David Cameron is currently leading a debate in the Commons over the deal struck late last night to regulate the press with a Royal Charter. That debate has so far been characterised by a great deal of backslapping by all three party leaders, to the extent that Nick Clegg joked:
If all three parties behave like this after the general election, they’ll have problems fitting us all into Downing Street.
He had a slightly tougher time however when trying to explain the measures to the parliamentary Tory party, which met before the debate started. Read more
Since Thursday, the manoeuvrings over press regulation have taken increasingly more surreal turns.
First we had the prime minister abruptly calling off the talks, citing irreconcilable differences with Labour and the Lib Dems. Clegg and Miliband were only given a couple of hours’ notice about the announcement, journalists were given 30 minutes.
After that, it looked like the prime minister was heading for inevitable defeat in a vote today on the Lib-Lab proposals for a Royal Charter backed by statute. His aides seemed to recognise such, saying that the prime minister would promise to repeal such a law if there was a Tory majority in 2015. Read more
A few weeks ago over a long lunch, a senior Tory warned that Cameron was going to end up cornered over press reform after Lord Puttnam rather unhelpfully decided to add Leveson-friendly amendments into the defamation bill.
The person said the amendment to introduce a cheap arbitration service between newspapers and the public meant that Leveson could end up being “put into law through the back door”. He added:
It is going to cause Cameron a huge problem when the bill comes back to the Commons.
Two text message exchanges stand out from this morning’s Leveson testimony by Jeremy Hunt, both sent on the day we found out that Vince Cable had told undercover reporters he had “declared war on Murdoch”.
The first was one sent by the culture secretary to James Murdoch. Referring to the European Commission’s decision to let the News Corp’s bid for BSkyB proceed, Hunt texted Murdoch:
Congrats on Brussels. Only Ofcom to go.
In the light of what we learned yesterday about Jeremy Hunt’s strong views that the News Corp bid for BSkyB should go ahead, it is interesting to read these guidelines from the Competition Commission on the standards to which their staff should be held.
The Competition Commission, was of course, one of the bodies that could have ended up examining the bid, just as Hunt was when he was asked to make a “quasi-judicial” judgement on whether it should go ahead.
The CC tells its staff (emphasis mine):
There may be instances where a CC member or staff member has or appears to have prejudged the outcome of an inquiry. Circumstances in which prejudgement might arise would include those in which an article had been written or speech made expressing strong views about a particular merger or market.
The highlight of this afternoon’s evidence by Adam Smith, the former adviser to Jeremy Hunt, was the publication of a memo sent by the culture secretary to the PM before he gained responsibility for the decision on whether to let it proceed.
Here is what Hunt wrote, with what we think of as the important bits in bold (h/t to the Guardian, which put this on its website):
James Murdoch is pretty furious at Vince’s referral to Ofcom. He doesn’t think he will get a fair hearing from Ofcom. I am privately concerned about this because News Corp are very litigious and we could end up in the wrong place in terms of media policy. Essentially what James Murdoch wants to do is to repeat what his father did with the move to Wapping and create the world’s first multiplatform media operator available from paper to web to TV to iPhone to iPad. Isn’t this what all media companies have to do ultimately? And if so we must be very careful that any attempt to block it is done on plurality grounds and not as a result of lobbying by competitors.
The UK has the chance to lead the way on this as we did in the 80s with the Wapping move but if we block it our media sector will suffer for years. In the end I am sure sensible controls can be put into any merger to ensure there is plurality but I think it would be totally wrong to cave into the Mark Thompson/Channel 4/Guardian line that this represents a substantial change of control given that we all know Sky is controlled by News Corp now anyway.
REUTERS/POOL via Reuters TV
Welcome to our live coverage of the Leveson Inquiry into the standards and ethics of the UK press, on the second day when Rupert Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News Corp, gave evidence.
By Esther Bintliff, Salamander Davoudi and Tim Bradshaw in London, with contributions from FT correspondents. All times London time.
NB: We refer to Rupert Murdoch as Rupert throughout for speed and to avoid confusion with his son James. Jay is Robert Jay QC, who is questioning Rupert.
16.45 What were the most interesting things that Rupert said today? Here’s a selection of three key moments. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
- “The News of the World, quite honestly, was an aberration, and it’s my fault”. Rupert said this in the context of defending his other newspapers and their integrity, thus characterising the NOTW as a sort of rogue newspaper – just as he once relied on the “rogue reporter” argument. However, it’s also noticeable that he appeared to take responsibility – “it’s my fault”. He would later say he was “sorry he didn’t close [the NOTW] years before”.
- “I think the senior executives were all informed, and I — were all misinformed and shielded from anything that was going on there, and I do blame one or two people for that, who perhaps I shouldn’t name, because for all I know they may be arrested yet, but there’s no question in my mind that maybe even the editor, but certainly beyond that someone took charge of a cover-up, which we were victim to…” This is where Rupert effectively accuses “one or two” people at the News of the World of organising a cover-up of the extent of phonehacking at the newspaper.
- “It’s a common thing in life, way beyond journalism, for people to say, ‘I’ll scratch your back if you scratch my back’”. It was as if Rupert momentarily let the veil fall when he made this offhand comment, giving a sense into what his critics might say is ‘the real Rupert’. Robert Jay QC was quick to jump on the remark, saying: “You said it was a common thing in life… and that’s true, that’s human nature, but it’s interesting that you say that’s no part of the implied deal in your relations with politicians over 30 years, Mr Murdoch. Is that right?” Rupert saw the trap and took evasive action: “I don’t ask any politician to scratch my back… That’s a nice twist, but no, I’m not falling for it.”