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Pressure on the editors as Labour threatens own Leveson bill

3 December 2012

One of the foundations on which David Cameron based his decision to reject statutory underpinning of press regulation was that editors would set up a new system based on Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations which would prove far tougher than the Press Complaints Commission.

The failure of the industry to reach consensus on a new body – and this is a real risk given the refusal of some publications to join the PCC – would pull the rug from under the Prime Minister’s feet as he fights critics pushing for statute. Cameron is also facing claims that he is bowing to bullies in the press, and it is for these two reasons that the Prime Minister will be applying great pressure on editors as they meet Culture Secretary Maria Miller this week. He must make clear that he is opposing statute because he believes a properly powerful regulator would address the problems that the criminal law does not, and allow victims to take up grievances on issues such as libel where they would not be able to afford court action, rather than because he is afraid of the media lobby. And he needs to be seen to be tough on the newspaper industry, rather than its faithful friend.

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The Prime Minister will make an appearance at that meeting between his minister and editors on Tuesday. The Financial Times quotes one of his aides saying:

The PM doesn’t want to legislate but he thinks the onus is on the industry to act pretty sharpish. We have had a lot of indications that the industry is prepared to take it very seriously.

Boris Johnson underlines the importance to editors of taking the Leveson report seriously in his Telegraph column this morning. The Mayor of London, who has made his own opposition to statutory underpinning clear, writes:

‘David Cameron’s analysis last week was entirely correct. He has thrown the papers a lifeline, and they need to grab it tight. We want a vital and exuberant media that reports the foibles of the rulers, without fear or favour but also without lying and cheating and cruelty.’

Boris, like Fraser, believes that some of the unacceptable behaviour in recent years has been sparked by despair at circulations in free fall, and rather optimistically argues that ‘if the papers get it right, and act fast, they can rebuild trust, and they may also be able to rebuild some of that lost circulation’.

But Labour won’t wait for the newspapers to prove themselves: instead the party is commissioning its own draft legislation which would back up the new newspaper regulator in statute – something Matt d’Ancona predicted would happen in his column yesterday. I reported on Friday that the party was concerned that the government’s own draft bill would be a deliberate attempt to confuse the legislation, given advisers have widely briefed that it is being drawn up to prove that statutory underpinning is impracticable. Fortunately for the Prime Minister, there will be no vote at the end of the debate on Leveson in the Commons this afternoon. This at least gives him time to work with the newspaper industry to make the case, not for the status quo, which he has explicitly rejected, but for a new independent regulator free from government involvement.

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Show comments
  • BigAl

    How about a MPs expenses bill to stop this group being treated differently from the rest of the population? Let’s rush this through before we gag the press that disclosed the scandal

  • Cogito Ergosum

    I do not see what the problem would be with a Press Council Mark 2, where PCM2 writes the rule book but parliament writes its constitution.

    Nobody has said much about who will pay for the new arrangements; but it is a fair bet that it will be the press, not the government. That is important.

    I am against any kind of licencing. Publish freely and then be damned by PCM2 if necessary. If its constitution is written by parliament, its penalties will be enforceable.

    The press has not only answered Leveson, but tried to get its answer in first. It looks like there was a leak there. But the press has not answered the failings identified by Leveson; instead it has tried to divert our attention elsewhere. In my opinion this is dishonest, and the press deserve to be punished for that in addition to all their other misdeeds.

    Leveson has not taken away the right to comment freely, but has tried to put an end to the abuses he identified.

    • Colonel Mustard

      “Leveson has not taken away the right to comment freely, but has tried to put an end to the abuses he identified.”

      Which were already illegal and could have been prosecuted as such. The report adds two and two and makes five and has been comprehensively fisked elsewhere. If two families in a street of twenty are guilty of anti-social behaviour you don’t fine all twenty, or pass a new law under which all twenty must pledge not to behave like the two. We keep seeing this from parliament, whether it is hacking or alcohol pricing – the many being punished for the sins of the few by laws are not going to stop those intent on wrong-doing anyway. The legislative equivalent of a panacea.

    • Sarge

      Leveson’s conclusions are pointless; unless all the world’s media are party to the same rules, the Internet will provide ready access to a ‘story’ even if it is censored(sorry regulated) here. Leveson of course had to ignore the blogosphere as to acknowledge it would have meant he could have come up with zero useful conclusions.Yet in reality he has done just that – how much did this inquiry cost?

