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The press needs a regulator that outlives the memory of the last scandal

9 January 2013

5:12 PM

9 January 2013

5:12 PM

Ahead of a major Spectator debate on the implications of the Leveson report, Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi explains why he supports a statute-backed system of press regulation.

Yesterday’s mid-term review included the statement ‘We will continue to work on a cross-party basis towards the implementation of the Leveson Report on press regulation’. A welcome reminder that the question of what to do about press regulation has not been forgotten over the Christmas break.

But what we should do is still very much up for debate. We now have two Bills, Labour’s ‘Press Freedom and Trust Bill’ and Hacked Off’s ‘Leveson Bill’, and of course the Government will be coming forward with its own Bill in due course. While all three will undoubtedly agree that the status quo can’t continue, exactly how the new regulator should be constituted, and how it will be held to account is still up in the air.


I was one of the 42 Conservative MPs who signed a letter calling for a statute-backed system of press regulation. I still think we need a mechanism – be it statute, or a Royal Charter – which ensures the new regulator has credibility, both in terms of independence and real teeth.

The Press Complaints Commission failed on both these counts. It lacked the teeth to properly investigate or punish breaches of the Editorial Code and it lacked independence in the eyes of the public. After all, this was the organisation that took the News of the World at its word when it said phone-hacking was the work of ‘one rogue reporter’.

I have no doubt that editors and proprietors will continue to argue that new regulation is unnecessary, because the worst abuses examined by Leveson already incur legal penalties. But not everyone has the means to legal action against a major media company. And it’s a shallow argument which takes arresting journalists and hauling them through the courts to be more conducive to press freedom than actually enforcing the Editor’s Code. The prospect of so many British journalists facing prison is deeply shameful. I want to see a regulator which keeps newspapers away from the criminal justice system.

The other argument against a ‘backed’ regulator, one often made by this magazine’s own editor, is that this is a slippery slope ending in political control of newspapers. This argument does British democracy a great disservice. I was born and grew up in Saddam’s Baghdad, so unlike many who have spoken in this debate I have lived under a system of state-controlled press. The British public would never stand for such a system, nor for politicians who espoused it. The independence of our press is paramount, just like the independence of our judiciary, (which also happens to be guaranteed in statute).  Whilst I am a Member of Parliament I will do everything to ensure it remains that way.

What the public do want is a press that can be trusted again. Trusted to break the story, not the law. This means coming up with a regulator that outlives the memory of the last scandal.

Is Leveson a fundamental threat to a free press? On Wednesday 30 January, the Spectator hosts a debate between advocates of statutory regulation Chris Bryant and Max Mosley and those against statute, Richard Littlejohn, Paul Staines and John Whittingdale. You can book tickets here.

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  • Firdaus Kanga


  • Daniel Maris

    I see Mr Zahawi is or was a close associate of Jeffery Archer, that fine upstanding member of the community. I can’t for the life of me think why he should want to muzzle the media.


    “Zahawi and fellow Kurd Broosk Saibwas were aides to Jeffrey Archer during Archer’s “Simple Truth” campaign to help Kurdish victims of the Gulf War. Zahawi and Saibwas were nicknamed “Lemon kurd” and “Bean kurd” by Archer.[4] In 1994 Archer helped campaign for Zahawi for a seat on Wandsworth council. Zahawi also ran Archer’s unsuccessful campaign for Mayor of London in 1998.[5]

    • Noa

      Zahawi was also founder and CEO of the YouGov poll. a subtle way of controlling and manipulating public opinion and getting the opinions you want by asking the leading question.

      Just like this article does in fact.

  • the viceroy’s gin

    And it’s a shallow argument which takes arresting journalists and
    hauling them through the courts to be more conducive to press freedom
    than actually enforcing the Editor’s Code.

    How so? The court system is transparent, as opposed to your opaque government censorship. Sunlight is best for press freedom, I’d hope you’d agree. If the law is too tight, we slacken it. If it’s too loose, we tighten it up some. All in the light of day. Well understood by all. Freedom tends to thrive in the daylight.



    The prospect of so many British journalists facing prison is deeply
    shameful. I want to see a regulator which keeps newspapers away from the
    criminal justice system.

    What’s wrong with lawbreakers going to prison? Why would you consider that to be shameful? If they’re criminals, they belong in prison, for a bit at least, and certainly no need to be taking special considerations to keep them away from it, or to force the public to surrender essential liberties just to keep you from your own private “shame” and desire to keep the lawbreakers out of prison.

    Your argument doesn’t make any sense. It leads me to think that there is something unspoken in your argument.


    There’s a good piece by Toby Young in the DT on the anti-free speech agenda of the Left (which includes most Conservative MPs of course).

    I am much more afraid of the plans to prevent any criticism of selected and privileged minorities than by criminal activities by journalists which can already by prosecuted.

  • Noa

    “In squaring this circle of freedom I will create a free but regulated press which meets my requirements, in the manner and customs of the great country in which I was brought up, and it will withstand the fierce scrutiny I will apply to it on behalf of the Baghdadi peasan…great British public! Who, my friends, will not stand my letting them believe what they can read and think without my telling they can!…”

    A remarkable homily from that most remarkable of creatures; a public spirited ‘New Conservative’ Tory MP acting acting in the spirit of purest altruism and with no hint whatsoever of self serving personal interest.

    And I offer my most humble thanks to the Spectator, it’s Editor and owners, for graciously offering this intestinally moving eulogy to the Great British Press for our consideration and comment.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      tray droll, monsoor.

      tray droll

  • Curnonsky

    What exactly is difference between a press controlled by the state and one controlled by the Establishment? The argument that the press would be free from political interference by the government is a straw man – the whole aim of Leveson and Hacked Off (and the reason why so many grubby-fingered MPs have aligned themselves with it) is to protect the Great and Good from having their dirty little secrets exposed to the public. It is an attempt to turn the clock back to pre-Profumo days when a discreet call would be made to hush up any embarrassing story before it could be printed. No thank you.

    • telemachus

      Leveson only protects from lies historically disseminated by revanchist forces in the Government and Establishment
      The reasonable political forces have historically been about openness


    I trust the press. I trust them to act as the businesses they are.

    I don’t trust politicians. They have successfully extracted themselves from the regulation of the people and can no longer be trusted to act for the benefit of the electorate.

    I don’t expect the press to do so. They are businesses. I do expect MPs to do so. But they have shown themselves entirely untrustworthy.

    • telemachus

      Yes Murdoch, Coulson and Brooks are the epitome of probity
      Did you miss Leveson?