17:37: See FT.com for further updates this evening and over the coming days. Before we sign-off, here’s a summary of what’s happened today:
- Lord Justice Leveson published his report into the culture, practice and ethics of the press, recommending independent regulation with statutory underpinning. “Guaranteed independence, long term stability and genuine benefits for the industry cannot be realised without legislation,” he said.
He said the press and politicians had at times been “too close” but there was little evidence to suggest there was a widespread problem in the relationship between the press and the police.
- He proposed:
- A new independent body to regulate the press, backed by law
- The new body would not have the power to block publication of news but it could request corrections or apologies and impose fines of up to £1m. It could be scrutinised by Ofcom, the regulator which oversees radio and television
- Senior police officers should publish details of contact with the press
- The establishment of an arbitration service staffed by retired judges or senior lawyers
- Power to investigate serious or systemic breaches of of the code
- Chair and other members of body to exclude serving editors
- Members to have adequate and speedy complaint handling system
- Leveson finished by saying the ball is now in the court of the politicians, who have to decide whether or not a new body needs legislation to back it up.
- The prime minister welcomed the report but said he had serious misgivings about statutory backing. Nick Clegg, deputy prime minister, made a separate statement, saying he believed the case for legislation had been made, and the prime minister had not completely excluded it. Ed Miliband urged the government to adopt the whole report. The parties are in talks this evening.
- Victims of press intrusion welcomed the report but criticised David Cameron for not adopting it in full.
17:35: Given the political discord over how to respond to today’s report, it is fairly difficult to find anything that all three parties agree on, writes Helen Warrell. But a rare area of accord is concern over Lord Justice Leveson’s proposals to shrink journalists’ current exemptions from data protection laws.
In his statement to MPs, David Cameron said he was “instinctively concerned” about the idea. “We must consider this very carefully – particularly the impact this could have on investigative journalism,” he said.
Nick Clegg expressed a similar view. “I don’t want to disguise the fact that I do have some specific concerns about some specific recommendations – for example on data protection rules, and any changes to the way in which journalists can use personal information when reporting in the public interest,” the deputy prime minister said.
Ed Miliband added his concerns too.
The significant changes recommended in the report include several amendments to the Data Protection Act as well as recommendations that the information commissioner should beef up efforts to make sure the press comply with the data protection rules. The combined effect of these changes is to raise the public interest bar far higher when journalists are using or processing any personal data, even before publication.
The FT understands that politicians did not expect Leveson to make recommendations on this issue, so are both anxious and surprised by it.
17:12: Neil Wallis, a former deputy editor at the News of the World, was unsurprised by Leveson’s proposals, writes Duncan Robinson.
“It has surprised me only how predictable it was,” Mr Wallis told the Financial Times. “Effectively, I’m not too sure why he bothered to have an inquiry. Anybody who watched the first few days knew what he was going to say and he said it.”
Like his Fleet Street peer, Kelvin MacKenzie, Mr Wallis – who is on bail after he was arrested on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communication – was unimpressed by the idea of MPs having any say of press regulation.
“Who decides the parameters, the framework that is going to be met? MPs. The same MPs, one of whom in this by election in Rotherham had to resign because the press caught him stealing money from the taxpayer. It’s those MPs.”
Mr Wallis also criticised Lord Justice Leveson for leaving only a single, one-page section dedicated to the internet in the report. “The other major madness of it was t hat he ignores the web. He pays a bit of lip service, but he basically ignores it. It feels like he’s talking about the 1980s and 1990s as though the net has never happened.”
Lord Justice Leveon’s proposals to keep a strict audit of all meetings between police officers and journalists would do little to make the relationship between the two less opaque, argued Mr Wallis. “It’s the sort of pious words that a lawyer will come out with and will only encourage contact to go underground,” he said.
17:03: Although Lord Justice Leveson does clear Scotland Yard of improper relations with News International, one former senior Met officer, John Yates, comes in for particular criticism because he contributed to a wider “perception” that contact between police and NI was too cosy, writes Helen Warrell.
“I have no doubt that there is and has been a clear perception that the decisions made by Mr Yates may have been affected by [his] relationships [with NI staff],” the report reads. “Furthermore, that perception has proved to be extremely damaging both to the professional standing of Mr Yates and to the reputation of the MPS”
Mr Yates, previously an assistant commissioner at the Met, was responsible for looking at the new phone hacking evidence in 2009 and decided against opening a fresh police investigation. However, it emerged last summer that he was friends with former News of the World deputy editor Neil Wallis, who later worked for Scotland Yard as a temporary PR adviser. Soon after this was made public, Mr Yates resigned.
