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

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  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    The ONLY people who need legitimate protection from the media are minors, victims of crime and those accused of a crime who before trial are deemed innocent.

    We ALL need a protection from the media if they print unwarranted stories about us.
    Libel is not good enough when they can pay their lawyers far more than the individual can afford.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    *****Mark Carney******??????????????
    just as well I don't gamble Robert
    a lesson in not listening to tips on horses...
    although this canadian was indeed a DARK HORSE.
    let's hope he can run in difficult heavy conditions, neigh even gallop

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    We have a new poster in treacle who seems to be spouting the press baron's line almost verbatim.
    My point in post 59 is that we have state regulation of tv and that hasn't stopped investigative journalism on tv rooting out problems.
    Perhaps the offshore tax arrangements of News International, Telegraph, Daily Mail and the Guardian could be investigated as well as Amazon, Starbucks et al?

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    @85 & 87
    Obfuscation is quite a political art and not just utilised by politicians although they tend to be the ones running down world supplies at incredible rate. ;-)

    There is probably going to be quite a lot around Leveson's report as some individs are clearly after a sheltered lifestyle despite their making money from being in public eye.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    4 Minutes ago
    ".. has a lot of skeletons in his closet..."

    You are clearly a Master (or Mistress) of the art of understatement - shame they didn't call you to the Inquiry.
    This govt will not let you see the parts of the report that they see as damaging them anyway so you will never know. This is the most controlling govt ever! They have their Press in their pockets..

  • Comment number 95.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    Thanks Robert.
    This is an excellent view on the subject.
    I hope the political parties join forces and support the findings but I do fear that Cameron has a lot of skeletons in his closet due to his connections with Rebecca Brooke's and Coulson. Something just doesn't feel right about that whole scenario....it may be the Watergate of Downing Street in the end.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    2 Minutes ago
    " by all previous & existing PM's as could all be guilty of corruption."

    Terms of ref were defined after wards to suit the Politicians - if there is corruption as you state then doesn't matter which Politicians were involved (of any Party) - they should be brought to justice. Seems to me this govt is busy covering up than helping with the Inquiry.

  • Comment number 92.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    Until NI etc. are put in their place, it will not be possible to have a proper public conversation about the key matter affecting the UK's interests: its failure properly to engage with the EU.

    However, having created an addiction among their readership, even if these pushers are put out of commission, the EU-myth junkies will get their supplies elsewhere I expect.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    Clearly, was not set up in a panic as the terms of reference cleverly avoid all aspects of corruption by all previous & existing PM's as could all be guilty of corruption.
    Leveson is just taking the fees - the main inquiry with questions about how the establishment really operates was avoided.
    That is what lawyers achieved.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    The media responds to demand (some actual, but mostly perceived) from its audience or readership.

    The issues plaguing the media today were created and are sustained by the audience.

    That's you.

    If you buy or access media, then you are in the driving seat. If the media does not provide what you want, you should change your media.

    If we all changed, it sends a very clear message.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    The ONLY people who need legitimate protection from the media are minors, victims of crime and those accused of a crime who before trial are deemed innocent.

    The latter group is often full of the dodgier elements of the establishment and the risk is we protect them. So trial by press of the establishment should always be permitted until that is they are formally accused of a crime.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    3 Minutes ago


    Leveson is about corruption & not press regulation
    ~ ~ ~
    Think it was intended to be the other way round

    That was the question on setting it up - Why had "

    It was set up in a moment of panic because Milliband had him "on the run" as we learned from LOL txts that were revealed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    "Joe Blogger doesn't have the resources to do that."



    An yet the press is loosing its audience to alternative media.

    I think this is because today's press doesn't do much journalism: it does gossip and opinion peddling, which are areas where it little competitive advantage vs Joe Blogger.

    True Journalism can outcompete the Net, but it can't coexist with propaganda.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.


    Leveson is about corruption & not press regulation
    ~ ~ ~
    Think it was intended to be the other way round

    That was the question on setting it up - Why had the press failed? Instead of asking - Why widespread corruption in those dealing with & within the press/media? (as applied to all media & not just the press) - A subtle but major difference in emphasis?

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    David Cameron is far too close to this debacle to be the correct person to pass the last word on any press reform. From his selection of Coulson to his relationship with Brooks, David Cameron is neck deep in this mess.

    From one perspective he could be accused of being the architect of the current situation, and he certainly had no problems with the Murdoch press while it served his goals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.


    We need more investigative journalism, the checking of multiple sources, the analysing of the data, the finding the inconsistencies than uncover the lies


    Joe Blogger doesn't have the resources to do that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    "[Joe Blogger does the same for free]


    And ended up smearing MacAlpine.

    Well done, Joe."


    Just like ITV and the BBC. That's the point I was making

    We need more investigative journalism, the checking of multiple sources, the analysing of the data, the finding the inconsistencies than uncover the lies

    Today's UK political class wouldn't last 5 minutes with a real press

  • Comment number 81.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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