above that sort of thing, and ignore it and think it doesn’t apply to them.
    Parliament has a duty to legislate for that Independent Board, define its Terms of Reference and impose huge financial and prison sentences as well as an apology, on those that flout basic decency.
    Don’t leave it to the Industry, because they’ll never do the right thing.

    • Swiss Bob

      “because some people think they are above that sort of thing”

      Sounds like every Labour MP I’ve ever seen and am reminded of the ghastly Harman leaving the scene of an accident.

    • Fergus Pickering

      Nonsense. The cowardly thing would ave been to go along with it, to agree with Ed and Clegg. How can anything that those two agree on possibly be right?.

  • David Lindsay

    Defined by how hopelessly compromised he is: unfit for office on account of, as Hamlet might have put it, his country suppers.

    • DavidDP

      Once again, the untruths. Leveson found he wasn’t compromised at all.

      • David Lindsay

        Really? Leveson says that he never rode the horse, does he? Where, exactly?

        You’d think that with all Cameron’s money, that he could procure himself a better-bred filly than that.

        • Gary Wintle

          Leveson is ridiculously soft on police corruption, and seems to have a naive belief that politicians and policeman are noble beings. The police deliberately did not investigate phone-hacking, this is obvious to all except the terminally naive and/or stupid.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    Are you sure there are enough posts on this? How many would be needed if the damn thing actually said anything worth considering? What about the energy bill?

  • john swindon

    Leveson is a lawyer. All lawyers want more laws. They do not care that it is almost impossible to cover every circumstance in a statute. Laws have unintended consequences. Just ask the MPs busy criticising the tax affairs of multi nationals. MPs wrote or at least passed the laws that these wicked people are acting legally under. If real regulation with proper recompense for victims can be achieved without legislation it will be far preferable to regulation ‘underpinned by legislation’. If the general public actually thought about what regulation had been achieved by legislation for example regulation by the FSA of banks and other financial institutions they would recognise that it is often not the answer

    • HooksLaw

      So what is? A lot of bubbling but nothing below the froth.

  • Andy

    Michael Gove was right: Leverson did need a lecture on Freedom of Speech.

    • telemachus

      So you are a Nelson-Cameron placeman too
      Gove was frankly rude when he gave evidence and should have the good grace to apologise

      • Andy

        Cobblers. Michael Gove told Leveson – a thin skinned pompous oaf – a few home truths.

        As to statuary press regulation that is the dream of all Fascists. We should have no truck with it at all. NEVER.

        • telemachus

          So lets see

          We will have light touch regulation

          A ticking off for miscreants at the next gymkhana

          • Andy

            We abolished State control of the press in 1694, so why are you so keen to bring it back in 2012 ??

            Using Statute to control the press is the wet dream of all idiotic Fascists.

            There are plenty of places that don’t have a free press and I am sure you will find those places more agreeable than the United Kingdom.

            • Gary Wintle

              Is is right that the police and the press collude together in smearing operations such as the Hillborough victims and Charles De Menezes?
              Are not the police servants of the TAXPAYER? Why are the police working for people other than the TAXPAYER?
              I call that treason!

        • Gary Wintle

          We already live in a fascist state, where the press protects and colludes with the police. The amount of corporatist corruption at Scotland Yard is endemic.
          The internet is the true champion of free speech. The press, a rich man’s vanity, is out of date and soon to be completely irrelevant.
          4Chan, Reddit, YouTube, that is where you will find true freedom of speech.

  • Charlie the Chump

    I hope that Cameron can hold out against the expected storm of outrage and pomposity from Ed and the Red Zone that will shortly break over him; those who are dribbling at the thought of serious statutory regulation will become hyperactive over the weeks ahead.
    Press freedom is too central to our democracy for politicians to meddle; the police need to up their game mightily too. To legislate at haste would be a very, very bad thing.

    • The Crunge

      Agreed. Can you imagine the power to amend such legislation in the hands of a Gordon Brown like figure or any other socialist?

      • Gary Wintle

        The same press which screamed about Brass Eye now suddenly cares about free speech?

  • Noa

    “.. Cameron is a man of principle, a friend of freedom and a pragmatist
    who will recognize that press regulation would not address the abuses of
    press freedom.”
    A friend of freedom?
    Sgt Nightingale? Tommy Robinson? EU referendum, DFID, Climate change doctrinarism, Alcohol Unit duty tax, tax ’em till the pips squeak, Fruitcakes loons and racists …
    We’ll see.

