Live Blog: The Leveson Report

By Media Reform Coalition / Thursday November 29, 2012 Read More
Today the Media Reform Coalition is in Parliament to lobby our MPs and to watch Lord Justice Leveson deliver his report into press standards and ethics. We’re going to be live blogging both the report and the media and political reaction to it as the day goes on. We hope you’ll join us to watch this important moment unfold. THIS LIVE BLOG IS NOW CONCLUDED – THANKS FOR READING 16:36 We’re close to being kicked out of our committee room now, and the Parliamentary debate on Leveson is over. But the public debate is only beginning. Not only are we dealing with a minority government, but one divided in itself – and so there is no guarantee that Cameron will be able to push his perspective through. From this point forward it’s up to us and to you to make sure we get real, independent regulation backed by statute – with a conscience clause, a public interest defence, and all the safeguards that can ensure a plural media working in the public interest. Thank you to everyone reading today, and to everyone with us at Parliament – whether in person or in spirit. * 16:34 Alex Wilks of Avaaz says it looks like Cameron simply hasn’t got the numbers to form a Parliamentary majority against statutory backing. It looks as if he’ll be facing not only Labour but also the Lib Dems and elements of his own party if he tries to delay or block such a measure. But Donnacha DeLong, ex of the NUJ, says that there has been unprecedented support for the introduction of a conscience clause  – and that’s a huge change. Des Freedman says the job of Media Reform is now to put as much pressure on MPs as possible to take Leveson seriously. * 16:27 Harriet Harman gives her novel twist on the now very tired ‘last chance saloon’, asking the Prime Minister to reassure the Commons that the press won’t be allowed “another lock-in” there. But her response sums up the mood in our committee room at Parliament. This can’t be kicked into the long grass now, she says – the government needs to take this seriously. But what’s next for us? * 16:25 From our Twitter stream: * 16:22 Big news. Clegg believes the new regulator needs legal backing. He says:

“Changing the law is the only way to give us all assurance that the new regulator isn’t just independent for a few months or years but is independent for good.

“Someone will need to check, periodically, that the independence of the regulator hasn’t been weakened over time and the report explains why that needs to be ste out in law. as Lord Justice himself explains this is not and cannot be characterised as statutory regulation of the press…it is not illiberal state regulation.

“We mustn’t now prevaricate…we owe it to the victims of these scandals who have already waited too long…for an independent press watchdog in which they can put their trust.”

He points to Ireland as an example, saying that the Sun, the Daily Mail and the Times all publish there without issues. * 16:19 Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, begins a rare second government statement. He thanks Leveson for an “extremely thorough” report and praises the extent of the cross-party agreement on the issue. Then he warns:

“It is for us to strike a better balance between two media princiuples, so that our media can scrutinise the powers that be but cannot destroy innocent lives – so that the journalists in the press gallery can hold us to account, but so that we can look up to the individuals in the public gallery knowing they are protected.”

“I have always said I will support the recommendations of the Leveson report if they are proportionate and workable.”

To be brief, he thinks they are. * 16:14 We’re all waiting for Clegg to speak now. On the floor of the Commons it’s gotten to that phase where MPs begin using whatever the issue of the day happens to be to score points against each other and each other’s parties. °Last but never forgotten, Jason Rees-Mogg,” announces the Speaker. They’re all having a lot of fun, in odd contrast to earlier and more sober discussions of the Dowlers, McCanns, etc. * 16:11 Nick Clegg is conspicuous by his absence in this debate, and it may be that he is still preparing what  he’s going to say. We are hearing that his speech is expected at 16:15. * 16:09 Media Reform’s Deborah Grayson asks: * 16:06 Questions from backbench MPs get to the root of Conservative worries: statutory underpinning opens a “back door” to full scale statutory regulation. * 16:05 From the Leveson Report:

“The story about Mr Jefferies is a prime example of why the elision of the public interest with what interests the public is dangerous. It may well interest the public to read private, scandalous and defamatory material about a suspect to a murder, but it is clearly not in the wider public interest for newspapers to act in contempt of court, let alone erroneously to destroy a man’s reputation.”