Lord Justice Leveson concludes that Mr Yates should have reflected at the time on whether he should be involved in an investigation “into the newspaper at which he had friends”.
“He would have been better advised to arrange for a different officer to conduct it,” the report reads.
16:56: Victims of press intrusion said they felt “betrayed” by the prime minister because would not accept the whole of the Leveson report.
Brian Cathcart, a journalism professor who is part of the campaign, said: “Lord Justice Leveson has done his job, he has given the prime minister a workable, proportionate and reasonable solution. The prime minister has not done his job. His failure to accept the full recommendations of the report is unfortunate and regrettable.”
Mark Lewis, a lawyer for victims including the Dowler family, said the prime minister had failed the test he set himself when he gave evidence to the inquiry. David Cameron said at the time that the regulation must pass muster with victims such as the Dowlers.
The campaign said if the prime minister did not accept the need for statutory backing, they would push for Labour, the Liberal Democrats and supportive Tory backbenchers to unite to try to push through such a law, saying they thought they could get a parliamentary majority.
16:43: Labour’s emollient words to Nick Clegg on press regulation is causing some consternation among some of its own MPs. Tony McNulty, the former Labour minister, has tweeted:
16:38: Labour MPs are trying to bait Nick Clegg into supporting them against David Cameron, but the deputy prime minister is resisting. He just told MPs:
In two and a half years of coalition government I have become used to starting from different points and finding a consensus.
16:36: Kelvin MacKenzie, the former editor of the Sun during its ‘Gotcha’ era, had a succinct response to Lord Justice Leveson’s proposals, writes the FT’s Duncan Robinson. “The idea of expense-fiddling MPs regulating the press is laughable,” said Mr MacKenzie. “It’s like the great train robbers writing the railway timetable.”
16:34: Clegg summed up his differences with Cameron like this:
I believe the case for legislation has been made, but of course I acknowledge [we have to discuss] how that can be delivered in proportionate and workable practice… The prime minister has expressed serious misgivings thoughtfully about the step of taking legislation but has not entirely excluded that possibility in the absence of other alternatives.
16:26: Nick Clegg has, as expected, backed Lord Justice Leveson’s call for a statutory underpinning. Here are some excerpts from what he has just told MPs:
A free press does not mean a press that is free to bully innocent people or free to abuse grieving families.
On the basic model of a new self-regulatory body, established with a change to the law in principle, I believe this can be done in a proportionate and workable way.
Lord Justice Leveson has considered these issues at length. He has found that changing the law is the only way to guarantee a system of self-regulation which seeks to cover all of the press.
What is more, changing the law is the only way to give us all the assurance that the new regulator isn’t just independent for a few months or years, but is independent for good.
The press does not operate in some kind of lawless vacuum. It has to abide by the law. In many instances it is already protected by the law and I agree with the report that we should actually go further in enshrining the freedom of the press in statute.
Far from allowing greater overlap, the laws that have been proposed give us a chance to create a hard wall between politics and the press.
As the report notes, there is already an example of statutory underpinning in the Irish Press Council, which has been accepted by a number of UK newspapers.
Nothing I have seen so far in this debate suggests to me we will find a better solution than the one which has been proposed. Nor do I draw any hope from the repeated failure of pure self-regulation that we’ve seen over the last 60 years.
16:21: Cameron has tweeted his own summary of his speech:
16:14: As the FT’s Emily Cadman and Martin Stabe scour the 2,000 page report, we’re finding more about Leveson’s opinion of News International. He wrote there would appear to have been “a signficant failure in corporate governance” at the media company, in particular in risk management.
Rupert and James Murdoch claimed that there had been a cover up to which senior management had been victim. If that was right, then the accountability and governance systems at NI would have to be considered to have broken down in an extremely serious respect. Both Mr Myler and Mr Crone strongly denied that there had been a cover up. Whatever the truth, there was serious failure of governance within the News of the World.
Shares in the parent company News Corp are doing just fine though: up 1.5 per cent compared to a 0.8 per cent rise in the wider market.
16:01: The FT’s Duncan Robinson has interviewed Ben Noakes, a phone-hacking victim, who praised Lord Justice Leveson for heeding the concerns of Hacked Off, the campaign group for victims of press intrusion.
“There was a general sense of relief that we had been heard,” said Mr Noakes, who had his phone hacked in 2006 because of his friendship with Heather Mills and Sir Paul McCartney.
