Leveson: Cameron's dilemma

Various newspapers Regulation of the press is set to be reformed following the Leveson Inquiry.

There are three moderately interesting things that sources close to Lord Justice Leveson have told me about his report into press standards, due to be published on Thursday.

First, it will be a monster, huge, Proustian in size (if not in literary ambition).

Second, it is written in the style of a court judgement - with all the recommendations pinned explicitly to the lorry-loads of public evidence delivered to the inquiry in oral and written form.

And, by the way, the reason Sir Brian Leveson is skipping town the moment he reads out his reform proposals, and not taking any questions from the media, is precisely because he is sticking to the letter of his mandate to conduct a judicial investigation: it would be unorthodox for a judge to be interrogated by those in the dock, the media, after passing sentence.

Third, much of the press will loathe the recommendations (that of course is the surmise of my sources, based on their knowledge of what Sir Brian Leveson will say, and their expectation of how it will go down with media groups).

Or to put it another way, the judge has rejected the plea for toughened-up self-regulation desired by the owners and editors of the Mail, Telegraph and Sun.

Now, as you can see, the defining characteristic of my knowledge of the Leveson report is that I don't know very much.

But even so, there is a clear implication that the government and Labour will have to make a difficult, once-in-a-generation assessment of the way that the structure of the media industry has changed over the past few years.

Many politicians will of course say they are evaluating Leveson on the basis of whether or not it represents the slippery slope to restricting the ability of the fourth estate to hold power to account.

And, as it happens, in the days before I joined the BBC and the opinion-vocalising part of my brain was temporarily shut down, I was on record as opposing any kind of statutory regulation of newspapers, precisely because I feared an important bulwark of our freedoms might be imperiled.

Now someone might challenge pre-BBC Robert Peston by asking whether today's media moguls are champions and guarantors of our liberties or over-mighty barons - who have shown wilful neglect for the privacy and liberties of vulnerable individuals.

So for the idealists, the force or weakness of Leveson's plans will be in how he curbs the ability of the press to trample on the innocent while reinforcing its power to unseat the corrupt.

But there will also be a far more cynical calculation by the leaders of the main parties: has the press been so weakened by the rise of the internet and recession that they can stand up to it, back Leveson, and not risk being consigned to the oblivion of opposition forever?

In almost 30 years as a journalist, I have watched prime ministers and opposition leaders sucking up to newspaper owners and editors. And when I have asked these giants of politics why they act like pygmies in the presence of the Murdochs, for example, they have said to me - in terms - that they don't like doing it, but that it is necessary for what they see as the greater good of securing office.

Here is the thing: can political parties now take their message directly to the people via Twitter and Facebook (and television and radio, as ever); or can they still be made or broken by a headline in the Sun and Mail?

They won't say so, but David Cameron and Ed Mililband will be thinking pretty hard about what fighting the next election would be like, if they were perceived by the Mail, Sun and Telegraph as mortal enemies.

Now the prime minister is getting Sir Brian Leveson's report a day before the rest of us, at 1.30pm on Wednesday.

According to those close to him, it is theoretically possible that he will simply accept all of Sir Brian's proposals - although they did not say that with any great conviction.

And David Cameron won't simply reject Leveson and say that the status quo is fine.

In other words he appears to be hoping that the press - in its entirety - rapidly comes up with a much toughened-up system of self regulation that would have three central elements: fines for misbehaviour of up to £1m; very prominent apologies, and investigations of misconduct that are genuinely independent.

But if he trusts the press to sort itself out in this way there is a risk for him. What if, as is possible, disclosures in the criminal trials of News International staff relating to phone hacking and alleged bribing of officials turn out to be even more shocking than the disclosures made so far?

Those trials start next autumn and winter. The prime minister will need to be pretty confident that reinforced self-regulation agreed before then will be seen to have the deterrent force necessary to prevent repetition of whatever emerges in those court hearings.

Otherwise he risks being attacked, shortly before the next election, for having let newspapers off too lightly.

Robert Peston Article written by Robert Peston Robert Peston Economics editor

The UK's current-account Achilles' heel

Why it is a concern that the UK has a record current-account deficit at a time when demand for exports and economic growth are set to fall

Read full article

More on This Story


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    You will all find out in due course when you realise you know everything about brazen MP's eating ostrich anuses

    Who needs to watch that rubbish? I get all my laughs reading your ramblings. Clearly you've been watching it?
    Plus - loved the link to a BBC news story as evidence that the BBC is covering up news. The old hip hip mentality is on show again eh?

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    Post 55. We have a regulated tv and that didn't stop the BBC exposing Robert Maxwell or ITV exposing Jimmy Saville or Panorama talking this week about shadow directors or tax avoidance.

