Leveson Inquiry: Michael Gove warns Leveson on liberty

  • 29 May 2012
  • From the section UK

The case for more regulation of the press needs to be very strong "before we further curtail liberty", Michael Gove has told the Leveson Inquiry.

The education secretary said he was "concerned about any prior restraint and on their [journalists'] exercising of freedom of speech."

He said existing laws should be used to judge individuals and institutions.

Lord Justice Leveson said he did "not need to be told about the importance of free speech".

"But I am concerned that the effect of what you say might be that you are in fact taking the view that behaviour which everybody so far in this inquiry has said is unacceptable, albeit not necessarily criminal, has to be accepted because of the right of freedom of speech," he said.

Mr Gove, a former journalist with the Times, replied: "I don't think any of us can accept that behaviour necessarily, but there are a variety of sanctions... By definition, freedom of speech doesn't mean anything unless some people are going to be offended some of the time."

Lord Justice Leveson responded: "Don't you think that some of the evidence I have heard from at least some of those who have been subject to press attention can be characterised as rather more than, 'some people are going to be offended some of the time'?"

Mr Gove said: "I am sure that there are cases where journalists and others have behaved in ways which are deplorable."

But he added: "Some of us believe that before the case for regulation is made, the case for liberty needs to be asserted as well."

In his earlier evidence, Mr Gove said he maintained close friendships with reporters, but "tried to exercise appropriate judgment on all occasions".

He described News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch as "one of the most impressive and significant figures of the last 50 years".

McCann case review

Mr Gove was asked about Mr Murdoch potentially backing a free school - one of Mr Gove's key policies as education secretary - saying he believed the media tycoon's interest was "purely philanthropic".

He did admit, however, that he was open-minded on such free schools making a profit, unlike other members of the coalition.

In her evidence to the inquiry, Home Secretary Theresa May denied claims that News International had pressured her into launching a new inquiry into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.

Scotland Yard launched a review of the case in 2011 after a request from Mrs May supported by Prime Minister David Cameron.

Mrs May said it was not true that News International had threatened to "put her face on the front page every day" until she agreed.

Neither Sun editor Dominic Mohan nor chief executive Rebekah Brooks "made any indication of that sort", she said.

News International had secured a deal with Gerry and Kate McCann on the serialisation of their book about the disappearance of their daughter - then aged three - while they were on holiday in Portugal in 2007.

Mrs Brooks last week told the Leveson Inquiry that News International had had a strategy to persuade the government to launch a fresh investigation into the McCann case, but that "threat" had been too strong a word.

Mrs May told the inquiry that phone calls with Mrs Brooks and Mr Mohan discussing plans for the review had been at her instigation "to alert them to the fact that the government was taking some action".

Mrs Ma also told the inquiry that new guidelines drawn up by Acpo would clarify rules for meetings between police and journalists.

She said all police forces should take note of the recommendations in Elizabeth Filkin's report on contact between the press and Met Police officers. and read them in conjunction with Acpo's recommendations.

Meanwhile, a man who interrupted proceedings at the inquiry on Monday, when former Prime Minister Tony Blair was giving evidence, is to be referred by Lord Justice Leveson to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

David Lawley Wakelin burst into the court room, from behind the bench, where he accused Mr Blair of war crimes. He was arrested and later released without charge.

The Leveson Inquiry is investigating press standards, and is currently focusing on the relationship between the press and politicians.

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