The Hacked Off campaign welcomes the Prime Minister’s statement this morning, promising two inquiries following the News of the World phone hacking revelations, in addition to the ongoing criminal investigation by the police.
But we are concerned about the relationship between the inquiries, the speed with which a full inquiry will be conducted, and the potential gaps between the three investigations. There is still a risk that fundamental questions about the affair – as to whose phones were hacked, who authorized it, how long it went on, which newspapers did it, and the relationship between the press, the police and politicians – may never be answered.
The Prime Minister committed to starting an inquiry into media standards ‘straightaway’. Led by a panel of respected figures, it will focus on the ‘culture, practices, and ethics’ of press. The campaign agrees with the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition when they say the Press Complaints Commission has failed, and that we need to rethink entirely the system of self-regulation from the ground up.
The Prime Minister also committed to a second, judge-led inquiry into the ‘illegal and utterly unacceptable practices taking place at the News of the World – and possibly elsewhere’, with witnesses giving evidence under oath.
The Hacked Off campaign welcomes these commitments but will:
- Press for the judge-led inquiry into phone hacking and other illegal methods of intrusion to be set up and start work without delay. ‘We see no legal requirement’, said Dr Evan Harris, a member of the advisory committee to the campaign, ‘for this to wait until after police enquiries and that to do so could damage its ability to get to the truth.’
- Seek to ensure that the composition of the inquiry into the culture, practices, and ethics is properly representative and can therefore make the strongest possible case for a new and effective system of press regulation, without assuming that it will be statutory or non-statutory
- Push for broad but clear terms of reference for both inquiries, such that the full story of the phone hacking scandal is made public, and that such practices are never allowed to recur. The inquiries must not limit themselves to the behaviour of the press or the police – they must include a careful examination of the relationships between the press and the police and the press and politicians.
The Hacked Off campaign is committed to ensuring that the inquiries have full powers to establish:
- The extent of the use of illegal information-gathering methods by the press, directly and through intermediaries;
- The conduct of the Metropolitan Police Service in investigating these matters, and its relations with the press;
- The communication between press and politicians in relation to these matters;
- The conduct of the Press Complaints Commission and of the Information Commissioner, and of other relevant parties such as mobile telephone companies;
- The lessons to be learned from these events and actions to be taken to ensure they are not repeated.
Martin Moore, Director of the Media Standards Trust which is coordinating the Hacked Off campaign, said: ‘The PM’s commitments are a great step forward but still leave plenty of wiggle room, particularly on the extent of the full inquiry. Hacked Off will continue to focus on getting the right inquiries, on the right terms, in the right time frame.’