“[Lord Justice Leveson] has used our language and ideas. It’s good to know that victims have been listened to and taken seriously. That’s all good. I think that this is the seventh and the last inquiry into the standards – the press will have to take this seriously now.”
15:57: Back in the Commons, Cameron has questioned whether Ofcom, the communications regulator, should be given more power.
“Ofcom is already a very powerful regulatory body and we should be trying to reduce concentrations of power rather than increase them,” he said.
15:55: Taking a longer look through the report, it is clear that Leveson has given the police an almost clean bill of health.
“I have seen no basis for challenging at any stage the integrity of the police,” he writes, adding that outside the Metropolitan police, the relationship between the press and the police has usually worked well.
He recommends that there should be a 12 month ‘cooling off’ period in senior police officer’s contracts to address concerns about a ‘revolving door’ between police and the press. He also says the Information Commissioner should help the Met prepare a long term strategy on how to address media crime.
15:51: As Cameron pointed out in the Commons, Leveson found no evidence of “actual bias” in Jeremy Hunt’s quasi-judicial decision to allow the BSkyB takeover. But he said the “voluminous exchanges” between Frederic Michel, the News Corp lobbyist, and Adam Smith, Hunt’s special adviser, gave rise to “a perception of bias” especially because they were conducted informally and off the departmental record. Leveson said it was not his place to address whether Hunt had breached the ministerial code.
15:48: Labour MP Paul Farrelly asks if the prime minister backs Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations that the press should not be allowed to choose the chair of the new body, or to veto an appointment. Cameron suggests he does, stressing the system needs to be independent.
15:44: Philip Davies becomes the first person to attack Cameron for being too strict on the press, calling the threat to regulate if the press does not comply with the Leveson proposals “a pretty rum form of self-regulation”.
15:40: The prime minister has made it clear what he thinks the new body should be able to do:
The real test is not if it is backed by statute but whether it can fine newspapers, whether it can hold editors to account and whether it can get front page apologies.
15:36: The debate in the Commons has quickly become polarised between those backing the prime minister (so far only Conservatives) and those calling for him to change his mind.
One interesting question came from Ben Bradshaw, who asked what would happen under a non-statutory system if a publication walked away from it. The prime minister responded by pointing out the same problem applies to Lord Justice Leveson’s proposals too.
John Whittingdale, meanwhile, the chair of the culture select committee, gave his backing to the prime minister, saying:
We should only proceed to legislate if it becomes absolutely clear that it will not function properly without that.
15:33: Responding to a question from Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a Conservative MP who said Leveson’s arguments were “very powerful”, Cameron said:
Once you start writing a piece of regulation you have to write what is the composition, what is its powers, make up… pretty soon I would worry the piece of law is a piece of press regulation. This is an enormous step for us in this House of Commons so we have to think about it very very carefully.
15:28: The prime minister is now taking questions from MPs. Jack Straw, the former Labour home secretary, is the first to urge him to change his mind and back new legislation. He said:
The fundamental flaw is that it is impossible to deliver the independence proposed by the press themselves and the enforcement – not least on penalties through legal costs – without some form of statutory backing.
15:19: Cameron has invited Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband to join in cross-party talks starting immediately after his statement. He insists rapid action is needed and wants to set a deadline for the press. He finished by saying the system was “badly broken” and has “let down victims badly”. “Our task now is to build a system of press regulation that protects the rights of the vulnerable and innocent,” he said.
Miliband, Labour leader, is pressing for the government to accept Leveson’s findings in full, saying they are “measured, reasonable and proportionate”. He said talks must be about how to implement the proposals, not whether to implement them and said they should be passed by the end of parliament at the latest.
15:13: Cameron does not back statutory underpinning as proposed by Leveson. This is what he has just told the Commons:
Parts of the press have acted as if its own code which it wrote simply did not exist.
When the story is just too big and the public appetite too great there has been significant and reckless disregard for accuracy.
The Press Complaints Commission is neither a regulator or fit for purpose
I accept the Leveson principles and I hope the whole house should come in behind me. The onus should now be on the press to implement them and implement them radically.
[Leveson] goes on to propose legislation that would help deliver those invcentives…. I have some serious concerns and misgivings on these recommendations.
The issue of principle is for the first time we will have crossed the rubicon of writing elements of press regulation into the law of the land. We should think very very carefully before crossing this line.
On practicality, the legislation required to underpin the statutory body would become more complicated.
The danger is it will create a vehicle for politicians to impose regulation… on the press.