      • Cogito Ergosum

        If the press keep tapping private voicemails and the blogosphere does not, it is the blogosphere that will survive.

        Leveson wants to regulate the behaviour of the press, not the stories that they publish. It is high time the press started to respond to that, and not to the imaginary bogeys that they have been inventing.

  • aka Lord Leveson

    Might be worth reading page 1769 of my report, where
    I talk about my ideal solution. If the Press can get their act together and implement all of my recommendations (which I do not think they will) then there will be no need for Statutory underpinning.

    Prove me wrong!

  • MirthaTidville

    Populism at its worst by the unprincipled Mr Sneery Mouth trying to get into No10 to get one up on his much higher quality, but timid brother. True this sort of approach does appeal to the lefties, dorks, celebs and `childminders`…The rest of us get on with it. Leveson will be who???? by 2015

  • Stuart Eels

    It’s all getting rather silly now, yes the press can be naughty, an interview with me some years ago didn’t resemble anything I said. However, I would rather they stayed free from people like the two dread Eds and call me Dave and his puppy. Why on earth should the likes of Steve Cougan, Hugh Grant and Charlotte Church have more say than Joe Public? They’ve used the press so much to their own advantage in years gone by they can’t cry foul now.

    Lets leave it exactly as it is now, I’m quite happy with it!

  • @PhilKean1

    Is it just me

    . – or are other people likening Cameron’s “principled stand” NOT to legally underpin any regulation – to the wielding of his short-lived VETO at last year’s EU negotiations?

    In other words, are you expecting Cameron to cave-in and agree to legal-underpinning as quickly as a poker player throws in a bad hand of cards?

    • Chris lancashire

      It’s just you.

  • Bob Dixon

    Soon we will have no press.They are going bust led by The Guardian.But we have the internet & Guido Falks to keep us informed and nobody can touch him or them.

    What a waste of time printing Leverson’s report.There was nothing new in it.

  • Swiss Bob

    Best analysis of Labour’s position courtesy of Dan Hodges here:

    Milibandwagon is pathetic and if Cameron rolls over, even more so.

    • dorothy wilson

      You beat me to it there. Wouldn’t normally agree with Hodges but he is absolutely right in this instance. If Labour aren’t careful their tactics will end up biting them on the backside.

      • Swiss Bob

        Yes, let Labour bring in the legislation in 2015 and then watch them jail journalists and editors and have the whole World condemn them with the exception of the Russians, Chinese, Iranians and N Koreans.

  • Colonel Mustard

    Drafting their own legislation just shows Labour’s contempt for the workings of parliament and democracy and their blatant desire for power over us all. I hope the newspaper editors “pull the rug out from under” this ghastly left wing collective trying to stifle freedom and have nothing to do with any of it, but go on publishing in defiance.

    There is something very nasty at work here and it isn’t David Cameron or the so-called “Murdoch press”.

    And on a side issue, just why did the McCanns get such overwhelming publicity from day one when hundreds of children go missing all over the world with very little reported about them? Was there something more to his relationship with Gordon Brown and the Labour Party?

    • 2trueblue

      Why is Cameron not getting it out that it actually happened on the Liebore watch? I also fail to understand why so many of the ‘rent a mouths’ get in on these inquiries. It beggars belief. Also who is going to pay for Millipedes draft?

    • eeore

      It might have something to do with Mr McCann being an medical adviser to COMARE

  • Colin

    The sooner the idiots advising the Cameron work out that there’s no nobility in trying to play fair, the better for everyone.

    Exploiting the emotional wreckage of families like the dowlers, to advance a base political agenda, surely marks a new low for the moral midden that is the Labour Party.

    Cameron will look back on the days when he and his party had the opportunity to utterly crush creatures like brown and miliband and rue the errors of judgement that left these low integrity, low life’s, alive to fight another day.

    • anyfool

      Could not agree more, this weak minded fool Cameron has also left in place in all strategic positions Labour placemen whose only interest is destroying the Tory party along with anyone who holds any loyalty to the country above their own interests, he truly is living in a world not adjacent to reality.

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