* 16:02 Stephen Fry adds his contribution. * 15:58 Barry Gardiner, Labour MP for Brent North, says that since Leveson’s report does not appear to be “bonkers”, shouldn’t Cameron be implementing it? Cameron protests that MPs would be abandoning their duty i they just “waved through the change”. * 15:55 Cameron tells the Commons that MPs should not “obsess” about statutory underpinning. Conor Burns, Conservative MP for Bournemouth West, Alderney and Branksome East, asks if we should let Lord Hunt and Lord Black implement their proposals without statute, but the PM says:

“It is not good enough. We need more changes. The public want more changes. The victims want more changes … [but] there is nothing to stop them getting on with that straight away.

I am proud of the fact that we have managed to last for hundreds of years without statutory regulation. If we can continue with that, we should.”

A rather mixed message. * 15:41 Prodded on by angry questions from his back bench, Cameron is co-opting the session to demand an apology from Labour for its ‘conspiratorial’ criticism of Jeremy Hunt, who Leveson appears to have exonerated. * 15:39 It’s getting very heated in the House of Commons, with references to the history and past statements of individual MPs being flung back and forth against a background of cheering and jeering. Liberal Democrat MP puns: “Leveson doesn’t ask us to cross a Rubicon – not even a brook.” Cheeky. * 15:35 John Wittingdale, chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, says Parliament must not agree to underpin the new regulatory regime with a law unless it is absolutely clear that it cannot function without a law. But Deptford MP Joan Ruddock says: “This is not what the public expect of us. It would be a dereliction of our duty as politicians if we did not establish a legal framework.” * 15:32 The Lib Dems are revolting. Simon Hughes, of Bermondsey and Old Southwark, calls Cameron out on the fact that Leveson’s report calls statutory underpinning straight-up “essential.” Cameron responds once again with the “rubicon” argument. * 15:31 Cameron continues his line of what we consider to be alarmism.

“You find pretty soon, I would worry, that you have a piece of law that really is a piece of press regulatory law. That is an enormous step for us in this House of Commons to take and we have to think about it very carefully before we leap into that approach.”

A responsible government, he says, will think very carefully before implementing all of this. * 15:29 We’ve received a statement from Michelle Stanistreet of the NUJ.

“The NUJ has been campaigning for years for a conscience clause in contracts of employment and we are delighted that Lord Justice Leveson has listened to the voice of journalists.

“The NUJ will now do all it can to ensure that when journalists stand up for a principle of journalistic ethics they have a contractual protection against being dismissed.

“A journalist should always have the right to refuse assignments and no journalist should be disciplined or suffer detriment to their career for asserting his or her right to act ethically.

“The new independent self-regulatory body should ensure that journalists’ contracts include a conscience clause.

“The NUJ [also] welcomes Lord Justice Leveson’s support for a free press and independent regulation of the press – independent of both government and of the industry.

* 15:25 Having been given the buck by Lord Justice Leveson, Cameron passes it on to the press. We don’t need to wait for Parliament to implement these proposals, he says – the press can do it write now! * 15:21 In contrast to David Cameron, Miliband is raising the issue of media plurality – but goes little further than noting it exists.

He welcomes Cameron’s offer of cross-party talks, but demands they be talks on how to implement the Leveson Report – not whether we  can implement it.”

“We need a new system up and running by the end of this Parliament. And, he says, “by the end of htis year we should have an opportunity…for the whole house to endorse the proposals. We’ve had 70 years, 7 reports, which have gone nowhere. Now is the time to act.”

“The case is compelling. This is a once in a generation opportunity. There can be no more last chance saloons. We must act.”

* 15:20 To make the guarantee of independence real, says Miliband, we need statute. He says Leveson’s conclusions are “measured, reasonable and proportionate.”

“We support his proposal that the House should lay down in statute the role of Ofcom. And he agrees that the criteria any new regulatory body should meet should be set down in statue.” Only that will guarantee the change we need.