    • HooksLaw

      What a pathetically invented list.

      To take the first you expect a Prime Minister to dictate to judges and the Courts? And of course there has been no lack of principle on the EU Referendum.

      Having seen adults feeding and priming children with cheap booze from their car boots I have no problem with the 45p per unit for alcohol.

      You demonstrate what a closed mind you UKIP fodder have.

      • Noa

        “…I would set up the regulation as per the Report…”Unread of course.

        The list was drawn at random. One could have included many more. Your personally abusive approach to debate identifies you as a would be bullying authoritarian in the style of your hero, Cameron.

        • The Crunge

          You clearly hate freedom of speech and freedom generally. There will be a welcome for you in the Labour party who would happily control every aspect of our lives given the chance.

          • Noa

            Yuo’ve obviously misread my reply to Hooky. Read Archimedes post to understand.

    • MirthaTidville

      Laughable isnt it…I`m afraid Mr Nelson appears to have lost the plot

      • Noa

        As an inky fingered one If we don’t like this plot, he’ll have others..

  • C Cole

    As others have noted, this is a defining moment for Cameron’s premiership. Can’t fault him so far, I must say.

    • HooksLaw

      On the contrary I can. I would set up the regulation as per the Report.

      • Archimedes

        And have you read all 8000 pages of it, then?

        • HooksLaw

          Have you? On that basis how can anybody who has not read it all comment on anything?
          The principle of a legal underpinning of an independent regulatory body seems singularly unexceptional to me.

          • Archimedes

            Well then you are a fool. It would quickly expand through seemingly unimportant legislation. The only reason that politicians do not exercise more control over broadcasters is because the print media would never let them get away with it – you want to consolidate the power to control both?

            • Andy

              No one should have any truck whatsoever with statue regulation. We already have a problem in this country with News diversity – we have one dominant player which ought to be broken up – which constantly skews the political debate and perceptions Left.

          • HellforLeather

            Thick Cut rides again… still imagines itself as a tinpot dictator, somewhere, somehow

      • HellforLeather

        “Thick Cut” (thank you Rhoda Klapp for that brand) rides again… still dreams of being a tinpot dictator, somewhere, somehow.

        • Noa

          “The Thick of it” used the slogan “Conservatives, putting the n in cuts” as I remember.

          I’ve no doubt whatsoever that Rhoda is in receipt of regular royalty cheques from them in perpetuity.

          • Fergus Pickering


      • HellforLeather

        Of course you would. We know you would… no need to post it.

        The “Thick Cut” rides again… imagining itself as a tinpot dictator, somewhere, somehow

        • HellforLeather

          On a more serious level, C Cole said:”this is a defining moment of Cameron’s premiership. Can’t fault him so far..”

          HooksLaw responded: “On the contrary I can.”

          Hang on. Is HooksLaw prejudging Cameron’s next move, and on what actual basis?

          This report has been in the public domain for only hours now, and HooksLaw has already taken the robust view he/she has? Bizarre.

          I look forward to HooksLaw explaining what appears to be a premature opinion.

      • Cogito Ergosum

        After all, what Leveson is proposing is like writing a constitution rather than a rule book. It will set up a body that will be legally required to conduct itself openly, fairly, etc. But the rules that the body would make would not themselves be statute law.

        I think Cameron has made a mistake on this one.

    • Gary Wintle

      Cammy wants to punish the poor with fascistic higher priced alcohol (can’t let the plebs have fun)…but the press oh noooo mustn’t regulate that.

  • Earlshill

    And I hope the Press picks up the challenge. If Lord Hunt revises his proposal to align it with the Leveson proposals then there is a chance to see off this attack on press freedom and free speech. But time is limited. Some politicians will shamelessly exploit the Dowler’s suffering to try and seize control of the press on the pretext of protecting the public. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    • HooksLaw

      You will be left hoping for a long time. Between the banks and the press and Portobello Road there is no shortage of barrow boys.

    • Gary Wintle

      The press does not represent freedom of speech; newspapers are owned by proprietors who censor anything they disagree with or anything which reflects badly on them.

      4Chan, Reddit, YouTube, Vimeo, Deviantart…these are all closer to the principle of freedom of speech than the press.

      What needs to happen is any police officer found to be working for the press should have his/her pension stripped away, sacked, and never be allowed to work in public service ever again.

  • RealTory

    Well done.

    • The Crunge

      I love the way Cameron chose to put the verminous gordon Brown back in his box.

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