I’m not convinced at this stage that statute is required to achieve Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations.
These questions, including those about data protection are fundamental questions we must resolve.
A regulatory system that complies with the Leveson principles should be put in place rapidly. I favour giving the press limited time to do this.
This report lays bare that the system of press regulation we have is badly broken… our responsibility is to fix this.
15:06: During course of inquiry “serious allegations” were made, which Cameron addresses:
1. Allegations that the Tories struck a deal with News International: “Lord Justice Leveson looked at this in detail and rejects emphatically. Members including former prime minister should now acknowledge they were wrong.”
2. Allegations Mr Hunt was biased in BSkyB bid: Leveson found no evidence of this and Jeremy Hunt has endured a stream of allegations with “great dignity”. Mr Hunt is now sitting right behind Cameron.
15:04: Cameron welcomes the recommendations for more transparency on relationships between the press and senior politicians.
15:02: Cameron on the recommendations regarding the police:
These are designed to break up the overly cosy relationship between the press and the police and we will support them.
15:01 David Cameron is now giving his response in the Commons. He has begun by mentioning the victims of press wrongdoings:
These victims and many other innocent people who have never sought the limelight have suffered in a way we can never begin to imagine.
14:52: The Labour former culture secretary Ben Bradshaw told the FT he welcomed the report but warned that unless the three major parties work together the proposals are “doomed to failure”, Duncan Robinson writes.
“It’s interesting that Lord Justice Leveson quotes Sir John Major at some length in the executive summary,” said Mr Bradshaw. Lord Justice Leveson highlighted Sir John’s point that all three parties needed to support the proposals if they are to have any chance of succeeding.
“If one tries to break off, then the whole process is doomed to failure,” says Mr Bradshaw. “There’s a responsibility on all the parties and especially on the prime minister – he commissioned the inquiry so it’s up to him to implement its proposals.”
Mr Bradshaw warned that failure to implement Lord Justice Leveson’s proposals could harm David Cameron in the next general election. “It’s a shame that the Prime Minister has not signed up [to supporting Leveson’s proposals] as unambiguously as Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg,” said Mr Bradshaw. “If the Prime Minister’s resistance ends up killing the Leveson report or kicking it into the long grass, that will be hung around his neck from now until the general election, while many of his old friends are on trial.”
14:48: Here’s a handy graphic of how the proposed independent body might work:
14:47: Bryce Elder in our markets team has been watching the reaction of investors. He writes:
Shares in UK newspaper publishers were unaffected by report’s publication. Daily Mail & General Trust was up 1.5 per cent to 525p and Trinity Mirror slipped 3.1 per cent to 79.8p, while Johnston Press stood unchanged at 12.6p, with all three stocks barely moved over the course of the session.
14:45: Jim Pickard, the FT’s political correspondent, has been monitoring political reaction from Westminster. So far, there have been a couple of interesting tweets:
14:42: Leveson rejected the plan by Lords Black and Hunt for a more robust form of press self-regulation. Lord Black is not convinced by his alternative:
Lord Justice Leveson has issued a challenge to the press to establish a new, tough system of regulation. I believe that the plan that the industry has put forward goes a long way to meeting that challenge.
In those areas where the report expresses concern – such as independence and appointments procedures – we will study his proposals and I believe respond positively. However, there is no need to subject the new regulatory body to the statutory regime of Ofcom in order to achieve this.
Any form of statutory press control in a free society is fraught with danger, totally impractical and would take far too long to implement.
14:38: You can browse the full report here:
14:21: David Cameron has tweeted that he will be giving a “clear sense of direction” when he speaks at 3pm. As we reported earlier, his spokesperson has been stressing how long the report is and so it seems more likely to be a “sense of direction” than a detailed response.
14:20: Politicians are being quizzed for their snap reaction to the recommendations. So far the most outspoken voice against the report has been John Redwood, the former Tory minister. He told the BBC:
There is no evidence that statutory regulation works. I would rather give the Lord Hunt proposals a try. I’m not sure it would even get rid of malpractice – in other areas it has not done so. Maybe we need to enforce the criminal law more seriously.
My advice to David Cameron would be to go carefully, because parliament doesn’t have a single voice.
14:16: Here’s a longer version of the key proposals:
- A new independent body to regulate the press, backed by law;
- The new body would not have the power to block publication of news but it could request corrections or apologies and impose fines of up to £1m. It could be scrutinised by Ofcom, the regulator which oversees radio and television;
- Senior police officers should publish details of contact with the press;
- The establishment of an arbitration service staffed by retired judges or senior lawyers;
- Power to investigate serious or systemic breaches of of the code;
- Chair and other members of body to exclude serving editors;
- Members to have adequate and speedy complaint handling system.
