Coffee House

David Cameron’s tricky position on the Leveson Report

22 November 2012

6:00 PM

22 November 2012

6:00 PM

Politics is gearing up for the publication of the Leveson Report next Thursday. It was telling that when Boris Johnson picked up politician of the year at The Spectator Parliamentarian of the Year awards, he didn’t use the occasion to list of his achievements in London or to reminisce about the Olympics but rather took the opportunity to decry the possibility of statutory regulation of the press.

On the other side is Ed Miliband, whose party is committed to backing whatever Leveson comes up with. It is unclear yet what Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats will do. But there are a large chunk of Tory MPs who appear to have come round to the idea of statutory regulation. This raises the prospect of Miliband pushing for a free vote on Leveson’s proposals in the belief that he could win such a vote.

This all leaves David Cameron caught between a rock and a hard place. Whatever he does, he’ll come in for criticism.

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Show comments
  • William Blakes Ghost

    its also worth noting that it was under the Coalition that this scandal was finally blown open. Under Labour for over a decade it was conveniently swept under the rug.

  • William Blakes Ghost

    The simple thing is to fight oppression of the press win or lose and leave Miliband to carry the can for any Government interference in the freedom of speech. As has been said time and time again the crimes committed are adequately covered by the already over-voluminous tomes of legislation that weigh down this country. We don’t need anymore. Let Labour prove how authoritarian and oppressive they actually are.

  • David Lindsay

    Most people in this country probably assume that newspapers have always been subject to a statutory licensing system, and would be horrified to be told that that was not the case. In a sense, they are right. It is called the parliamentary lobby. In broadcast terms, Sky and the BBC now balance each other rather well, and no one can receive the BBC News Channel who cannot also receive Sky News.

    Some requirement would be no bad thing at all, that the papers granted lobby access should be balanced among themselves, even if not necessarily within themselves. Broadcasters having such access should be required to give regular airtime to all newspapers enjoying the same access.

    Set, of course, within the context of the restoration of the proper lobby system, although with MPs’ staff members having the same rights of access throughout the Palace of Westminster. In fact, the signature of one seat-taking MP ought to grant any journalist lobby access. That, and nothing else. Who’s in charge there? Who’s in charge of the country?

    The media are over-mighty subjects as surely as the banks are, and nothing better illustrates that fact than their bank-like hysteria at the suggestion that their vast and completely unaccountable power should be subject to so much as the tiniest check or balance.

    At the very least, there ought to be a fairness requirement (which I have rather hilariously been told in the past already existed, when it looked as if I might have been well enough to stand for Parliament) for the two newspapers that only exist because they are considered so important that the rules have been bent double in order to keep them going.

    For The Times and the Sunday Times are loss-making newspapers that exist only because the rules were bent double so that Rupert Murdoch could buy them in order, to his credit, to fund them out of his profitable interests. So they ought to be required to maintain balance. The publications granted parliamentary lobby access should be required to be balanced among themselves, even if not necessarily within themselves.

    The television license fee should be made optional, with as many adults as wished to pay it at any given address free to do so, including those who did not own a television set but who greatly valued, for example, Radio Four. The Trustees would then be elected by and from among the license-payers.

    Candidates would have to be sufficiently independent to qualify in principle for the remuneration panels of their local authorities. Each license-payer would vote for one, with the top two elected. The electoral areas would be Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and each of the nine English regions. The Chairman would be appointed by the relevant Secretary of State, with the approval of the relevant Select Committee. And the term of office would be four years.

    One would not need to be a member of the Trust (i.e., a license-payer) to listen to or watch the BBC, just as one does not need to be a member of the National Trust to visit its properties, or a member of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution to be rescued by its boats.

    We need to ban any person or other interest from owning or controlling more than one national daily newspaper. To ban any person or other interest from owning or controlling more than one national weekly newspaper. To ban any person or other interest from owning or controlling more than one television station. To re-regionalise ITV under a combination of municipal and mutual ownership. And to apply that same model (but with central government replacing local government, subject to very strict parliamentary scrutiny) to Channel Four.

    The above model for the election of the BBC Trustees should be extended to the new Independent National Directors of Sky News, who should come into being entirely regardless of the ownership structure of BSkyB. Each Sky subscriber, or other adult who was registered to vote at an address with a Sky subscription and who chose to participate, would vote for one candidate. The requisite number would be elected at the end.

    Ideally, their Chairman, appointed by the Secretary of State with the approval of the Select Committee, would be Vince Cable or, even better, Tom Watson. In any event, and not least in view of cross-subsidy, they might usefully double up as the hitherto most ineffective Independent National Directors of The Times and the Sunday Times. Alternatively, and perhaps preferably, the subscribers to those newspapers would by the same means elect their Independent National Directors.

    That would be a start, anyway.

