Harriet vs Shami
The BBC1 Sunday Politics sends out transcripts of its interviews to journalists, but does not put them on its website. In the interests of transparency, truth, goodness, accountability, all that stuff, here is Harriet Harman, former legal officer of the National Council of Civil Liberties, disagreeing with my friend Shami Chakrabarti, director of same (renamed), from yesterday.
Andrew Neil: Harriet Harman joins me now. Welcome to the Sunday Politics. The current head of Liberty, it’s a job you used to do in a different organisation, also a key adviser to the Leveson Inquiry, she says that statutory press regulation as Leveson recommends could fall foul of the European Convention of Human Rights. What do you say to that?
HH: Well, I don’t think that’s right. Because what Leveson proposes is actually quite similar to the Irish system, and the Irish are passionate supporters on the European Convention of Human Rights. And in fact their system, which is backed by law, has not fallen foul from the European convention. So she’s wrong about that.
AN: Well, article 10 of the convention says everyone has the right to freedom of expression, quote, ‘without interference by public authority.’ And what Leveson is proposing and you’re backing is interference by public authority.
HH: No, we’re absolutely not proposing that public authority should interfere with the freedom of the press. What we’re backing is Leveson’s proposal that there should be an independent redress system for complaints for people who actually say that the editors have breached their own code, but that that independent system should be guaranteed by law. Because you know –
AN: But it would backed by public authority, in other words it will be subject to interference by public authority.
HH: No, the adjudication, the decision making about whether a complaint is justified, whether an apology should be written, that would be nowhere near a public authority, that would be an independent body. But at least there would be backing in law that that independent body was operating effectively. And you know, Andrew, we cannot go on with the situation that we have had where the editors say that they will abide by a code and yet they so grievously breach the code and there is no redress. You know, if you have a situation where somebody has been a victim of a terrible crime and then their family is hounded by the press and they can do nothing about it, that is why Leveson says there needs to be change. And that’s why we agree with him.
AN: No, I understand that.
HH: That is why – if I could just finish this final point, and that is why we think that parliament will want to back Leveson’s proposal for a legal guarantee, and that’s why we’re drafting a law that parliament can take forward.
AN: But earlier this year you too the same position as Shami Chakrabarti on the need not to have law to do it. What changed?
HH: I haven’t changed my position at all, I think that it might –
AN: Well, let me remind you what you said to the Oxford Media Society in January. You actually reminded them that you used to run Liberty under a different name, and how much you needed a free press to do that. You then said, ‘I think it would help Leveson if newspaper editors got together and came forward with a solution. I would like to see them frame the solution rather than have one imposed upon them.’ That was in January of this year.
HH: And what I said was the solution had to be such that it would apply to everybody, and it had to have independence. And what the press have come forward with under the Hunt-Black plan is they say, okay, we can have an independent person appointed, an independent board, but actually we, the press, could fire the whole lot of them on notice in writing.
AN: Well, what would happen if you signed up to the Leveson principles, what would you say then?
HH: On the Oxford Media conference I issued a challenge to the press and they did not respond to it, and actually we need that legal guarantee.
AN: Oh, no, no, they did respond to it with the Hunt-Black Report, which was not thought to be adequate by Leveson.
HH: No, it’s the status quo, it’s the status quo. Hunt-Black is the status quo.
AN: What would happen if they said next week, ‘we accept all the Leveson principles, we’ll do it.’ What would you say then?
HH: Well, the trouble is we’ve been here before with scandals and everybody saying something should be done and the press saying, ‘we’ll change our ways,’ and then what happens is it’s slipped back. How many more times are we going to go through this situation? You know, we often talk about walking a mile in someone’s shoes. You know, you would not want to walk one step in the shoes of the Dowlers or the McCanns or the Witchall family. We need to ensure that the code is abided by. It’s the editors’ code, it is not inhibiting freedom of the press, it’s making sure that we have a fair press that abide by their own code. And you’re arguing for business as usual, and that’s not acceptable.
AN: I’m not arguing for anything. I’ve asked you a question, if they signed up to Leveson would you then say you don’t need statutory? But you say that you still would.
HH: Leveson says statute is essential, is his words.
AN: On Thursday Ed Miliband told the Commons that he accepted the Leveson recommendations, quote, ‘in their entirety.’ Three days later is that still Labour policy?
HH: Absolutely. And I think there’s been an element of misquoting, wilful misquoting of what Ed Miliband said. What he said, and I’ve got his statement here, in the House of Commons, he said that it’s the central recommendation, the central recommendation being the one that says you have an independent redress system, but it is backed, it’s guaranteed by law. That is the central proposal of Leveson and that why we are not –
AN: He said – well, actually, I’ve got what he said here, Harriet, he said, ‘let’s be clear about Lord Justice Leveson’s proposals, I believe they should be accepted in their entirety.’
