Like their newspapers, “representatives of the press industry” apparently negotiating with Conservative ministers over Leveson cannot shed their old habits of inaccuracy, distortion and unreliability. The statement is misleading and disingenuous, concealing the true position – that the press want to water down Leveson – behind the rhetoric of press freedom
The statement was put out yesterday by a group of “representatives of the press industry” welcoming the Prime Minister’s decision to break off the cross party Leveson talks. The group consisted of Paul Ashford, editorial director at Northern and Shell; Lord (Guy) Black, chairman of the Press Standards Board of Finance; Tim Blott, president of the Scottish Newspaper Society; Paul Dacre of Daily Mail Group; Barry McIlheney, chief executive of the Professional Publishers’ Association; Murdoch MacLennan, chief executive of the Telegraph Media Group; David Newell, director of the Newspaper Society; and John Witherow of News International. These are representatives of the newspaper groups that unjustly attacked the McCanns and Christopher Jeffries, that hacked telephones and abused hundreds of ordinary members of the public. They appear to have learned nothing.
The statement needs to be analysed paragraph by paragraph.
We share the Prime Minister’s frustration at the way in which talks about the future of press regulation have broken down and legislation has been hijacked.
The talks did not break down – the Conservative ministers were ordered to walk out by David Cameron. This was done at short notice, at just when the talks seemed to be making progress.
The Prime Minister is right to reject statutory regulation of the press- free of political control for 300 years – as fundamentally wrong in principle and unworkable in practice.
Nobody has suggested statutory regulation of the press and the Prime Minister did not reject it. This did not form part of any cross-party talks.
The industry has spent many weeks in negotiating a new independent system of self regulation, based on the Leveson principles, which provides GBP1 million fines and the toughest system of regulation in the western world.
This paragraph is very revealing. The talks were supposed to be cross-party about implementing Leveson. The press were not a “negotiating party”. The Liberal Democrats and the Labour did not negotiate with them. No minutes of meetings or public statements have been made but this paragraph confirms that Conservative ministers and the press were “negotiating” over Leveson. There are no “Leveson principles” to discuss – only a set of clear recommendations. The press was using private negotiations with Conservative ministers (which were themselves contrary to Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations on transparency) to water down the recommendations.
We have made major concessions in order to reach agreement, although there are elements of the proposed reforms – such as exemplary damages -to which we remain opposed. However, this need not stop a new regulator being put in place.
When the press refer to “concession”, they mean that they have agreed to accept what Lord Justice Leveson recommended. Nobody has asked them to go any further. This paragraph makes it clear that the press have refused to accept a key Leveson recommendation – on exemplary damages. The statement does not make it clear that the press had refused to accept other key Leveson recommendations – on independence of the Chair and the Board of the regulator, direction of the placement of apologies and the writing of the Standards Code. At the request of the press, the Conservative Ministers had removed these recommendations from the Royal Charter. The negotiations – which David Cameron brought to an end – were about restoring these recommendations.
We agree with the Prime Minister that matters cannot be allowed to drift on and that we need now to deliver real change. The UK’s newspaper and magazine publishing industry will rise to the challenge. We are ready to move with speed to establish a new system of tough, independent, effective self-regulation which delivers fully on the Leveson principles and will provide real protection for members of the public. We will aim to get the new regulator up and running as soon as possible.
There is, of course, nothing to prevent the press from moving ahead with the establishment of a new, Leveson compliant, regulator. The only barrier to progress is their own insistence on watering down key recommendations. It has been said, for many months, that the press aim to get the new regulator up and running as soon as possible but they have not published any details and there are no public signs of progress.