Leveson: Commons evenly split

John Rentoul

dcnc 300x169 Leveson: Commons evenly splitLord 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.

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  • Andy Oakley

    ‘Cameron understands the principle of a free press, and will defend it’

    Sorry, what? The same Cameron who was about to allow the Murdoch empire unparalleled dominance of the press with their takeover of the BSkyB. That statement is simply laughable

  • JohnJustice

    Come on JR, both sides believe in freedom of expression and a better form of regulation. The difference is about how such regulation can be properly enforced. Principles are worthless if there is sufficient room to wriggle out of them – as the PCC experience showed.

    Blair warned against the feral press and I’m suprised that you (and other Blairites) are taking their part.

  • Toocleverbyhalf

    Judges are appointed by the Judicial Appointments Commission whose members are in effect appointed by government ministers but no one seriously suggests that judges are in the government’s pocket do they?

    Why then should members of a body supervised by someone appointed by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport be any less independent of government than judges are?

    Methinks the press doth protest too much…

  • bugedone

    An awful lot of huffing and puffing seems to have been made about the identity of who will basically be the inspector of the independent “regulator”. Actually all that was wanted was a body that does what the PCC should have been doing all this time, but has signally failed to do. A new complaints resolution service, independent of both press and government, but which is accountable to Parliament (politicians, yes, but as JR never tires of pointing out, these are our elected representatives), is what we need.

    A more astute leader than Cameron, and perhaps one less tied up in the News International mess, would tie the issue to the forthcoming reform of the defamation law. Perhaps if news organisations prepared to be bound by the independent complaints commission’s adjuducations, they would have a much stronger defence, maybe even an insurmountable one should the complainant go to court.

  • creggancowboy

    Giovanni, are you or Lebedev (pere et fils) surprised that the police walked away from the ordure of the Leveson enquiry?

  • porkfright

    A means of sweeping any real change to the press under the voluminous and plentiful carpets will be found-make no mistake about that.

  • Pacificweather

    When did the press become free? It has always been constrained by law. It became free of those laws when it bought certain politicians and police officers. It has always been free to defame the poor but not the rich. It perfectly reflects the nature of the society in which it operates.

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