Coffee House

Press freedom has just acquired its most important defender: David Cameron

30 November 2012

8:34 AM

30 November 2012

8:34 AM

For precisely 99 minutes yesterday, it looked like press freedom in Britain was doomed. At 1.30pm Lord Leveson announced his plans for statutory regulation of the press – with his bizarre instruction that we were not to call it statutory regulation. Worse, respectable commentators seemed to buy it. A very clever compromise, it was being argued. Self regulation really was being given another chance, albeit with a device which puts a legislative gun to the head of the press. If they obeyed his demands, he would not apply the force of the state.

But at 3.09pm, the Prime Minister rejected all this outright. The existence of such a device, he said, would mean politicians setting the parameters under which the press operates which it hasn’t done since 1695. No ifs, no buts, no fudge, no statutory regulation. The battle is not over: the press now needs to respond properly and (as James says) most MPs are pro-regulation (and, ergo, against Cameron). But for us advocates of press freedom, things are looking up. I look at this in my Daily Telegraph column today.

[Alt-Text]


The Leveson episode has brought shame on the press collectively and my trade – already has sunk even lower in public esteem. The abuses documented in the 2,000 pages of Leveson were appalling. But most were criminal, and are being treated as such. The application of cold, rational argument strips away the case for state regulation of the press. Would it make hacking any less likely? Would it improve standards in the Bureau of Investigative Journalism? And if state regulation would do nothing to alleviate the problems, what would it threaten? Lord Leveson felt the need to act: there have been seven reports into the press in 70 years, he said. There should not be an eighth. But that’s not a reason to end 317 years of press freedom. The whole inquiry was, for me, a reminder of why we need a Bill of Rights: the whole doctrine of liberty is being forgotten and ignored. The Prime Minister has very little intellectual backup for what he did today.

I gather that Nick Clegg started off all pro-Leveson, but the more he read the report the graver his concerns grew. This was clear at a coalition committee meeting earlier today. In particular, the concern about Lord Leveson’s plans to punish publications like The Spectator who would not sign up to state licensing system on principle. We may end up having to pay the costs of people who sue us, even if we won. It’s a bizarre proposal, but even Clegg could see that it was likely to discourage investigative journalism. Clegg’s latent sense of liberalism began to twitch. About time too: he leads the Liberal Democrat party and you’d think the clue was in the name.

Throughout this long, often shocking and regularly tedious Leveson inquiry we have not heard much about principle. Cameron gave plenty yesterday. It was (to me) one of his moments of brilliance. He calmly and eloquently reminded MPs that the chamber had protected liberties for generations. His short speech was studded with Conservative thought. If it is not necessary to change then it is necessary not to change. His short, firm words advocated a principle of press freedom that was first outlined by John Milton and has been updated now and again by Jefferson and Churchill. It has taken a while, but we can now add Cameron to this list of liberty’s defenders.

At a time when journalists are as popular as the winter vomiting bug, he can’t expect much thanks. I daresay Andrew Cooper will have plenty caustic opinion polls to present to him in the next few days. Press freedom is a lonely and unpopular cause – but after yesterday, it looks like it has just acquired its most important defender.

More Spectator for less. Stay informed leading up to the EU referendum and in the aftermath. Subscribe and receive 15 issues delivered for just £15, with full web and app access. Join us.




Show comments
  • Sarah

    “But most were criminal”. And the thing that the press consistanty fails to acknowledge is that some of them were not.

    There really is no law preventing your gang of men sitting at the back of the class from controlling the conversation and dragging girls’ and women’s collective reputations, safety and opportunities down as far as your imaginations and lack of empathy will take them.

    There is a law preventing you doing it to black people, homosexual people, disabled people, old people, Muslim, Christian and Jewish people, but not female people.

    And there is no law giving women and girls an effective right of reply, because your gang has the whole thing sewn up. This method of censorship is effective.

    So I guess if independent press regulation isn’t on the cards, then we’ll just have to get independent regulation by other means via the courts. How hard will it be to get sex added to the anti hate legislation along with all the forms of discrimination that affect men? Then half the free press’ content will never make it to press and papers will finally be out of business and women and girls might finally share in some of this freedom of speech we hear so much about.

  • Old Blue Eyes

    Let me say right away that I have no admiration for Dave Cameron. He is leading the party I have supported all my life (I am 84) to certain defeat at the next election through abandoning all that the Conservative party used to stand for. However on this matter of the Leveson report he has shown courage and a sense of what is right. WE ABANDON FREEDOM OF THE PRESS AT OUR PERIL. Let us hope enough of our MP’s see sense, but I won’t hold my breath.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    Yes, Mr Neslon, a free press is great isn’t it? Free from any obligation to reflect the toxic public’s opinions.