He says Leveson has done everything he can to listen to and accommodate the demands of the industry. “I believe that Lord Justice Leveson has genuinely listened to what the press has said.” * 15:17 Miliband: “It turns out there never was one rogue reporter.” Phone hacking and other abuses, he says, were endemic. Lord Justice Leveson concludes that these weren’t just ‘bad apples’. * 15:16 The Guardian’s Andrew Sparrow summarises Cameron’s speech:

“He says this has been the most thorough investigation into the press ever.

On the press and the police, he says Leveson found no basis to challenge the integrity of the policy. But he made various recommendations to address the allegation that their relationship with the press was too cosy. The government accepts those recommendations, he says.

He says the second stage of the Leveson inquiry, looking at the detail of the phone hacking case, is still due to go ahead. But it won’t go ahead until after the court cases.

On the relationship between the press and politicians, Cameron says he aid last year that politicians of all parties had got to close to the press. The report makes recomendations on this. The government accepts them.

The report also says there was no deal between the Conservatives and News International. Cameron says those who made that allegation, including Gordon Brown, should withdraw it.

The report also said that Jeremy Hunt handled the News Corporation bid for BSkyB properly and that he was not appointed with the intention of helping the bid go through. Cameron says he was right to stand by Hunt. Hunt has handled the affair with great dignity.

On the behaviour of the press generally, Cameron says the report says some parts of the press behaved recklessly, with disregard for privacy or accuracy.

The press are subject to privacy law and data law.

But there should be proper regulation too.

The PCC is not a regulator, nor is it “fit for purpose”.

Cameron says the government agrees with Leveson that the proposals put forward by the press do not “yet” far enough.

(That “yet” could be very important.)

Cameron summarises Leveson’s regulatory principles. He says he accepts them. He hopes the House will come behind them. The onus is now on the press to implement them.

Leveson suggests taking away some of the protection journalists enjoy under the Data Protection Act. Cameron says he is wary of this.

Leveson also recommends giving papers incentives to sign up to the new body. Cameron says he has ‘some serious concerns and misgivings” on this.

This would involve writing press regulation into the law of the land. “We should think very, very carefully before crossing this line,” he says.

On the practicalities, he says he thinks it could become too complicated. He cites page 1,172 in volume 4 as an example. Leveson’s proposals could be used in future by politicians to put conditions on the press.

He says that the wants to start cross-party talks on this.

But he wants the press to implement the Leveson principles. They should start that immediately, he says.

The system of press regulation is broken. A new system needs to be built.”

* 15:14 In short, Cameron wants to suspend the regulatory axe – using the threat of laws as a cudgel to persuade the press to get their act together (again). He’ll begin cross-party talks immediately after the conclusion of this session. Here goes Ed Miliband! * 15:13 BUT –  he has “serious concerns and misgivings” about any of these incentives whatsoever being statutory. He says: “We would have crossed the rubicon of writing elements of press legislation into the law of the land.” He echoes the free speech/free press line that editors have been toeing the past week. “The danger is that this would create a vehicle for politicians – today or in the future – to propose regulations or limitations on the press. I’m not convinced at this stage that statute is necessary to achieve the goals.” * 15:11 The Prime Minister says he is “instinctively concerned” about Leveson’s proposed changes to the Data Protection Act, and agrees that there need to be incentives and disincentives for participating or neglecting the new self-regulatory body. * 15:09 Cameron bigs up the Hunt-Black plan, saying he’s glad the press has come together to put them forward , but agrees with Leveson that “these proposals do not yet go far enough.” However, he portrays the Leveson report as self-regulation plus, calling on the press to get its act together. * 15:06 Cameron isn’t disowning Leveson’s conclusions yet. Indeed, he’s making an effort to set Leveson’s recommendations about openness and transparency in the context of government policies so far. But he emphasies Leveson’s affirmation that there was not “anything like a deal” between the Coalition government and News International. Hunt, he says, acted with probity. “We on this side of the house were right to stand by him.” Lots of ‘hear hear’. * 15:02 Cameron is summarising the report. Meanwhile, Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary and former culture secretary, has put out a statement responding to Leveson’s conclusions about his conduct.

