Leveson Inquiry: MPs warn against press regulation law


Hugh Grant: Newspapers shouldn't be ''marking their own homework''

More than 80 MPs and peers have urged the man carrying out an inquiry into UK media standards not to recommend a press regulation law.

The cross-party group, including eight former cabinet ministers and London Olympics chairman Lord Coe, says any such move would damage press freedom.

Lord Justice Leveson is due to publish his report on Thursday.

The group, which has written to the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph, wants a stronger "self-regulatory" system.

The Leveson Inquiry was established by the prime minister in July last year and looked into the culture, practices and ethics of the press.

It was commissioned following allegations of illegal phone-hacking at the News of the World.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who has already warned politicians not to pre-empt its findings, will receive his copy of the report at lunchtime on Wednesday - 24 hours before its details are made public.

'State licensing'

Start Quote

Leveson demonstrated not a sole failure of regulation but rather of law enforcement”

End Quote Cross-party group of MPs

Lord Justice Leveson was asked to produce a list of recommendations for a more effective policy and regulatory regime for the press, which would preserve its independence while encouraging higher ethical and professional standards.

At the moment the press is self-regulated through the Press Complaints Commission (PCC).

Lord Justice Leveson is widely expected to recommend some form of statutory regulation overseen by an independent body.

But the politicians, led by former Labour home secretary David Blunkett and Conservative MP Conor Burns, argue in their letter this could be detrimental to free speech, saying: "As parliamentarians, we believe in free speech and are opposed to the imposition of any form of statutory control even if it is dressed up as underpinning."

They add: "No form of statutory regulation of the press would be possible without the imposition of state licensing - abolished in Britain in 1695. State licensing is inimical to any idea of press freedom and would radically alter the balance of our unwritten constitution.

Conor Burns MP: ''Statutory regulation should be an absolute last resort''

"There are also serious concerns that statutory regulation of the print media may shift the balance to the digital platforms which, as recent events have shown through the fiasco of Newsnight-Twitter, would further undermine the position of properly moderated and edited print journalism."

The group - which includes Commons culture media and sport committee chairman John Whittingdale, Downton Abbey writer Lord Fellowes, former Commons Speaker Baroness Boothroyd and ex-cabinet ministers Lord Tebbit, Liam Fox, John Redwood and Peter Lilley - has written to the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph,

It backs a proposal from former PCC chairman Lord Hunt and Lord Black, one-time chairman of the body that finances the commission, for a "totally new" version of the regulator.

They propose an independent body with increased powers to investigate complaints and illegal behaviour, levy fines of up to £1m and award compensation, and enforce membership by newspapers for the first time.


Start Quote

It is not often that the prime minister, his deputy and their most senior advisers clear their diaries”

End Quote

Some campaigners say the current system of self-regulation, overseen by the Press Complaints Commission, is inadequate and that tougher rules are needed to curb newspapers' excesses.

Earlier this month, 42 Conservative MPs and peers wrote to the Guardian arguing in favour of some form of statutory underpinning for press regulation.

Broadcaster Anne Diamond, who gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry about her experience with the press, told BBC Breakfast that "self-regulation has been given its chance and it hasn't worked".

"The only way to have some real teeth behind some agreed code of conduct is to have some kind of statutory underpinning... You have to change the culture and the enforcement."

Possible options for regulation

  • Statutory regulation: Stricter regulation of the press, enforceable by law
  • Statutory underpinning: Self-regulatory body with statutory framework which enforces newspapers to sign up
  • New Press Complaints Council: Tougher self-regulation body with investigative arm. One proposal suggests body should be independent from newspaper industry
  • Newspaper ombudsman: Self-regulatory body, working alongside PCC, to deal with standards

The actor Hugh Grant, who has been campaigning for stricter press regulation, told Breakfast: "What people are campaigning for is an end to newspapers being able to regulate themselves... because that is what has resulted in the kind of abuses of people like the Dowlers, the McCanns, Christopher Jefferies."

He added: "The only industry in this country which is allowed to regulate itself is the newspaper industry... We need a proper regulator, an independent regulator, meaningful, that will need some statute to oblige newspapers to sign up to it."

Martin Moore, director of the Media Standards Trust charity, said the challenge for Lord Justice Leveson was to balance the need for some sort of redress for "ordinary people" with freedom of the press.

It is up to David Cameron to decide whether to implement Lord Justice Leveson's recommendations.

Downing Street has said the prime minister was "open-minded" about the future regulation. Previously he said he intended to implement the findings of the Leveson inquiry, provided they were not "bonkers".

But the BBC's political editor Nick Robinson says the coalition is preparing for the possibility that it may be divided by the report's recommendations, with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg less likely to be hostile to Lord Justice Leveson's proposals.