    You say ‘journalists are as popular as the winter vomiting bug’. Don’t flatter yourselves! You can get rid of a bug.

  • RationalSpeculation

    I’m not really a fan of Dave, but I’ve got to say I think he’s got this one right. Being cynical, one might see an element of political calculation in his position, but I suppose we should give him the benefit of the doubt. It will be interesting to see how well he stands up to the abuse that will doubtless be heaped on him.

  • anyfool

    If anyone is idiotic enough to espouse regulation of the press by law, cast your feeble minds back to the RIPA. so called anti terrorist legislation.

    Every little Hitler now has residual power over the citizens of this country, all councils,government departments and quangos have and use these KGB type regulations.

    • http://www.facebook.com/gary.wintle1 Gary Wintle

      The police should be heavily regulated, though. Policeman who take bribes from the press or whom suck up to proprietors and editors (Yates) should be charged with treason.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    I wouldn’t hold my breath for a bill of rights from the current political class. There is no way on earth that they could frame it correctly, because a proper bill of rights would remove powers they have taken unto themselves. More likely they will give us a legal farrago designed to make lawyers rich and deliver to the courts the power to make interpretations far beyond the intent of the bill.

    Which is also why I wouldn’t trust them to control the press. There is no need for any law to apply to the press exclusively. The laws which govern everybody’s behaviour should apply equally to the press. That is how law ought to be applied. To control actual bad behaviour, not to constrain everyone to a regime of control just in case someone does something bad. It’s all about power and control. The political class exists to exert power and control. Don’t let them extend their reach.

    And now, Fraser, use it. Publish something that takes advantage of your freedom. Eschew the anodyne. Let’s see that energy bill ripped to shreds for the nonsense it is.

  • swatantra

    You can’t really blame DC; after all he’s a Conservative and Conservatives don’t believe in Regulation or State intervention, but believe that the market and voluntary agreements and codes of conduct will solve everything. So Leveson sticks in the craw a bit.
    But DC is wrong. Too many people try to play the system to their own advantage. Thats why the State has to step in and lay down the rules and do the right thing by everyone.

    • TheOtherTurnipTaliban

      Let us nationalise the press and make our own version of Pravda, in it are to be contained not so much as a whiff of anything controversial, right wing, un-PC or anything generally objectionable. In fact why don’t we just make a new law which says “anything nasty is illegal”. Who cares about investigative journalism, with state-owned journalism there will be no need for it because obviously this will fix the problems and prevent corruption. REGULATION REGULATION REGULATION! Hopefully one day soon we can start locking up journalists like they do in China and Iran, maybe we can have a special room for them – let’s call it Room 101 – where we can re-educate them and any errant politicians.

      THIS IS THE ONLY WAY WE WILL CREATE A FAIR SOCIETY. I AM GLAD YOU ARE WITH ME SWATANTRA. LET THE ARRESTS AND KNOCKS ON THE DOOR AT MIDNIGHT COMMENCE.

      • swatantra

        Steady on. Can’t it wait till morning. I need my beauty sleep.
        In fact Leveson was pretty lukewarm in his recommendations. He doesn’t go far enough. He just wants the State to underwrite the whole scheme but leave it to the Press to regulate themselves and draw up their own rules and penalties. As someone said its rather like giving Biggs and the Great Train Robbers license to write their own Bradshaws Rail Guide.

    • Swiss Bob

      Thats why the State has to step in and lay down the rules and do the right thing by everyone.

      The most naive or disingenuous nonsense I’ve read on this site outside of the dribbling loony.

    • http://elfnhappiness.blogspot.com/ eeore

      “Too many people try to play the system to their own advantage.”

      Doesn’t this also include the regulators?

  • HooksLaw

    I think you may find the electorate do not share your idea of principle. Not least with the BBC anxious to hit the press over the head to take away from its on shortcomings.

    You are a total fool Mr Nelson.certainly if you want to see your notion of press freedom coming anywhere near close then you will have to step up your support for the conservative party considerably,

    The Guardian is doing its best to rubbish the PCC and Cameron at the same time. Its Miliband they call ‘principled’ and are ambivalent about Cameron. Will the Spectator roll up its sleeves and campaign against Miliband and Labour or will it continue its nit picking, undermining,assault on conservative performance?

    The Conservatives are well and truly on the wrong side of the argument. The question is can some sort of believable self regulation be cobbled together by the coalition?

    • http://www.facebook.com/gary.wintle1 Gary Wintle

      The Press Complaints Commission IS rubbish, though. Its a steaming turd, consisting of panjandrums and jobsworths.

  • Noa

    But the bill for this legislation will be drafted. Conveniently ready to be enacted at the next scandal or after the next election.
    Cameron again wears the mask of Janus.