  • paulus

    How can your regulate free speech? its a rational and logical absurdity. Either it is free or it is not. That is and must always remain the bottom line to a liberal democracy.

    We have laws against libel and incitement,as a few thousand people are now finding out about, so therefore, they are effective.

    Those who broke the law are currently awaiting trial and possible conviction, so the law the implementation and the execution of the law, is effective and suffice.

    This is another attempt by the left to curtail basic freedoms and create their long lost & lamented paradise of East Germany

    • Colonel Mustard

      Absolutely spot on. But unfortunately it looks as though their East German paradise will not be long lost or lamented for very long as they seem to be doing a good job in re-building it here. What aggravates me about this is the lack of fight and exposure of this rancid conspiracy from politicians on the supposed right. The Daily Mail made a commendable effort but is too easily scoffed at as a source. You would think that with everything at stake the media would be screaming their heads off about Common Purpose and the rest of the communist quango/fake charity conspiracy but not a bit of it. The story dies.

      • eeore

        I suspect that the Daily Mail were only issuing a shot across the bow.

        What is more surprising is that Private Eye cheered Leveson from the wings, and apparently completely missed the story. But then given the toadying to the Guardian in Street of Shame in recent times, perhaps it is not that surprising.

  • eeore

    It will be interesting to see what Julia Middlet… sorry…. Leveson recommends.

  • Johnnydub

    There’s just one small problem referencing the Milly Dowler hacked phone issue – it was bollocks – NI didn’t do it…

    Andy why did the enquiry turn into a lynch mob for the Murdoch’s when the Motorman files clearly show the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror committing more hacks?

    • eeore

      For probably the same reason that the FBI are threatening to investigate News Corp, and Piers Moron keeps his show on CNN.

  • Keith

    Just imagine what this country would have been like if Gordon Brown had had power to control the press. And then consider whether you really think that government control of newspapers is a good thing.

    The only person who would support that is Telemachus. And he wants to have Ed Balls’s babies.

    • Colonel Mustard

      And he admires Stalin and the NKVD which tells you everything you need to know about him.

  • HooksLaw

    Its the job of govts to do things and therefore come under criticism. Govts will always be criticised because that is the nature of the job.
    This article seems a confection of witterings to justify its catchy headline, ie agenda setting.

    Press regulation needs teeth. This is the main issue.

    • Noa

      But whose teeth, and what will they regulate, and how?

      And when they don’t like your comments will you object?

      • HooksLaw

        The teeth of the independent regulator. it’s propping up a straw man to suggest that politicians will be regulating the press. An independent enquiry is likely to suggest a statutory independent body and suggest its terms of reference.
        What is so sacrosanct in what is clearly a debauched and ignorant media. The TV media as demonstrated by the BBC are just as bad as the press.

        • DavidDP

          Everything that is put forward as the reason for regulation is already illegal (with the exception of being Rupert Murdoch, although I suspect they’d try to make that illegal if they could). As such, the motives of those calling for regulation are immediately suspect – why call for things that are not actually required? Giving politicians of any stripe a foot in the door leading to press control should be resisted.

          • Noa

            Not just resisted – bitterly fought.

        • Fergus Pickering

          And who will regulate the BBC? I mean properly. Their coverage of the EU summit is disgracefully biased.

        • Noa

          Oh, so you just want another Quango?

          • Colonel Mustard

            It won’t be a quango – or an independent regulator. It will be a nasty commission run by Common Purpose lefties, pursuing their nasty agenda and delving into all aspects of publishing. The socialist trick of using minority complaints to impeach the majority and suppress dissent is well established. It will be like Canada with all kinds of journalists and bloggers being hauled before a Star Chamber as the result of concerted conspiracies by the left.

            We have an Advertising Standards Authority that can ban adverts in response to 9 complaints and a Mothers Union led by a man (!) that can force 52 million people to declare whether they have children in order to have internet access because 110,000 very silly people signed a petition! Imagine that precedent applied to all publishing. It is the tyranny of minorities. The erosion of the freedoms of the quiet man by those who have an axe to grind.

            • Noa

              Irony doesn’t always make the point does it? Sometimes we need to wield the sledgehammer.

            • eeore

              Stand by for the internet access key, that will be required in order to access the web, and can be withdrawn if you visit websites deemed to be subversive. Oh, and you will have to pay for it, and the money will go to further measures of public safety.

  • anyfool

    This is just another one of Camerons pathetic unthinking reactions when under pressure, that this man actually let weak minded fools like Miliband, Watson and Balls push him into an ill thought out inquiry like this proves he cannot take pressure.
    The current negotiations in Europe do not auger well with this spineless wretch in charge.

    • realfish

      …And at the height of the Dowler storm, just how would the nation have reacted to a Cameron refusal to hold an inquiry?