More on This Story

The Leveson report


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  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    That has to be some kind of independent "court of appeal" for anyone who considers themselves maligned unfairly by the Press. Having written that we don't want the Press shackling by the likes of Hugh Grant and Harriet Harman. Serious transgressions by the Press such as the likes of phone hacking should be dealt with by stopping publication of any title for a week or more. Fines are no good.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    The greed of the tabloids and their inability to self regulate means regulation is essential to safeguard to rights of average individuals who dont have the money to employ lawyers.

    The Irish have a good system that works. So adopt something similar.

    This has been going on for decades, time to act NOW.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    You can bet your life this will be kicked into the long grass until Brookes and Couleson are tried next year or whenever it eventually takes place.
    Dave is not going to do a pre emptive shoot himself in the foot over this before the next general election and open a proverbial Pandora's Box of what may end up as a highly embarrassing episode that he would rather bury.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Freedom of the Press to do precisely what? To report and provide comment in a way that doesn't break the law? Yes. To be above the law, or have lighter constraints than the rest of us in the way it gets and comments on its information? No. A Press Council with sharper teeth might do, but expect more Press lawyers challenging its decisions. Where? in Court of course...

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    If the result of the Leveson Inquiry is another toothless watchdog like the Press Complaints Commission it will have been the most outrageous waste of money in thje history of Britain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    I hope Leveson goes all the way and make it law backed requirement and stop the system of ex paper people sitting in judgement of the papers

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    I hate to tell this to the various parliamentarians who've asked Leveson to not curb the press, but the ink will already be dry on the report. The Prime Minister receives it today. The time to make representations was weeks ago. But then what do people expect from a bunch of people you wouldn't trust with a whelk stall?

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    What a total waste of public money to have a public inquiry and then not even bother to read it before jumping to conclusions. In the event it was the complicity and spineless turning a blind eye of MP's that allowed the press to behave this way - why don't 85 MP's sign a letter suggesting a way of making sure that never happens again rather than bleat about a free press.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    9.TechieJim- ".....The PCC was a complete failure, so we need one which works preferably independent of the press....."

    Which is EXACTLY why we need statutory regulation - who carries it out can be independant of Govt/Parliament but if there is statute FORCING the press to comply how many of them will sign up an otherwise purely voluntary set up a la the old PCC...???

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    "It is up to David Cameron to decide whether to implement Lord Justice Leveson's recommendations.".

    No conflict there then! I mean, the man who appointed Coulson, cosied up to Brooks and danced for Murdoch is definitely the best man to have the final word on press regulation. Maybe we could get Goodwin back to reform the financial sector while we're at it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Does anyone really believe that this is about press freedom? this enquirt was set up to be seen to be doing something and has singularly failed to investigate the depth of the relationship betwen previous and current governments and press moguls. Any measures imposed on the press by this enquiry will be purely to ensure political control of the press / media

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    This was a case of "if I don't know or don't look I can't get done". Not one senior manager in any media organisation has been or will be prosecuted. Now we have MPs (the people who fiddled expenses because the rules allowed it) calling for self-regulation. The banking system collapsed because of light regulation. These people need to learn from history. No punishment, no regulation!

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Self regulation needs independence in development of standards much like British standards or EN and ISO standards where the standards are not decided by just the industry. You also need government, opposition groups, Interest groups and decent cross section of parties. Why does government keep trying to make standards on there own. The world leaders in standards is British Standards - use them!

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Justification of curbing "irresponsible press that tells lies" is what all Communist dictatorship started from - and ended by banning all independent press. It is a slippery slope.
    We should not start along this route - it can bring unexpected consequences.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Big brother will make very good use of this opportunity. You can be assured of that!

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    The press have access to the best legal advice on offer. Therefore If they cannot stay within the confines of the law they should be heavily regulated.Regulation does not mean the end of press freedom it just ensures that the press know exactly what is expected of them in terms of how they choose to investigate and report stories.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Statutory regulation would be the start of a very slippery slope. Secret courts overseen by the police (falsified witness statement anyone?).

    Press regulation overseen by MP's and Lords with a vested interest in not disclosing their expenses or rental arrangements?

    A free press gives abberations like Fox News. It also brings those who do wrong to justice and holds minsters to account.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    If the laws are already in place why not simply insist that the police and DPP do their jobs and prosecute when the law id broken? As for the posts on this site about The Government and Tories etc they really are hot air as firstly several of those who wrote the letter are not Tory and with a change of government the power to muzzle the press would pass to the incoming party. main works

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    How many more abuses in the name of "press freedom" do we have to endure? Self-regulation = no regulation. Lay the law down with a light touch, but lay it down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Newspapers should be forced to sign up to the control of an independent regulator. Criminal activity by the press must be stopped. Self-regulation is a recipe for abuse of the public. The independent regulator would have to have legal teeth to forestall abuse.


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