  • MirthaTidville

    The biggest news story of the morning is surely how well UKIP have done in the three by elections, so far nothing from the Speccie other than yet another damn Leveson story…

    • HooksLaw

      The story is how low the turnout is. But you are quite right the news is that a split right vote will allow in a pro europe labour party to victory.
      Rotherham Council could not have done more to promote the UKIP vote.

  • D B

    It’s always up to Fleet Street to put its own house in order. If the antics of the gutter press do result in a significant loss of freedom of speech we shall all be the losers. A law that discriminated between the gutter press and the serious press would be next to impossible to draft or enforce. Unfortunately, there is no way of picking and choosing. It’s all or nothing, and the likes of Hugh Grant must learn to live with this sad fact.

    • http://www.facebook.com/gary.wintle1 Gary Wintle

      So it bothers you not at all that the police, whose wages and pensions you pay for, are working for the press, frequently colluding with them (Hillsborough, Charles De Menezes, etc)? Do you not wonder how many misdemeanors by bent coppers have been covered up by their mates in Fleet Street?

      • D B

        Thank you for replying to my comment.

        • http://www.facebook.com/gary.wintle1 Gary Wintle

          The sick, twisted relationship between the police and the press is highly relevant, as if the press and police are in bed with each other, then there is no freedom of speech and there is no justice.

  • Alex

    “… we can now add Cameron to this list of liberty’s defenders.”

    As soon as he has dropped plans for secret courts and monitoring everybody’s internet usage I will happily concur.

    • HooksLaw

      He is not monitoring everybody’s internet usage. Its being proposed that records are kept so that judges can order a search in the same way they order telephone taps.
      I suspect you are in agreement with FOIs which can delve into private email usage?

      • Colonel Mustard

        I’ll swallow that argument when you can justify the idea that in pre-internet days the Post Office should have kept copies of everyone’s letters in case the police needed to search them.

      • http://elfnhappiness.blogspot.com/ eeore

        Usage is being monitored, as is the content.

  • http://twitter.com/PhilKean1 @PhilKean1

    .
    Call me a kill-joy

    But indulging ourselves with this irrelevant rubbish at a time when it is clear that Labour are on course for certain victory in 2015 – is complacency of the highest order.
    .

    • Vulture

      Yes, please spare us the overkill on a report which, as I said earlier, will be history by Monday. ( Ie. there will be no state regulation of the Press. End of.)

      Give us some explanation as to why the two Coaliton parties were slaughtered in yesty’s 3 by-elections; why UKip has broken out of its Home Counties saloon bar base to come second in two working-class northern seats; and why we will get a Labour Government back in 2015.

      I look forward to James Forsyth getting the correct line from CCHQ.

      • D B

        UKIP’s “success” is a nine day wonder.

        • Vulture

          A little longer than nine days, I think – it will last at least until 2014 when they will win the European elections; and it will easily be enough to do for the Coalition in 2015.

          The only way to avoid this is for the Tories to adopt Ukip policies on the EU – which are in tune with majority opinion. If only Dave were not in hock to Brussels, but sadly he is, and Labour will be back.

        • http://twitter.com/PhilKean1 @PhilKean1

          .
          A nine day wonder?

          My economics man has done a survey. His results suggest that UKIP’s support could well stay at its current level, and NOT increase between now and 2015.

          Why? Because the loss of those who are using UKIP as a by-election protest vote could be balanced out by the new supporters they will acquire between now and 2015.

          However, UKIP will ensure a sound defeat for Cameron if they DO maintain its current level of support
          .

    • D B

      OK! You are a kill joy.

    • HooksLaw

      Without a doubt if the right splits its vote we will get the return of a pro Europe and seemingly pro press regulation and undoubtedly pro union labour govt.
      I do suspect though that in his usual sincere way Milband is just posing as pro press regulation and if in power would cobble something different together compared to what he is promising.

      • http://twitter.com/PhilKean1 @PhilKean1

        .
        Cameron’s actions over the next 30 months will determine, not ONLY if the “right” vote splits, but also if his own party splits.
        .

        • HooksLaw

          Why should the Conservative party split? It is reforming health welfare education and Local Govt. it also has a policy on our future relatioship with the EU which is eminently sensible and which every sane conservative can unite behind.
          Hysterical voters may well deliver us a labour govt, that’s true.

          • http://twitter.com/PhilKean1 @PhilKean1

            To disinfect itself of Liberals-posing-as-Tories. To become a real Conservative party and offer the voters a genuine alternative to Labour Socialism?
            .

  • Swiss Bob

    I commended Cameron for his apparent bravery yesterday.

    Now I’m wondering how long before he does a u-turn.