14:03: You can read the FT’s news story on the Leveson report here.
And for the full report, follow this link.
14:00: Leveson has now finished. His parting comments were a call for cross-party cooperation. He added the report should speak for itself, and no one would be speaking for him about its contents.
The ball is back in the politicians’ court. They must now decide who guards the guardians.
13:59: Leveson turns to the relationship between the press and the police and politicians:
I have not seen any evidence to suggest that corruption by the press is a widespread problem in relation to the police.
As for the press and politicians, the overwhelming evidence is that relations on a day to day basis are in robust good health…. Everyday interactions between journalists and politicians cause no concern.
But… in a number of respects the relationship between politics and the press has been too close.
I am concerned about a certain type of lobbying that happens out of the public eye… That gives rise to the understandable perception that the power of the press to influence political fortunes may be used to influence policy.
13:55: Leveson says:
Guaranteed independence, long term stability and genuine benefits for the industry cannot be realised without legislation.
I am proposing it only for the narrow purpose of recognising a new, independent, self-regulatory system. It would not establish a body to regulate the press. That is for the press itself to organise and to do.
The legislation would enshrine for the first time a legal duty on the government to protect the freedom of the press.
It would assure the public of its independence and efficacy.
It would hold new and tangible benefits for the press. As members of the body newspapers could show good faith.
The benefits of membership should be obvious to all. This is not and cannot reasonably or fairly be characterised as statutory regulation of the press. It is independent regulation of the press organised by the press.
I do not think either the victims I have heard from or the public in general would accept anything less.
13:50: Lord Justice Leveson on his proposals for press regulation:
He said the plan by Lord Black and Lord Hunt for more muscular self-regulation were an improvement on the PCC, but not enough. He said the criminal law was not enough either, adding that while there were “errors in aspects of way the phone-hacking investigation were managed in 2006 and the failure to undertake later reviews” which means some problems could be fixed under existing laws, change was needed, for example introducing exemplary damages for all media torts.
Setting out his stall, he suggested the majority of the board of the independent body would not be drawn from the media, and appointed by a panel which may include a current editor.
13:41: Lord Justice Leveson is now making his own statement. Here are some of the things he has said so far:
This inquiry has been the most concentrated look at the press this country has ever seen.
I know how vital the press is. The press, operating freely and in the public interest is one of the true safeguards of our democracy. It holds a privileged and powerful place.
This power and influence caries with it responsibilities to the public interest… Unfortunately, as the evidence has shown beyond doubt on too many occasions, those responsibilities, along with the editors’ code of conduct, which the press wrote and promoted, has simply been ignored. This has… on occasion wreaked havoc on the lives of innocent people.
With a few vital exceptions, the UK press has not performed that vital role in the case of its own power.
13:39: The FT’s Ben Fenton, who followed much of the inquiry, and Rob Budden give us some instant analysis. He describes it as “a light touch of regulation, but some will argue it could have been lighter”. He says Lord Justice Leveson insists it is not “statutory regulation of the press”.
From the lock-in, they write:
That the judge felt the need to do this [stress it is not statutory] shows how hard his task has been, in the face of powerful lobbying by newspaper groups raising spectres of a threat to press freedom that Leveson says are just that: phantasms.
His recommendations for an “independent, self-regulating body” ought, on the face of it, to put those fears to rest because he stresses that independence of the government and politicians is as important as independence from newspaper owners.
However, in order to ensure both that media organisations want to join the body, and that rich individuals will choose to use it rather than the courts to settle disputes, he has had to suggest an “underpinning” with law – something that opponents will focus on.
He says legislation will also create a duty on governments to uphold the freedom of the press, which seems an odd construction in a democracy, and unlikely to persuade those who see a slippery slope to dictatorship in any statutory involvement.
13:30: HERE ARE THE MAIN RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE LEVESON REPORT:
1. Leveson is rejecting Lord Hunt and Lord Black’s plan for beefed up self-regulation of the press, and instead calls for a voluntary regime for papers to sign up to, backed by statute. That statute would formally recognise the new body and validate its standards code.
2. The new body would have powers to investigate “serious or systemic breaches”. It could impose fines of up to £1m or up to 1 per cent of a newspaper’s turnover. Publications that choose not to sign up could face more punitive costs if they lose a court case.
