PM must reject the worst elements of Leveson Report
Mr. Cameron must stick to his guns and kick these unreasonable, undemocratic, and ultimately unworkable proposals into touch
It was a mistake to set up the Leveson Inquiry. As I said at the time, it was bound to resolve nothing, cost vast sums of taxpayers’ money, and merely kick the problem into the long grass.
It has also missed what was to many the central point – that the questionable action of phone hacking was already against the law and had been for some years. Despite this being recognised by Lord Leveson himself in his statement, why the police, who enjoyed an overly cosy relationship with certain journalists, had repeatedly failed to take action has largely gone unanswered.
What is more worrying is that the authorities’ attempt to sweep this issue under the carpet and turn the spot light on all journalists, most of which have never engaged in the illegal practices that were the cause of public revulsion, seems to have been successful.
But such was the panic at No 10 during the height of the crisis that anything was better than the battering the PM was receiving. This was of course magnified in the goldfish bowl of Westminster by the historic appointment of spinner Andy Coulson and his close personal relationship with Rebekah Brooks. The naive view that any action was better than none has now come back to haunt Mr. Cameron.
Far from defusing the problem, the setting up of an inquiry has allowed a succession of stories that have been, if not actually damaging to the PM, at the least very embarrassing.
Part of the problem for the PM has been the persuasiveness of siren voices belonging to celebrities who have been desperate to settle old scores with the media, especially the Murdoch press and Associated News Papers. Both of these are crucial media outlets for the Conservative Party. Secondly there has been a halfhearted response, until now, from those who are supposed to champion freedom of speech, like the NUJ. As one journalist remarked to me, “It is easy to score when your opponents have left the field.”
I’ve been an avid viewer of the inquiry, actually attending a couple of the "evidence sessions". Like many, I found what I saw deeply disappointing. Far from probing questioning and detailed analysis, the majority of the inquiry seems to have been taken up by a group of celebrities desperate to twist the knife. And the decline of the inquiry into petty point scoring obscured the real crimes that took place: the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone and other ordinary people who never courted publicity and were thrust into the limelight because of horrific events.
In Hugh Grant's evidence, for example, he attacked a columnist who works for the Daily Mail, not for anything to do with phone hacking but because they had written (and I paraphrase) that he had descended from the loveable character at the start of the Four Weddings, to the ageing lounge lizard stalking seedy bars that he plays at the end of Bridget Jones's Diary.
The value of this evidence is questionable at best and at worst completely worthless.
Then we had the laughable evidence from groups like the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. This organization, which claimed to be the gold standard of journalism, even called for a levy to fund them.
This of course quickly unraveled as they were caught up in the shocking and wholly false allegations against Lord McAlpine. And this episode exposed that those putting together the story had failed to carry out even the most basic of checks, like showing a picture of Lord McAlpine to those who were abused, or even giving the peer a right of reply.
What is most disturbing is that one of the six key advisers to the Leveson Inquiry is David Bell, a trustee of the BIJ. Surely this constitutes a conflict of interest? Apparently not here!
By the time the BIJ's lax standards in the McAlpine case became clear the report was already being written. The evidence was not revisited, at least not in public, so yet more errors were included.
So now we have a report, skewed by the sheer amount of one-sided, high-minded, and cant evidence. But we should not be surprised that Lord Justice Leveson has succumbed to the ludicrous suggestions of an “independent regulator” overseen by OFCOM.
I would have supported a genuinely independent body, but the careful language used by the judge cannot hide the simple fact the new body would be anything but independent.
To his credit those close to the PM have indicated he is minded to reject the worst elements and he has made his reservations clear himself in parliament, but the PM has developed a reputation as a flip-flopper having performed around 40 U-turns in just two years.
But on this issue, Mr. Cameron must stick to his guns and kick these unreasonable, undemocratic, and ultimately unworkable proposals into touch. If he does not, the condemnation will not be limited to scores of backbench Tory MPs, but will go far wider and this is something that the embattled PM can ill afford.
Alistair Thompson is the Managing Director of Media Intelligence Partners
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