Cameron urged to ignore press victims as Leveson reports

Nov 29, 2012

Peter Lilley warns PM not to introduce statutory press regulation just because newspaper victims want it

LORD LEVESON finally publishes his report into press culture, practice and ethics today after an inquiry lasting more than 16 months. Already seen by the Prime Minister, the 2,000-page report goes public at 1.30pm.

Leveson is revealing his findings amid deeply divided opinion over whether the press should face statutory controls or continue to self-regulate. Many believe that Leveson will recommend some sort of state control, though the contents of his report are still unknown.

Here are the latest developments as British newspaper editors await their fate:

  • Senior Conservative Peter Lilley, a former Trade Secretary, has urged David Cameron not to bow to pressure from press victims to introduce statutory controls, The Daily Telegraph reports. Saying he had "infinite sympathy" for the parents of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, whose voicemail was hacked by the News of the World, Lilley said nevertheless it was "wrong in principle" for people like them to have a say on the future of the press. He said he has suffered press "harassment and nastiness" himself in the 1990s but still supported a free press.
  • The Guardian reports the "threat of a coalition split" over the response to Leveson. Tories in the cabinet have accused their Lib Dem partners of playing a dangerous game in apparently backing state regulation before the report is published. Many senior Tories, including Michael Gove, William Hague and Prime Minister David Cameron, are against state regulation. Cameron would be happy to set up a new voluntary body to regulate newspapers, keeping legislation as a last resort if it fails. As a result, Clegg is expected to make his own statement to the Commons following Cameron's – as the Mole predicted 24 hours ago.
  • Conservative magazine The Spectator has broken ranks, announcing in a leader that it will "have no part" in any government-enforced group to regulate the press, adding "we will not attend its meetings, pay its fines nor heed its menaces". Editor Fraser Nelson is prepared to go to jail for the cause. If, on the other hand, the press agrees a new form of self-regulation, perhaps contractually binding this time, The Spectator "will happily take part".
  • The Daily Mail, which has campaigned in recent weeks against implementation of Lord Leveson's recommendations, reports "doubts" over a poll conducted by YouGov which suggested 79 per cent of the public would like the state to regulate the press. The paper pointing out that another YouGov poll conducted weeks earlier produced an almost exactly opposite result when the question was worded slightly differently. The 79 per cent figure has been heavily touted by actor Hugh Grant, who is campaigning for statutory regulation.
  • The founding editor of The Independent, Andreas Whittam-Smith, has used the pages of his old paper to propose a "third way" for David Cameron: the creation of "a privacy law with a public interest defence". Such legislation would not let government figures stifle the free press but it would give the victims of intrusion – such as Milly Dowler's parents – some redress, and might give journalists pause before they embark on unethical behaviour like phone hacking.
  • By coincidence, Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, two of the figures central to the Leveson inquiry because of their alleged roles in phone hacking at the News of the World, are in court in London today. They are among five people charged with conspiracy to pay public officials for information including royal phone contacts. Brooks is a former Sun editor who became chief executive of Rupert Murdoch's News International. Coulson is a former News of the World editor who went on to become David Cameron's communications director. Both resigned from these jobs at the peak of the phone-hacking scandal.

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Phone hacking is not only unethical but illegal & that did not give a significant number 'pause for thought'

Lilley is absolutely right. It is important to consider the harm done to victims but decisions must be made dispassionately.