HH: And he then goes on to say he proposes a genuinely independent regulator. That’s what he was talking about.
AN: So he doesn’t accept them in their entirety?
HH: There are things where Leveson proposes alternatives, there are things which are not central to that thing about having an independent system but with a guarantee in law.
AN: So when he said I believe that they should be accepted in their entirety, he didn’t actually mean in their entirety, is that correct?
HH: He said what we should unequivocally endorse is the principles set out and his central recommendations. They should be accepted in their entirety.
AN: All right, but earlier he said, ‘I believe they should be accepted in their entirety.’ So let’s look at them. Do you believe that Ofcom should have a pivotal role?
HH: No, look, Andrew, I’m sorry, you’re trying to imply that our position is changing. You might not agree with our position.
AN: I have no view on your position.
HH: Well, other people might not agree with our position, but our position is not changing. We think Leveson has done an important job of work and the status quo should not be allowed to obtain.
AN: Alright, do you believe that Ofcom should have a pivotal role in regulating the press, as outlined by Leveson?
HH: Leveson comes up with a twin track proposal, he said it could either be Ofcom or somebody else. We think Ofcom is a good idea, we’d go along with that, but ultimately this is for parliament to take forward and if they want the alternative Leveson proposal that’s fine. That is not absolutely central.
AN: Well actually Mr Miliband said, ‘we support the view that Ofcom is the right body.’ Is the right body. Is that Labour’s policy?
HH: We think that Ofcom would be perfectly fair enough to do that, but it’s not the central tenet, the central tenet is not who does it but that somebody does it, backed by law.
AN: But that’s not what Mr Miliband said. He said, ‘we support the view Ofcom should do it.’
HH: We do, but we are going to have to have a parliamentary consensus on implementing the central tenet of Leveson, and therefore there are some things which in fact Leveson himself says are optional alternatives. So you know, let’s not get dyed-in-the wool on that.
AN: Now, if you win the next election and you carry on in Shadow position into the real job, you will be the one who’ll be appointing the head of Ofcom. Who do you think will be suitable to regulate the press?
HH: Well, we don’t know who is going to be the independent guarantor of this legal system, the legal guarantee.
AN: Who do you think will be good – what about Alastair Campbell, would he be a good one to do it?
HH: Well, you know, you’re rushing ahead there. We don’t even know whether it will be Ofcom, and it sounds like there are many people who think there ought to be an alternative.
AN: Would you rule him out?
HH: What, Alastair Campbell?
AN: Yeah. Peter Mandelson? Well, you’re going to appoint the head of Ofcom, who will be the person under your scheme who will be the backstop and the validator of a regulatory system. So it’s reasonable to ask what kind of person do you think should do it?
HH: You are rushing ahead with yourself. You’re rushing ahead to us winning the election, me appointing the next chair of Ofcom –
AN: I thought you’d like that thought.
HH: Actually no, because actually we want – and I think parliament want – action sooner than that. We don’t want to wait till the next general election. People have suffered, there’s been a stain hanging over the fine traditions of our press. We can sort that out. We cannot leave the press once again in the last chance saloon.
AN: I understand that, because you’ve said it. Back in the spring you said Jeremy Hunt, who was then the Culture Secretary, ‘has done something bad and wrong, he should be fired because of it.’ Leveson said, quote, ‘there is no credible evidence of actual bias in anything Mr Hunt did.’ Time to withdraw what you said?
HH: What Leveson also says is that actually he did not have proper control over his special adviser, he did not supervise him, which is required by the Ministerial Code, that’s why he makes all sorts of proposals for greater transparency and greater supervision. And the only reason why Jeremy Hunt was not found guilty of the breach of the Ministerial Code is because David Cameron refused to allow it to be investigated.
AN: But you said he was colluding with Newscorp to get the BSky bid through. Leveson says there is no credible evidence of bias. Do you now withdraw that claim?
HH: Well, I recognise that that’s what Lord Leveson said.
AN: Well, you accept Leveson in its entirety.
HH: What I think – no, we’re saying about Lord Leveson we accept his central proposal for a independent regulatory body.
AN: Do you accept Leveson found no evidence of bias against Mr Hunt, contrary to what you’ve claimed?
HH: Well, I accept that he finds that proposal, but I also accept that he did not control his special adviser, who actually went behind the scenes in private, in secret, to one side only.
AN: All right, was he wrong to say there was no evidence of bias?
HH: Well, had I been the Lord sitting there in that public inquiry I might have found there was. But that’s not central, what is central is that we sort out the current system which is failing and we don’t allow it to carry on.
AN: Harriet Harman, thank you.Tagged in: harriet harman, leveson, liberty, nccl, shami chakrabarti
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