The inquiry by Lord Justice Leveson into media rules in the wake of the phone hacking scandal is massive. It is supposed to run in two parts, one looking at the specific allegations around hacking, and another looking at the broader issues of media regulation and ownership.
When David Cameron announced its remit, many people were surprised by this breadth. One of those, it seems, was Leveson himself – at least according to John Whittingdale, the chairman of the culture, media and sport select committee.
At Thursday’s session of the committee, Whittingdale asked Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary, why the remit was so wide. Hunt replied:
The prime minister was very determined… to give the public confidence that Lord Justice Leveson would be able to look at any areas that he thought were relevant to the subjects that arise. Any attempt to constrain the areas he could look at might be seen by the public as an attempt to fix that.
Whittingdale took this to mean the government wasn’t really expecting Leveson to come up with new rules on media ownership, but was leaving the door open for him to do so should he wish. He added that this would come as a relief to the judge himself:
I think Lord Justice Leveson was quite taken aback. He thought he had got enough already without having to rewrite the entire media ownership law.
This is a fascinating insight. Leveson can indeed recommend sweeping changes to who can own which media outlets. Any new regime could affect not only Rupert Murdoch and News Corp, but also Richard Desmond (who owns the Express, Star and Channel 5, among other outlets) and other media barons.
But if this exchange is to be believed, it seems Leveson is unlikely, or at least reluctant, to get into this area, preferring to leave it to Hunt and other politicians.