3. The chair of the new body must be independent, and it must not contain any editors or serving members of the government.
Our media team tells us this borrows elements from the Irish system – see the story below.
13:12: While most of the attention this week has been focused on whether Leveson will propose statutory regulation, the inquiry’s 2,000 page report will have many other questions to address. David Allen Green, a lawyer and the New Statesman’s legal commentator, sets out five questions the report needs to answer:
- How do you tame an autocratic editor?
- How do you stop illegal or unethical trade in private information?
- What is the appropriate relationship between the media and police officers or other public officials?
- What, if anything, can be done about the eternal tug-of-war of politicians and the press seeking to influence each other?
- Can regulation make a difference in the age of the internet?
The last question is particularly tricky to solve, as the BBC Newsnight scandal showed even if traditional news sources do not name someone, people on Twitter may.
12:45: So who is Lord Justice Leveson? The FT’s Caroline Binham sketches a portrait of a judge known for being “manifestly fair-minded” and “not bombastic or arrogant”. Hugh Tomlinson QC said: “Whether you agree with [his] decision or not, you won’t be able to fault his fairness”. Personally, Sir Brian is a “Liverpool man: born and bred” and shops in Tesco.
Meanwhile, some including the National Union of Journalists, have suggested a new system of regulation based on the Irish model. The FT’s Jamie Smyth in Dublin explains how it manages to have both statutory recognition – it is specifically referred to in legislation – but is also voluntary as newspapers had to agree to become members of the council in return for a reform of defamation law.
12:14: @LibDems have tweeted Nick Clegg’s position, complete with a picture of the leader: http://twitpic.com/bhgmcb . He says:
I believe in a vigorous free press holding the powerful to account and not subject to political interference. But a free press does not and cannot mean a press that it is free to bully innocent people or free to abuse grieving families. I hope, when Lord Justice Leveson gives his statement later today, we’ll remember the reasons why this inquiry was set up.
One of the reasons Clegg may want to make his own statement later today – and put out strong words like this on Twitter – is to stress that if Sir Brian issues some harsh words about the behaviour of politicians, it should not apply to his party.
During the inquiry, both Conservative and Labour politicians revealed close connections with the media (texts, country suppers, pyjama parties) that the Liberal Democrats, in general, did not have.
12:05: As we have reported, there is a division at the top of the coalition about how to respond to the report’s recommendations. But there are also splits within each of the three parties themselves.
On the Tory side, David Cameron’s aides have suggested he would be uncomfortable with any type of statutory legislation. Liam Fox, the former defence secretary, shares those concerns, having been one of 86 MPs to sign a letter warning against state-backed rules. He spoke out during Wednesday’s PMQs, saying that statutory rules would undermine a free press.
The other side of the Tory debate is being led by George Eustice, the backbencher and Cameron’s former head of press. In a post for the ConservativeHome website, Eustice advocates an independent adjudicator with incentives for papers to join:
Anyone who participated in a new adjudicator with teeth would, in return, be given legal protection against exemplary fines in the courts for defamation or for breaches of privacy… There is just one problem: you would need some form of statute to create these protections for the press. But would such a statute really mean the end of the free world as some in the press seem to be claiming? I just don’t buy the argument that it would.
Among Liberal Democrats, there is more unity. Nick Clegg seems attracted to the idea of legislating for a new regulator. Aides deny this is an illiberal position, saying that it is not liberal to allow powerful interests to dominate any area of public life. Simon Hughes, his deputy, appeared to contradict that position earlier in the week, telling ITV: “I’m not for having a statutory system but I am for having a system that says look there will be a fall-back.” Hughes later insisted however that there was not “a cigarette paper” between his position and that of the deputy prime minister.
John Hemming, the backbench MP however, has been somewhat bolder in his opposition to the leadership. He told the FT this week: “Nick Clegg has made a mistake in nailing his colours to the Leveson mast without knowing which way the ship is sailing.”
Labour was the party that pushed most heavily for an independent inquiry into press ethics in the first place – Ed Miliband made it a defining moment in his leadership. Tom Watson and Chris Bryant, two of the MPs most active in uncovering the phone hacking affair, have joined the Labour leader in pushing for much tighter controls of the press, as has John Prescott, the former deputy prime minister.
But not everyone on the Labour benches agrees. David Blunkett, the former home secretary, told Radio 4’s Week in Westminsterthis week he favoured an overhaul of the PCC rather than new laws. This triggered a spat with Prescott, who tweeted on Wednesday: “David Blunkett has done more money deals with Murdoch newspapers than any other politician. He still appears to be doing their bidding”.
