Will David Cameron refuse to toe Lord Leveson's line?

Nov 25, 2012

The PM must decide this week how to regulate newspapers when media ethics inquiry reports findings

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DAVID CAMERON faces a tough decision this week with Lord Leveson revealing the findings of his inquiry into media ethics on Thursday. Most commentators expect the judge to recommend state regulation of the press but the newspapers are confident - or perhaps hopeful - that the PM will not back his proposals.

The Mail on Sunday reports that Cameron will place himself on a "collision course" with the majority of MPs, who are expected to favour government regulation, by refusing to create new legislation and instead proposing a beefed-up voluntary press watchdog.

The paper says ignoring a call from Leveson for new laws to control the press will be a "bold move" for Cameron in the face of public outrage over the hacking of child murder victim Milly Dowler's voicemail. And it will set him against the celebrity supporters of Hacked Off, the campaign group fronted by Steve Coogan, Hugh Grant, Charlotte Church and others.

According to Martin Ivens, writing in The Sunday Times, the PM does not want to go down in history as "the man who turned the clock back by licensing newspapers" and is fearful of losing the support of influential newspaper editors.

The solution? "Houdini Dave" has an escape plan and will be free "in one bound" by introducing a single-line bill which threatens the press with future legislation if any editor fails to sign up to a new voluntary regulatory body or breaks his promise to abide by its rulings, says Ivens.

As the Mail suggests, the PM will use the argument that imposing state regulation will simply take too long - perhaps years - while setting up a new system of self-regulation for newspapers could be achieved within months.

And there are Conservatives who will back Cameron if he refuses to introduce legislation. Tory minister and Cameron ally Nick Boles, who was embarrassed earlier this year by press reports that he had misused his parliamentary expenses, now says that state regulation would be "totally uncalled for". He told a friend: "Fleet Street should remain red in tooth and claw, even if I bear one or two claw marks."

Education secretary Michael Gove has previously described the idea of state regulation as "chilling" while London mayor Boris Johnson has urged the government not to end "300 years" of press freedom.

The Observer reports on the reaction from abroad to the possibility that the mother of parliaments may impose state control of the press, revealing that the World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC) has written to Foreign Secretary William Hague to warn him against such measures.

The WPFC said introducing legislation would send an "appalling message" to the world's less free countries, where repressive governments would be able to justify their own censorship by the UK's example.

The WPFC's European representative said such measures would send a chill "through the world's media – matched by a warm glow in the ministries of some of the most illiberal regimes".

Foreign Secretary William Hague, speaking on BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show today, said he and his cabinet colleagues needed to read the Leveson report before reacting to it – but admitted he would always "err on the side of press freedom" regarding the spectre of statutory controls.

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