Leveson: Commons evenly split
Lord Justice Leveson tried to reconcile the irreconcilable. He says in the executive summary of his report:
This is not, and cannot be characterised as, statutory regulation of the press
Oh, yes it can. He proposes a self-regulatory body “with a statutory verification
process”. That is, a process laid down in law and administered by a body given that power by law – Leveson proposes that it be Ofcom, which already regulates television and telephones. So it would be neither independent (of the press) nor non-statutory.
The test is: Who “ensures” whether the new Press Complaints Commission meets “the required level of independence and effectiveness”? Under Leveson’s proposal it would be Ed Richards, the former assistant to Gordon Brown who is now chief executive of Ofcom. Richards is appointed, as David Cameron rightly pointed out in the Commons today, by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. You win a bonus point if you can name the current incumbent, but that is not the point. What matters is that she is a member of the Government.
So then we come to the interesting bit. Cameron understands the principle of a free press, and will defend it; Ed Miliband does not and will not. Cameron accepted the “principles” of the Leveson Report but will not legislate; Miliband accepted the lot and wants to force a vote in January to legislate.
But Nick Clegg tried again to split the difference. He accepted more of the report than Cameron and less than Miliband, supporting legislation but disagreeing with Leveson about whether Ofcom is the right body to do the “statutory verification”.
Extraordinarily, however, Clegg did not say anything about the “new body” that would be the right one. But unless he is suggesting that the new Press Complaints Commission is verified by the Man in the Moon, it would have to be by someone who owes his or her position to the Government, and that is the irreconcilable reconciliation.
So I suspect that Miliband, Clegg and the State Regulation Conservatives will line up in favour of statutory regulation; and Cameron and the Free Press Labour MPs (such as Gisela Stuart, Frank Field, Kate Hoey and Gerald Kaufman) will line up in favour of freedom of expression.
That could be a close vote.Tagged in: freedom of expression, leveson
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