But Blunkett is not alone. He is backed in this morning’s Sun by Alan Johnson, the former home secretary, and Alistair Darling, the former chancellor. The latter writes: “I don’t think any attempt to license or approve newspapers is the way to go.”
11:46: The FT’s Helen Warrell writes from parliament:
The prime minister’s official spokesperson has confirmed that David Cameron will make his statement in the commons at 3pm and then take questions, before Nick Clegg then makes his own separate response to the inquiry around 4.15pm. When challenged about this unprecedented situation, the spokesperson would only say: “We haven’t had a coalition government for quite some time and we expect things to be done differently in a coalition government.”
The spokesman also stressed the length of the report, saying “there’s a lot to work through”.
While there is no guidance on the nature or content of Cameron’s statement, it seems likely given the length of the report that he and other ministers might need more time to formulate a thorough government response – not least given the differing opinions between Tories and Lib Dems.
Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson have appeared in court today, the FT’s Jane Croft reports. The former chief executive of News International and the former editor of the News of the World (and Cameron’s former communications director) face allegations of conspiring to commit misconduct in public office. Mr Coulson and Ms Brooks already face separate allegations relating to phone hacking, with Ms Brooks facing further charges of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
11:25: We’ll be watching the share prices of the listed British newspaper owners throughout the day to see if the report – and response from the government – is moving the market. So far there is no clear direction with Trinity Mirror down 3.4 per cent, Daily Mail and General Trust up 1.6 per cent and Johnston Press, the local and regional newspaper group, rising 1 per cent as the wider market edges up 0.8 per cent. Shares in News Corp, which is listed in New York, won’t start trading for a few hours.
11.00: Our story on the splits at the heart of the coalition over how to respond to the report is here.
If the government does decide to enforce statutory rules, it seems it will face a mutiny from certain sections of the press.
In a powerful editorial entitled “Why we won’t sign”, The Spectator says it will simply ignore any statutory system of rules:
Statutory regulation of the press would achieve very little – save to crush an ancient liberty that has survived every one of [Cameron's] predecessors. The Spectator would have no part in it.
The magazine points out in detail what it will and won’t do:
If the press agrees a new form of self-regulation, perhaps contractually binding this time, we will happily take part. But we would not sign up to anything enforced by government. If such a group is constituted we will not attend its meetings, pay its fines nor heed its menaces. We would still obey the (other) laws of the land. But to join any scheme which subordinates press to parliament would be a betrayal of what this paper has stood for since its inception in 1828.
The response gets to the heart of a problem with any set of press rules – what happens if a title ignores it and carries on publishing anyway? This happens at the moment, with the Express choosing not to adhere to the Press Complaints Commission code. Even if a new watchdog has the power to fine publications, what can it do if that publication simply refuses to pay?
10:35: The public have been opening their newspapers (and logging on to online publications) this week to find pages and pages of Leveson coverage before the report has even been published. But while the media and politicians spar over the best system of regulation, surveys of public opinion have come up with very different answers. This is because what the public think depends on how you ask them, according to Peter Kellner, president of the polling agency YouGov.
What is going on? Four in five voters want ‘an independent body established by law’ to regulate journalism – but only 24 per cent want ‘ a regulatory body set up through law by parliament, with rules agreed by MPs’. How do we reconcile these two apparently contradictory findings, given that they amount in practice to the same proposal?
The public like the words “independent” and “law” but their lack of trust in politicians means they don’t like the idea of “parliament” and “MPs” regulating the press.
Ideally, we would like a new law to force the media to behave better – but don’t want MPs making that law. The trouble with that, of course, is that law-making is the central function of MPs. More than anything else, that is what we elect them to do. The reason for the apparent inconsistencies in our attitudes to press regulation flow from our distrust in politicians as a breed, which rivals the distrust that most of us have towards the press.
Kellner comes up with five points which he thinks summarises what the public want:
1. Get rid of the current system of self-regulation
2. Create a system which deters journalists from not only breaking the law, but also unreasonable intrusion and inaccurate or distorted reporting
3. The system should be independent of editors and MPs, and with the power to impose large fines
4. Redress must be quick and easy
5. The rights of newspapers to investigate and expose powerful people must be protected
10:15: The news Clegg is making a separate statement implies the prime minister has a pretty firm opinion on what should happen. When Cameron appeared at the inquiry he made it clear he was looking for a system of regulation which would satisfy victims like the family of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler or the parents of missing child Madeleine McCann. But he has also said new regulation must be proportionate, promising “no heavy-handed state intervention”. One thing is clear: something will change, as he said last month: “The status quo is not an option”.
