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.