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Live blog: Guido & Littlejohn vs Bryant & Mosley at The Spectator’s free press debate

30 January 2013

7:37 PM

30 January 2013

7:37 PM

7.15pm A full house here at the IET in Savoy Place – our free press debate, sponsored by Brewin Dolphin, has been a sell-out. A stunning venue and an outstanding lineup. For the motion: Guido Fawkes, Richard Littlejohn and Tory MP John Whittingdale. Against: Max Mosley, Chris Bryant and the celebrity lawyer Charlotte Harris. Chaired by Andrew Neil. And the motion: Leveson is a fundamental threat to the free press.

RICHARD LITTLEJOHN is up first. The Leveson inquiry, he said, was a cross between a Soviet show trial and Graham Norton show. The self-regarding liberal elite seized on an opportunity for this. Leveson was picking over the bones of a corpse: the News of the World was shut down by reader revulsion. A reminder that the press have to stand for election every day – the readers are the statutory regulators. The number of journalists in Britain arrested is now over 60. But we’re seeing a sustained campaign of intimidation, fishing expeditions from police who enter journalists’s homes, overturn their children’s bedroom. Almost as bad is the appalling Filkin report which criminalises all contact between journalists and the police. You can’t have a little bit of press regulation any more than you can be a little bit pregnant, he says.

CHRIS BRYANT (Lab, Rhondda) opens with a fattist joke: ‘I’m not Tom Watson, I’m half the man he is. Referring to the Hollywood film of the hacking scandal, Bryant says: ‘I’m worried my character is going to turn into a woman who has an affair with Tom Watson.’ Not, of course, that Watson has had an affair. He says he likes the press, he confesses that ‘I sometimes look at the Daily Mail sidebar of shame – I love the scabrous, naughty irreverent press we have in this country’ better than the press he grew up with under Franco as a kid. But ‘we regulate Andrew Neil’s programmes’ because ‘we know a fair and balanced broadcaster is good for all of us.’ (Maybe so, but The Spectator’s motto is ‘firm but unfair’.) ‘There are very strange things about me – I’m slightly gay…in fact, I’m a practising homosexual and one day I’ll get good at it.’ (Not sure where this is going). He got involved in the Leveson because a friend of his, an MP, was mugged. He reported it to a policeman and 45 minute later the News of the World were on the phone. Why? He respondes: ‘the police officer was given money by the NOTW for that information.’ He makes the (very fair) point that in evidence to the Media Committee, Rebekah Brooks admitted to paying police for information – seemingly unaware it was against the law. Things have to change. ‘I don’t think newspapers should be our gods.’


GUIDO FAWKES doesn’t think newspapers should be our gods either – he’s up next. He started off in the dead tree press – delivering it. ‘Until some Sunday Times editor quadrupled the size and broke my back…I wonder what happened to him.’ The correct relationship between politicians and the media is that between a dog and a lamppost, he says. He goes for Bryant. ‘He told me he wished to see my site closed down – he now expects me to believe he is the guardian of a free press. What about Tom Watson, the hyperbolic scourge of Murdoch?’ he claimed that Watson called up The Spectator to complain about his No2, Harry Cole. ‘Since the closure of the NOTW, not a single politician has been caught with their pants down. A lack of extramarital affairs reported is an unhealthy state of affairs.’ Cheating MPs tend to be lying ones. ‘Any hint of statutory underpinning’ gives those MPs levers that they should never have.

7.55pm MAX MOSLEY says that just 1pc of the country can afford to sue the press, and if the other 99pc cannot then we cannot say we’re operating under the rule of law. His argument is muted, almost lawyerly. ‘A newspaper doesn’t have to belong” to Leveson’s proposed setup, “it’s entirely voluntary’ but Leveson would then force the newspaper to pay costs even if it wins a case. Under the current system, an oligarch can sue the FT with a hopeless case, he loses – but the FT still has to pay a chunk of the costs. ‘The rich can bully anyone if they are prepared to spend money’ but Leveson proposes a fairer arbitration system. Leveson is not about a Rubicon of statute, it’s about access to justice at reasonable costs. The Press Complaints Commission is already in legal statute, so why the squeamishness now? ‘For the first time ever the public will have a proper system where their rights can be enforced at zero cost’ and that – he says – is what this is all about.