10:10: Both the BBC and Sky are reporting that Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, will make a Commons statement after David Cameron’s this afternoon. He wants the chance to put the Liberal Democrat case as it differs to that of the prime minister. This is an unprecedented step, which shows a deep divide in opinion within the coalition.
So far, the Lib Dems have been keener for statutory regulation that the prime minister, so the fact that they cannot agree a common position suggests Cameron is unlikely to back such a course, whatever the report says.
9:54: What’s ahead today?
10am Coincidentally, Rebekah Brooks, the former News International chief executive, and Andy Coulson, former News of the World editor and Cameron’s former director of communications, are due in court this morning to face charges linked to alleged bribery of public officials. Photographers are lining up outside Westminster magistrate’s court, the FT’s Jane Croft reports, but Brooks and Coulson are only there to confirm their names.
12.30pm The Media Reform Coalition, the campaign group Avaaz and the National Union of Journalists will be lobbying MPs in parliament.
1.30pm Lord Leveson will make a statement as the report is published. Journalists will have been in a lock-in reading the report and producing their stories for a couple of hours beforehand.
3pm Cameron will make a statement to parliament, perhaps followed by Nick Clegg if the coalition partners cannot reach an agreement. Ed Miliband, Labour leader, who was due to receive the report at 8am, will respond.
4pm The Hacked Off campaign, which represents some of the victims of phone-hacking, will hold a press conference giving their take on the report.
9:45: With four hours to go until we can reveal the contents of the report, here is a reading list of the most important and noteworthy comment pieces from the other papers.
The Sun, possibly realising that it might not be viewed as the most impartial of commentators on the issue of press freedom, chooses to launch its defence of self-regulation via a handful of politicians and celebrities. The biggest slot is reserved for Boris Johnson, the London mayor, who warns: “To pass a law controlling the media would be to go back on three centuries of press freedom.”
The Sun’s tabloid rival, The Mirror, by contrast, carries a punchy piece by its own editor, Lloyd Embley, in which he urges David Cameron to “follow his rational belief that Britain’s democracy deserves not parliamentary regulation for its newspapers, but a truly free press”.
The Guardian, whose investigation into phone hacking provided the initial trigger for the inquiry, has a piece by Emily Bell, its former digital chief, who points out that any changes to regulation of the printed word will quickly be largely irrelevant in a digital age. She writes: “To put ‘the internet’ within the scope of Leveson would be as daft as it would be futile, and to regulate the press further, without having a broader definition of who ‘the press’ might be, is a recipe for irrelevance.”
Although he doesn’t have a column in any of today’s papers, it is worth also noting the views of Brian Cathcart, the journalism professor who campaigned for the Leveson inquiry and wants to see the press much more tightly controlled. In a piece three days ago for CNN, he wrote: “We journalists are the first to demand this kind of remedy in any other walk of life where ethics have broken down, be it banking or policing or medical practice. We must be ready to take the medicine we dish out to others, not least because it can and should make us better.”
9.20am: Lord Justice Leveson will publish his report into the culture, practice and ethics of the press at 1.30pm on Thursday, setting out his recommendations on how journalism should be regulated after the phone-hacking scandal.
The hefty 2,000 page-long report landed on the prime minister’s desk on Wednesday and he has been busy negotiating the government’s response which he is due to set out later in the afternoon.
Coming up with an answer will not be easy: David Cameron faces a divided Conservative party, a Liberal Democrat coalition partner threatening to make their own speech to parliament and a host of national newspapers who have made their opposition to statutory regulation very clear.
David Cameron and Nick Clegg, deputy prime minister and Lib Dem leader, will meet this morning for their second round of negotiations on how to respond to Lord Justice Leveson’s report. They spent 40 minutes last night trying to find common ground in discussions Downing Street officials have admitted could split the coalition, as the FT’s George Parker and Robert Budden report in this morning’s paper.
Also this morning, John Gapper writes we are at a “vital, scary moment in British constitutional history”, warning that if Mr Cameron mishandles the decision, the UK could return to the days before 1694, when state licensing of the press was abolished. He concludes regulation should be voluntary, combined with public interest defences and monitored by judges rather than politicians.
In his notebook, Robert Shrimsley takes a look at what Sherlock Holmes may think of the fuss surrounding the Leveson report, and how little has been said about the role of the police.