“I welcome the fact the report states that not only was there no evidence of actual bias on my part in the handling of the BSkyB bid but that I put in place robust systems to ensure it would be handled with impartiality.

“However, I have always accepted lessons needed to be learned, in particular with respect to the role of special advisers, which is why guidance has since been issued.”

15:01 David Cameron is making his speech. He starts by paying tribute to Christopher Jeffries, the McCanns, the Dowlers, etc. * 14:58 Here is the news. The Sun have highlighted that the whole of Fleet Street was guilty of “recklessness”, not just itself. We fear the paper protests too much. The Daily Telegraph emphasises the rift this will create in the Coalition, while the Guardian says Leveson’s speech will reassure the public that real change is afoot. * 14:53 A lot of commentators have been saying the Leveson Report can’t recommend anything to deal with the internet press. We asked Donnacha DeLong, the ‘immediate past president’ of the NUJ (i.e. he was there last) how accurate this was.

“I hope that bigger internet operations such as Yahoo, Microsoft, the Huffington Post, etc, would also choose to take part in this system, because that would show that they are actually ethical.”

But, he says, the report will need closer scrutiny before this is fully clear. * 14:52 Also at the Guardian, Roy Greenslade delivers his view:

“Turning to Leveson’s recommendation for a new regulator, it certainly cannot be seen as a rubber stamp for the Hunt/Black plan. It might be fairer to say that it echoes its spirit, but Leveson’s clear desire is to remove the industry’s sticky fingers from the levers of power. The executive summary is littered with the word “independent”.|

* 14:49 We’re back. But how are newspaper share prices reacting to the Leveson Report? Is the British Press doomed? Nick Fletcher at the Guardian says not much is changing – the market is stable. But he writes:

“The the publishers had seen contrasting fortunes this morning in the run-up to Leveson’s announcement. Trinity Mirror shares are down 2.5p at 79.5p, a 3% fall, while Daily Mail & General Trust is up 7.5p at 525p or 1.45%. In the US, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation has yet to start trading for the day but is forecast to open flat.”

* 14:27 Short break in our coverage while we move from one Parliamentary committee room to another. Please stand by! * 14:22 As if responding to Des Freedman below, The Telegraph reports that Lord Black, the executive director of Telegraph Media Group, has called the recommendations “a regressive step.”

“I don’t want the message to go out from this country that the UK is bringing in a press law.

I did sense that Brian Leveson wants the press now to get on with it. He embraced a free press … we have to make sure the press don’t let him down but seize the baton he has given them.”

* 14:19 Check out this download link for the executive summary of the newly-released Leveson Report. Beware – it’ll immediately try to download a .pdf. See also this great summary of the report’s findings and recommendations by The Guardian’s Lisa O’Carroll: RECOMMENDATIONS

• New watchdog independent of MPs and newspapers, with statutory underpinning

• The possibility of a First Amendment-style law

• Powers, remedies and sanctions of the new watchdog

• Libel resolution unit

• Membership


• Newspapers have recklessly pursued sensational stories

• Families of actors and footballers also have rights to privacy

• Condemns covert surveillance

• Failure of compliance and governance at the News of the World

• Complainants not taken seriously enough

* 14:13 The Leveson Report includes some warning words about Jeremy Hunt and his relationship with his special advisor, Adam Smith.

“Mr Hunt’s special adviser, Adam Smith, was the known point of contact between DCMS and News Corp’s professional lobbyist, Frederic Michel.

Mr Smith already knew Mr Michel, and, when faced with the intimacy, charm, volume and persistence of Mr Michel’s approaches, he was put in an extremely difficult position. The processes that were put in place to manage the bid did not prove to be robust enough in this particular respect.

Best practice of the kind subsequently encapsulated on the Cabinet Office guidance on quasi-judicial decision-making was not followed.”