8.03pm JOHN WHITTINGDALE says many of the victims – the McCanns, even Max Mosley, were victims of already-illegal behaviour and managed to find redress against the press under existing laws. He agrees with Chris Bryant that a stronger version of the Press Complaints Commission is needed and even agreed with chunks of what Mosley said. So where do they disagree? Not the end, but the means. Leveson wants legislation ‘and that is what I, and the government, regard as fundamentally dangerous. It legitimises the idea that government and parliament should have  a roll in what the press should and should not do.’ He quotes Shami Chakrabati saying ‘that would bring about the danger of political control through the back door.’ It’s now possible to find a solution to bring the ‘tough regulation that Leveson wants and I want’ but to do this with legislation ‘is a step too far’ and does pose a danger to the free press.

8.15pm EVAN HARRIS [standing in for Charlotte Harris, who has apparently been held up with a client]. It was ‘pleasure to hear as well as read Richard Littlejohn’ because he said things ‘that you couldn’t make up.’ (The hall quite liked this joke). The press didn’t expose Jimmy Savile, he said, in fact the supposedly over-regualated ITV that did the hard work. There was ‘mass suicide’ at the BBC and ‘rightly so’ – there was ‘nothing’ at the newspapers, not a single head rolling, after the McCann scandal and the Chris Jeffries scandals . ‘We cannot go on seeing ordinary people damaged by the press.’ And as for Guido’s idea that ‘you can only tell if a politician is lying if you know their sexual history’ is an interesting one, but should it not also apply to columnists and editors? ‘There’s a deal between the Express and the Mail not to explore the interest of the owners…. so there is a double standard there.’ And didn’t Guido engage in a vendetta against the Telegraph journalist who outed him as Paul Staines? ‘It’s his right to do so, but that doesn’t mean he should set rules for the rest of society.’ To say that parliament should have no role in regulating the press ‘is an argument against democracy.’ The Leveson report does not advocate statutory regulation or any compulsion; in fact it’s ‘about as a good a result as the press could get, yet they’re still complaining… to advance their interests against the interests of the public.’ The real threat to a free press ‘is the concentration of media power in a few hands – that’s what the press will not report and that’s what you should be aware of.’

8.27pm END OF SPEECHES – NOW OPEN TO THE FLOOR The highlights..

Guido tells Evan Harris that the Oldie actually broke the Saville story. ‘Great story, why didn’t the tabloids pick it up?’ Harris responds. One of the many questions to which Spectator subscribers know the answer – we ran a story on precisely that question last November.

Littlejohn returns to the ‘arrest of journalists on an industrial scale on a spurious basis… some of these now date back 12 months, bail is extended month after month after month, these people’s lives have been put on hold on a suprious basis’. Andrew Neil: ‘How do you know it is spurious?’ ‘I’m Judge Littlejohn – if the police have evidence, they should put up or shut up.’
The BBC Director Generalship came up. Bryant says to Andrew Neil ‘I know you wanted the job.’ AN: ‘On what possible basis could you think that?’ CB: ‘Because you told me.’ [Laughter]. AN: ‘When did I tell you?’. ‘Three separate times.’ After the show, apparently. Neil tells him to keep taking the tablets and file that conversation under ‘B for bollocks’.
8.53pm Mosley on those NOTW spanking pictures ‘I don’t think anything they published was humiliating, it was just embarrassing.’
Littlejohn on political control The present Speaker is trying to hide behind the law, to protect the details of MPs’ second homes… they may hide behind the McCanns but these people want to protect themselves.
The PCC An audience member puts in a word for the Press Complaints Commission. He put in a complaint to the PCC and it was upheld. If he had he had to go to a lawyer, ‘they would have taken me to the cleaners’.
Guido: I’m sure Dominique-Strauss Khan wishes the US had privacy legislation, if so, he’d still be harassing hotel maids.
9pm Bryant’s 3am visitor: The MP says he’s never made any complaint against the press, but was annoyed when his address was printed because he then had a phone call at 3am from someone who said ‘Hello my name is Colin, I’m very submissive and I’m outside your door.’ He called the police.
And the voting: on the way in it was 177 for the motion, and 85 against it with 149 undecided. The final count was 205 for, 191 against and no undecided. So the motion was but carried, but the huge shift in voting suggests Mosley, Bryant and Harris were the real winners.

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Show comments
  • Radford_NG

    The McCanns were in the habit of leaving their children home alone(illegal in England).Criminals saw this and took advantage of it.Mrs. McCann has skillfully used the press ever since.

  • eeore

    The problem with Guido is that he is a moron, compared to the US sites that do the same job as him, he is particularly poor.

    The Strauss Khan reference was particularly ill advised.

    If Littlejohn and Guido Fawkes are the best that can be produced to oppose the Rothschild inspired plan to Mandarinise the media then British democracy has a real problem.

    • Fergus Pickering

      He is a moron. Good, skilfull argument.