      • anyfool

        The Dowler storm like all storms would have abated, all he had to do was state that the law had been broken and he would reflect on it after it had taken its course, as even Leveson had to be careful of how far it could question some of the participants, Dowler is a red herring, he panicked.

        • HooksLaw

          Rubbish – the issue required an independent inquiry, not least because of the connections between politicians and the press, quite neatly expressed in Blai’sr and Brown’s relations with the Mirror and the Murdoch Press.

          Who gives a monkeys what Levensons says? The press are in the gutter all of the time. A gang of endlessly recidivistic ignorant amoral adulterous drunks and they deserve nothing.

          Am I being too harsh?

          • anyfool

            I did not say it did not need an enquiry, i said it was ill thought out and rushed through,
            Where in the UK can you find an independent the country is polarised throughout.

          • Colonel Mustard

            It wasn’t an independent enquiry. It was riddled with left-leaning, Common Purpose influences how ever many protestations are made that there was no conflict of interest. It was an agenda masquerading as an enquiry.

            • eeore

              Isn’t the officer investigating the phone hacking Common Purpose too?

            • 2trueblue

              Absolutely, the left are quicker on their toes, and have really managed with the BBC to paint the colour to suit themselves.

  • Bluesman

    In a genuine spirit of enquiry can anyone tell the floor what illegal and allegedly illegal activities that were undertaken by the press were not already covered by existing legislation? If the answer is none then no new laws are needed, surely?

    I only ask.

    • telemachus

      You miss the point

      Cameron got caught with his pants down(Coulson and Becky)

      The enquiry was to divert the heat

      Very very effective

      Now we will have months and months where all the chatterers debate the reality and worth of the fourth estate.

      Then we get to the election a new government and an issue parked


      • Keith

        Well let’s hope so, eh?

      • HooksLaw

        No one got caught with pants down. Brown’s wife and Murdoch’s daughter got caught in their pyjamas though.

      • Hexhamgeezer

        house trained tit

    • Andrew Barker

      Apart from amendments to the law of libel, then possibly not. But we do need an effective regulator that will instil a good governance process within elements of the press. The lack of internal governance was quite shocking. Even more shocking is the attitude by the press that governance (i.e, prosecution) should just be left to the police

    • Mark Lewis

      It wasn’t the absence of law, it was the absence of enforcement of law. The Met had bags full of evidence but sat on it . a review was carried out by Assistant Commissioner John Yates. at Leveson we learned that New International expected a payback for the champagne they bought him. Prime Minister after Prime Minister – Blair, Brown, and Cameron all regardless of party worshipped at the court of Murdoch. The PCC – the self regulator of the press was not a regulator according to Lord Hunt the chair of the PCC,

      Leveson is not just an inquiry into the press but also it’s relations with the Police and Politicians.

      The idea of statutory control is anathema to any right thinking member of a democratic society..That is very different to an independent regulator that is established by statute.

      Really the idea that we have a free press is far fetched. What we have is a press that espouses the views of its owners. When was the last time that a journalist at the New of the World or the Sun able to write a critical piece about Mr Murdoch? Free press means that journalists should be free to write without the state or their owners telling them that they can’t.

      • HooksLaw

        And further to that people read papers to have their prejudices reinforced.
        You are quite correct, what is wrong with statutory independent oversight established by statute.

        • telemachus

          If you analyse recent problems you see that it is the arrogant right wing media that caused the problem.
          They need to be muzzled

          • DavidDP

            The Mirror is right wing? They after all have been found to have problems. And the Guardian isn’t clean either-making up headlines leading to the closure of competitors is the least of its issues, as bad as that was.

          • Colonel Mustard

            We have already gathered that from your masters, but you put crudely what they are trying to bring about surreptitiously.

          • RealTory

            Much as I hate censorship, the only one needing muzzling is you old chum. That and some anti-schizophrenia drugs.

          • dalai guevara

            Calling the issue a right wing issue is perhaps a bit harsh. I always thought this was all about socially acceptable levels of…voyeurism.

      • DavidDP

        I’ve yet to see someone in favour of regulation put forward the argument without mentioning Murdoch. My suspicion that they are trying to shut up those parts of the press they disagree with continues unabated.

    • eeore

      Oh it won’t be a law, it will be regulation. Quite, quite different, don’t you know…

  • toco10

    One problem is Red Ed has many close connections with those providing input to Leveson so this may be reflected in any recommendations concerning control of the press.However the freedom of the press is important to the majority of British voters so anything designed to inhibit its ability to expose wrongdoing or matters of public interest can safely be ignored.Leveson is after all unelected and not in a position to tell any of us what to do.

    • 2trueblue

      It all happened when Liebore were in power, snuggling up to the Murdochs , and suddenly it was all Camerons fault??????