* 14:11 Angela Phillips has pointed out that Leveson has absolutely ruled out the registration of journalists. But, she says, the report rules out any issue of plurality. “The main reason to get editors to join this organisation would be the huge disincentives to stay outside it,” she says. “If any publisher refused to join it, there should be a way in which their not having join the organisation should mean they are in line for exemplary damages if they’re taken to court.” But, she warns: “I think we all need time to take this in – it’s huge. But it looks like there are a lot of things here we can really get behind. That doesn’t mean they will become law, but it puts us in the strange position of having something we can get behind.” * 14:09 Media Reform’s Des Freedman characterises Leveson’s inquiry as analogous to the “Irish model” and says it’s fantastic that the Lord Justice has recommended a conscience clause – but notes that there is “virtually nothing…a few crumbs” about media ownership. That said, he notes, Lords Hunt and Black will be “squirming in their seats” after their plan was effectively denounced on national television. * 14:08 Goordon Rayner, the Daily Telegraph’s Chief Reporter, has produced a short guide to Lord Justice Leveson’s key recommendations. It includes:

“- An independent regulator with the power to fine newspapers up to £1m – Regulator underpinned by statute to “protect the freedom of the press, to reassure the public and validate the new body” – Arbitration system to enable wronged parties to seek swift redress by way of a prominent apology and fines, if appropriate”

* 14:00 Leveson concludes his speech by stressing that he does not want to comment any further on the report, because the ball must now pass back to the politicians. His job is over. Theirs, and ours, is beginning. “They,” says Leveson, “must now decide who guards the guardians.” Media Reform’s Angela Phillips, seated next to this reporter, mutters: “It’s sort of unbelievable. It feels like what I wrote!” * 13:59 Leveson thanks all who participated in the inquiry – assessors, experts, Robert Jay QC, etc. Meanwhile, The Guardian’s Patrick Wintour says: “Privately, both Labour and Liberal Democrats will probably regard the proposals as at the end minimalist end of the spectrum.” * 13:56 Here’s Nick Robinson’s early take on the Leveson report.

“Leveson tries to bridge the gap between those who argue for self regulation by the press and those who call for a new law. He says that a new press regulatory body would only be independent if it was underpinned by a law – or statute and supervised by OFCOM – the current communications regulator.

“I suspect that that will not persuade the Prime Minister. David Cameron is likely to praise Leveson’s work and principles but argue that a new independent regulator could and should be set up without a new law.

“The Deputy Prime Minister and the Labour leader Ed Miliband are likely to argue that Leveson’s proposals should, at least, be the starting point.

“The question then is – can a parliamentary majority be formed to defeat the prime minister or will he manage to persuade the press to change its proposals to head off that threat?”

* 13:54 So Leveson is recommending exactly what Media Reform has been asking for. He wants an independent regulator which offers “new and tangible benefits for the press”. The existence of a “formally recognised, free form of arbitration,” he says, is likely to offer powerful incentives of cost, making it much easier to settle disputes outside of courts. And, as we recommended, he says that these benefits will be lost either by members of the public who don’t want to use them or newspapers who haven’t signed up for them. Such a regulator could also establish precedents which would avoid civil actions in future. * 13:51 Leveson says the members of an independent regulator must be transparently and openly chosen – and should not include any standing editor or politicians. Only that, he says, can guarantee its independence. And the Hunt/Black plan is no good at all, he adds. * 13:41 “With a few honourable exceptions,” Leveson says, the UK’s press has not scrutinised its own power. But press freedom should not be “jeopardised.” “I remain firmly under the belief that the British press – I repeat, ALL OF IT – serves the country well for the vast majority of the time.” He affirms that the press should not always be pursuing “serious stories” and praises their right to be “irreverent, unruly, and opinionated.” * 13:40 “I know how vital the press is,” says Leveson, as a guardian of our rights and “one of the true safeguards of our democracy.” “As a result,” he goes on, “it holds a privileged and powerful place. But this power and influence carries with it responsibilities to the public interest in whose name it exercises those privileges. Unfortunately…” (Here we go) * 13:38 Speech opens with a nod towards the long history of failed ‘last chances’ but says his enquiry has been “the most concentrated look at the press that this country has ever seen.” He talks numbers and thanks all contributors. * 13:35 Leveson taking the podium. The BBC reports that he’s definitely going for a new body to be backed by legislation. * 13:33 The BBC is reporting that Leveson’s criticism of the press is “damning” – claiming that they “caused hardship” by prioritising the sensational and pursuing it unethically. * 13:30 A great many people are sitting in front of a very big screen which says, in large, pristine letters against a blue background: “The Leveson Inquiry.” Lord Justice Leveson is wearing a suit of peach-coloured taffeta (or not). Meanwhile, John Prescott blogs:

