Whittingdale and the story no paper will publish: Vital questions must be answered

This was not issued as a press release; it was created as a blog.

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, and his Culture Secretary, John Whittingdale, have vital questions to answer following the publication of James Cusick’s article on the Byline and OpenDemocracy websites entitled ‘The Real Whittingdale Scandal: Cover-Up by the Press’.

This detailed report by a respected journalist suggests that Mr Whittingdale, the Cabinet minister responsible for media policy, was potentially exposed to improper pressure from newspaper companies which had it in their power to embarrass him or worse.

This is the minister who last autumn delighted those newspaper companies by suddenly reversing government policy on press regulation, a step which meant robbing the public of the remedies for media wrongdoing recommended in the Leveson Report and approved by Parliament.

Mr Cusick now reports that some of this country’s biggest newspaper groups have long been in possession of information about Mr Whittingdale’s private life which, if they had published it, would inevitably have exposed him to criticism, ridicule and calls for resignation.

Their lawyers will have told them that they had sound public interest justifications for publication, so, knowing their record and their stated views, it is most unlikely that they withheld this information from their readers out of respect for Mr Whittingdale’s privacy.

As Mr Cusick makes clear, this is not a trivial story about a minister’s private life, nor can it be dismissed as a private matter. It is about the power relationship between the press and a leading politician and it raises questions of vital public importance about who is really determining government policy in relation not only to the press but also to the BBC.

This is especially significant given last week’s open letter to the Prime Minister from victims of press abuse protesting at his government’s failure to honour his promises to them and the country in relation to the implementation of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 and to the delivery of Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry. Mr Whittingdale is the minister at the heart of these matters.

Chief among the questions now requiring answers are:

–        Was Mr Whittingdale aware that the People, the Sun, the Mail on Sunday and the Independent, and possibly other papers, were investigating or had investigated his private life?

–     Were these investigations ever discussed or alluded to in his meetings, formal or social, with newspaper editors, executives and proprietors?

–        Was Mr Whittingdale given any indication by newspaper representatives as to why they chose not to publish the story?

–        Did Mr Cameron know, at the time he gave Mr Whittingdale responsibility for government policy towards the media, that national newspapers were in possession of potentially embarrassing or damaging information about him?

Until convincing answers to these questions are provided, the public can have no confidence that the Culture Secretary, in his decisions relating to the press, has been acting in their interests rather than those of the large newspaper corporations.

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Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Anna Gristreply
April 10, 2016 at 9:53 pm

I’ve just read the article to which this refers, in horror and shock. I hadn’t realised our politicians were so closely related to their Russian counterparts!

Calvin Mathiasreply
April 10, 2016 at 11:17 pm

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, and his Culture Secretary, John Whittingdale should answer all the question raised in this article and if they have, in any way been, been influenced by pressure from the press they should certainly consider their positions.

Mike McNuttreply
April 11, 2016 at 1:19 am

The issue is simple, did the media sit on the blackmail story, as a tool to control the man responsible for oversight of their activities? Was the media ‘Cunning Plan’ to blackmail that same person as a means off control? Of course they did, wake up!

John Lewisreply
April 11, 2016 at 7:22 am

It isn’t just Mr Whittingdale that has to give answers. The editors of the newspapers you mention also need to be called to account for their knowledge of the story, their reasons for suppressing it and details of any contact that had with Whittingdale related to the story. Editors of national newspapers should not be influenced by Ministers and should be seen not to be. The suspicion that they have been influenced undermines the reputation of the press.

Kevin Royreply
April 11, 2016 at 10:01 am

The press are laughing in the face of the public. They know with this Culture Secretary in place they have a stranglehold on this Governments policy. This needs massive exposure or else nothing will change and the press can continue with business as usual.

Moyra Pascoereply
April 11, 2016 at 10:10 am

The really sad thing about this story is that it doesn’t surprise me!

Select Committee MUST address this.

John Dakinreply
April 11, 2016 at 1:16 pm

This is shocking; this man has a dismal record as Culture Secretary, and the suppression of this scandal is shameful. Why on earth did the Independent suppress the story?

April 11, 2016 at 5:14 pm

So when the press bleat about Leveson and the Royal Charter, they wrongly argue that it will permit politicians to interfere with the press… but isn’t that precisely what’s going on here? The press is presumably happy to allow interference when it works in their favour…delaying the Royal Charter, kicking Leveson Pt2 into the long grass, emasculating the BBC?

The trading of favours between editors and politicians was exposed and condemned during the Leveson Inquiry. In 2011, David Cameron said “The relationship between politicians and the media must change.” Presumably he meant change for the better though…?

April 12, 2016 at 9:34 am

Sounds like a case for not only transaparency concerning earnings and tax paid or not paid, but for clarity of life background that could be used for improper purposes?

April 13, 2016 at 9:29 pm

Thought Hacked Off was about suppressing press freedom to investigate people’s private lives? Or does this not apply to Conservatives?

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