    That's what I want not yet another sup in the last chance saloon where our press barons have been many times before where they intimidate and blackmail anyone who stands against them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Self regulation fails, the Leveson enquiry is set up and will recommend regulation. I favour a body independent of Government and the press, however much this will be "the great and the good"
    If the press is shown to be wrong and/or criminal, the retraction and apology should be the same size and on the same page as the original story.
    If self regulation remains what was the point of Leveson?

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Given that the majority of the Press in the UK are Tory fanatics (that is why they do not challenge the mendacious propaganda spouted by the Tories) it can hardly be called "free". If anyone dares to speak out against the Tories they are escorted to the nearest loony bin. So expect Cameron to do nothing until The Daily Fail & Torygraph write his script for him, as usual.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    To regulate or not regulate? Well if the industry says here is our new scheme of self regulation (as proposed by many newspapers then accept it with two important statutory provisos? If a newspaper persists in wrong doing, it is automatically taken as a fact in any subsequent civil actions, and if an individual is shown to be at fault, then it is automatically taken as fact in a criminal case.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    What we need is a regulated press.

    That way the government can decide what we read.




    Is that what you want?

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    "split them..
    10% maximum"

    We have 'plurality'… except in what we read!

    'The problem' is NOT those who read 'more than one paper', or those who might read say ten papers

    Control of journalistic expression, and of public consciousness, is exerted through 'out favourite papers'

    Only same-page rebuttal, word by word, phrase by phrase, will 'do justice' to economists like Peter Hitchens

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Self-regulation ("toughened up" or not) is as suitable for the press as it is for the banking industry.

    Self regulation = "we've got to look like we're regulating ourselves" and just won't achieve putting right the things that are wrong with the industry.

    Some strong powerful people in the press need to be slapped down and they won't be by those who might at some point want a job from them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    To be "always misled"
    Life as pantomime?

    What IS it, really, "behind you"?

    Why ARE we reduced to furtive "anonymous whistle-blowing"?

    Who in Russia doesn't "know" who kills journalists?

    Who in UK doesn't "know" why we distrust press & politics?

    It's not just ignorance, or laziness: it's Conflict of Interest

    Without Equal Partnership, we await cataclysm

    Social &/ or Environmental

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    46. neverforget



    How can you trust a single word this body says anymore?

    Well it seems you do??

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Can all of the people involved in the hacking of murdered school girl's phones up to and including the top of the hierarchy and those who hacked into dead soldier's phones be prosecuted under the criminal law.
    If that was done I suspect self regulation would be very effective - make the CEOs accountable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Something that hasn't been mentioned yet - split them up. One of the best ways to ensure a media organization doesn't get too big for its boots, is to make sure it doesn't get too big. Legislate that no company or individual can have an interest in more than 10% of the media 'marketplace' (however you want to define that) and get smaller media companies rather than a couple of huge corrupt corps.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    The problem with the media is they are not reporting WHAT IS IMPORTANT. They report what excites and titilates us - not 'what we NEED to know'

    You will all find out in due course when you realise you know everything about brazen MP's eating ostrich anuses - but it won't be much good when your savings, pension and house value are all wiped out overnight.

    The BBC have played a large role in this

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Self-regulation would not have stopped phone hacking. Self-regulation will not stop politically biased news. Self-regulation would not stop mad owners using newspapers to pursue their own agendas. But neither would statutory regulation. Self-regulation will never make life painful for papers. Statutory underpinning of independent regulation just might. Statutory regulation is better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.



    Depression = 10 YEARS.

    Why did anyone feel it necessary to tell me I was wrong? Why did the BBC smother the voices of dissent?

    How can you trust a single word this body says anymore?

    Who will you turn to next? - History tells us the 'extremes' and we will see a new dawn of war rising from the ashes of Economic crisis - AGAIN

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    39. BJK "Finally, Leveson-"Swoosh-whack!"...FORE!"

    if only it was 'finally'!

    We will be entertained by an ever increasing frenzy of inane and fruitless attempts to show the British people that they should vote Tory for the next 2 and bit years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    40.Some Lingering Fog "The media in the UK is rotten to the core"

    A fair number of people know this and treat all news with suspicion - so what you are really saying is that the British education system has left us with a larger proportion of the population that is wholly gullible and is influenced by the nonsense the media emits on a daily basis. This is the Lady Chatterley defence re servants!

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Press should stick to known and legally verifiable obtained facts & to let the public know who has been breaking civil / criminal laws of this country regardless of the politics of its owners. Alas, this will never happen, and the GB public will always be misled! I'm all for anon whistle blowing internet bloggs etc, exposing wrong doings.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    It just shows how intertwined the two have become, when an article on an industry, albeit a 19th century one in it's death throes, is considered by some to be a political rather than a business story.

  • Comment number 41.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?


Page 4 of 6



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.