“The scope of the Editors’ Code of Practice should be widened to address how each press organisation operates as an entity, in terms of its ethics and its governance.

“…the new regulator should have real teeth to oversee the efforts of editors to achieve compliance with the Code through robust internal governance measures.

“The regulator should be able, in exceptional circumstances, to go beyond simple requests for information and undertake its own investigations (which the editor and publication would have agreed to submit to, as part of the initial contractual agreement to join the scheme).”

* 13:24 A mere six minutes to go! John Leech, the Lib Dem MP for Manchester Withington, talks about how he wanted to write in favour of the Leveson Report in the Manchester Evening News, and was told it wasn’t “appropriate”. He found this ironic, considering all the ‘freedom of speech’ arguments flying about. He later received a letter from the editor asking for his opinion. * 13:22 One thing we can’t have, says Phillips, is licensing of journalists. The Black-Dacre plan includes provision for big media editors to decide who gets to call themselves a journalist and who is not allowed. Phillips calls this the worst threat to freedom of speech in the UK in her lifetime. * 13:20 Meanwhile, in Parliament, our ethics chair Angela Phillips is talking about the experience of her students as they enter the world of working journalism (she teaches at Goldsmiths, University of London). She tells how a recent graduate emailed her last month to say that the newspaper he worked for was straining “every moral fibre” that he had. She adds: “I have never yet met a single journalism student who wanted the right to be a bully.” Former NUJ President Donnacha DeLong agreed:

“These journalists are not free to do their jobs; they’re forced to publish material that has no basis in fact because it fits the agenda of the newspaper the work for…the fear against these journalists is so strong that the majority of the NUJ’s evidence was all anonymous. These journalists were terrified that if their name was associated with anything they said, they’d never work in journalism again.”

 * 13:11 First let’s look at the media coverage so far:

The Guardian reports that LJ Leveson has formally warned the Metropolitan Police that his report is going to criticise them. Past and serving officers have been told they’ll take flak for decisions taking during the Met’s investigation into phone hacking between 2006 and 2009.

The Telegraph says: “Coalition in chaos as Cameron and Clegg fail to agree”. It claims that frantic overnight talks have failed to establish a common position between the two party leadersand that a spokesman for Number 10 was “unable to state that the Prime Minister would be speaking for the government in his statement to the commons”. The spokesman denied the coalition was “broken”.

Meanwhile, the BBC writes: “Former News International boss Rebekah Brooks and ex-News of the World editor Andy Coulson have appeared in court to face allegations they paid public officials for information.” Both defendants were bailed and will be back in court on December 6.

In The Independent, Andreas Whittam Smith argues: “The dichotomy between self-regulation on the one hand and government regulation on the other is false…the courts should now start to play a role.”

At the Guardian again, Emily Bell claims Leveson is irrelevant to modern internet reporting. But Des Freedman of the Media Reform coalition disagrees – he’s telling the crowd at Parliament that media ownership, not the internet, is the “elephant in the room”.

 * 13:00 Good afternoon. Today the Media Reform Coalition is in Parliament to lobby our MPs and to watch Lord Justice Leveson deliver his report into press standards and ethics. We’re going to be live blogging both the address and the media and political reaction to it as the day goes on. We hope you’ll join us to watch this important moment unfold. Here we go!