  • Paul

    “the huge shift in voting suggests Mosley, Bryant and Harris were the real winners.”
    What a depressing conclusion.

  • HooksLaw

    The press have nothing to be proud of. They do not deserve to be ‘winners’. The decline is press standards is appalling. The irresistible rise in the ignorance of journalists is spectacular.

    • Colonel Mustard

      The decline in standards is not limited to the press. In many respects they merely reflect the standards of the public they serve. But behind the genuine concerns about press standards and intrusions of privacy there is a very clear power grab going on and I’m surprised that you, of all people, don’t seem to appreciate the direction that it is coming from.

      Every day here we are treated to clear evidence of the way those on the left are moving and the way they are doing it. In the guise of being the only “reasonable” faction and by smearing all those who oppose them or articulate dissenting viewpoints they are moving us inexorably towards the state control of everything, for our own good and because they think they know best.

      This power grab is nothing new. It is a continuation of the authoritarian leftist state of 1997-2010 now wrapped up in “causes” instead of government initiatives. All those championing it are leftists, including the “celebrities” involved.

  • HooksLaw

    ‘chearing’ MPs exposed by cheating journalists. Except journalist’s don’t expose each other, and can continue in their jobs even though they are. Pathetic line from Staines.

  • Colin

    I was there, it was excellent.

    Prize for best argument with the worst delivery – Paul Staines.

    Bryant’s funny, well delivered but sinister arguments reminded me of a truism – That for those in / with power, whatever they have, it’s never enough. The only thing missing was Bryant’s Tin Foil hat.

    • sarah_13

      Yes I was there I agree. I couldn’t understand a word Paul Staines said which was a shame. I heard all Max’s appeal to the poor people and Harris’s nonsense about mass suicide at the BBC. What rubbish, i recall Hugh Grant coming out with the same nonsense on TV. Most were moved sideways and were presented with juicy other positions for their incompetence and not before their lawyers were instructed to furiously negotiate on their behalf, not even one suicide let along mass. What nonsense.

  • Daniel Maris

    What exactly were the M*****s “vi*t**s” of?

    And why are none of the mass media reporting what is happening with their case against Am*r*l (where now, in P****gal, instead of sueing him, they are sueing for peace, for a settlement)? Will the media even report their attempt to put T*ny B**nett behind bars? (Case coming up v. soon. But will there be anything in the news about the case?)

    It’s the press – and the public – that are cowed.


    The luvvies love fest rumbles on.

  • UlyssesReturns

    Did Mr Bryant want controls placed on Peter Mandelson for falsifying his mortgage application even though he was (seeming) aware he was breaking the law? I have no time for hypocritical labour lickspittles like Bryant and Watson who were part of an administration that should have been prosecuted en masse for lies, treason and criminal behaviour. I will also have no truck with those who accept the partisan labour-loving controlled output of the BBC but want restraints placed upon the best free press in history.

    • HooksLaw

      The BBC is regulated. Its miserable, but its regulated. Who regulates the owners of the Daily Telegraph?

      • Peter Martin

        This regulation, by OFCOM, which one presumes is what is referred to to set broadcast apart from the press… in what way did it work with Schofield or Newsnight over McAlpine?

        As to the Telegraph, as its ‘reporting’ and subbing sinks further into the mire… I can deny it support in subscription or ad eyeballs.

        The BBC appears rather unique in getting paid no matter what. In some cases double.

        This debate sounds interesting, and I think I’ll take the time to see it myself.

        Many of course will be told how to think via ‘analysis’ accompanied by editted bits to suit… in… and out.

        If that fails then twitter can be revved up.

        Or just break out the FoI lawyers.

        Because you are spoken at not, as (incorrectly) claimed for, and it’s only others who get held to account.

        If you let them.

    • telemachus

      Before calumnising Labor you should read Lloyd Evans post
      ” the prime minister is ……. a heartless, arrogant, fox-hunting, granny-starving, pleb-thrashing, cripple-whipping posh-boy. …
      I may have missed a bit out but you get the drift

  • Barbara Stevens

    I believe in a full free press, without it we won’t know all what’s going on. MPs are the biggest liars of all. I don’t believe you can treat the whole of the industry for the mistakes of of the few. However, the industry must accept responsiblity for its mistakes and put things in place so it does not happen again. If it does then there will be legislation against it. I hope all editors begin a new process of honesty, and openess, and begin again within the new framwork we may see. I wish you all luck. THE PRESS MUST REMAIN FREE.

  • rugby god

    What is Bryant on??? is this perhaps being recorded to be shown somewhere eventually?

    • Fraser Nelson

      Hopefully a podcast will be available tomorrow