    • http://www.facebook.com/gary.wintle1 Gary Wintle

      Bravery in the face of a whitewashed, feeble report? Leveson’s failure to condemn John Yates and his fellow bent coppers was remarkable in its naivety and complacency. The relationship between the press and police is a conspiracy against the British people and an insult to taxpayers, and Leveson, incredibly, regards it as nothing more than a bit naughty.
      Leveson, alas, like all the other overpaid quisling judges (Waterhouse, Hutton, Butler, etc), is too chicken to bite the hand that feeds him.

  • http://www.facebook.com/amergin.selby Amergin Selby

    How is a press that is privately owned and staffed with journalists and editors that have a predominantly right wing agenda a free press? Such a press is clearly anti- democracy since for Democracy to work as it should there should be choice and that choice arrived at through reasoned debate and that debate remaining reasoned by the free flow of information, information that is accurate and not presented with integrated comment and value judgements and derogatory language. There is precious little free press in this country. Murdoch knew the value of having control of the flow of information which is why the mogul was so assiduously courted by right and left and why he wielded unelected power and authority for so long. The press must come to heel and not abuse its freedom.and so its powers to abuse should be restricted at most by the law at least by a code that is enforcable and independent.

    • June

      I agree with you 100% but from where I’m sitting, the press is predominantly stuffed with lefties. If I may US as an example,nearly all the press are pro Obama and are loath to print or publish anything that’ll bring his administration in bad
      light, to the extent that even a murder of ambassador Stevens is being covered up
      by the press. The only people that need to be protected are the public, like
      the Macanns and the Dowlers. Here, Leveson has done nothing.

      • Andy

        I don’t. The print media in the UK is mostly right-of-centre. The broadcast media, which is where everyone gleans their news, is mostly left-of-centre. The problem is we have a concentration of media in one company: the BBC. That needs to be broken up and more diversity encouraged.

        As to people needing protection the Dowlers are one case, but the press did not delete messages as the Guardian alleged. As to the McCann’s I have little sympathy for them because it was their own actions which resulted in the disappearance of their own daughter.

        • HFC

          Hear, hear to your comment re McCanns. He is repeatedly interviewed calling for Cameron to do ‘the right thing’ and implement Leveson. How much store should anyone set by his judgement for, as you say, he and his wife judged it safe to leave their young children unattended at night. But they will have that on their consciences for the remainder of their lives.

      • http://elfnhappiness.blogspot.com/ eeore

        The McCann’s, and their supporters, have attacked countless people by using the media.Or am I imagining the families throughout Europe who have had visits from the McCann detectives and real police, to prove that they children are in fact their children? Not to mention their use of PR, media advisers, and lawyers to manipulate the story.

        The information about Stevens and the thousands of missiles being sold to Al Qeada through the consulate – cum CIA torture centre – is an open book in comparison,

    • TheOtherTurnipTaliban

      Let us nationalise the press and make our own version of Pravda, in it are to be contained not so much as a whiff of anything controversial, right wing, un-PC or anything generally objectionable. In fact why don’t we just make a new law which says “anything nasty is illegal”. Who cares about investigative journalism, with state-owned journalism there will be no need for it because obviously this will fix the problems and prevent corruption. REGULATION REGULATION REGULATION! Hopefully one day soon we can start locking up journalists like they do in China and Iran, maybe we can have a special room for them – let’s call it Room 101 – where we can re-educate them and any errant politicians.

    • Rhoda Klapp

      You don’t seem to know what free means. If you don’t like a newspaper, buy one you do like or start your own.

      • http://elfnhappiness.blogspot.com/ eeore

        You misunderstand. The aim is to protect others from the newspapers you don’t like.

    • Andy

      You are basically saying that as you don’t agree with the Press it must be regulated by Statue. When it still doesn’t say what you want it to say you will then demand more control, and you will do that until you get what you actually want – a press that reflects your views. In other words censorship.

      Your argument, such as it is, falls at the first fence. Newspapers compete in the market place, so everyday when we, THE PEOPLE, go into a newsagents WE decide what we want to read. The biggest selling daily is, I believe, The Sun with a circulation of over 2.5 million. The priggish Guardian can’t even manage a 10th of that, nor the Independent selling a 20th which is why both are going bust.

      Most people actually glean their news from the broadcast media and there you have a monopoly which dominates the airwaves, distorts debate and has many agendas of its own. It should be broken up, as you will agree, because it is ‘clearly anti-democracy since for Democracy to work as it should there should be choice and that choice arrived at through reasoned debate and that debate remaining reasoned by the free flow of information. . . ‘ I’m so pleased you are so keen to break up the BBC.

Close
Can't find your Web ID? Click here