Posts Tagged ‘Leveson’

Forget about Whittingdale’s women. He’s broken the Ministerial Code. That’s the story

17/04/2016, 12:03:09 PM

by David Ward

Three weeks ago Uncut wrote about the emerging story of John Whittingdale and press treatment of his relationship with a sex-worker. Since then the story has appeared in print and broadcast media with yet more revelations emerging this morning.

Much coverage, including David Aaronovitch’s Times column on Friday, has focussed on his right to a private life. As well as the dissonance of those such as Hacked Off appearing to oppose this. Aaronovitch dismisses Maria Eagle’s call for Whittingdale to recuse himself from press regulation over a mere “perception”.

This is understandable. Whittingdale appears to be a man guilty of little more than some embarrassing missteps. He has spent two years shadowing his brief and another ten years chairing the Select Committee that scrutinises his department. It is hard to think of another Conservative minister as qualified for his role, save perhaps Ed Vaizey.

But this misses the point. The lurid details and high handed rows about who should know what goes on in the minister’s boudoir are a distraction from the very serious question of the Ministerial code.

Section 7 of the Ministerial code is quite clear on minister’s private interests, in bold text at paragraph 7.1. “Ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or could reasonably be perceived to arise, between their public duties and their private interests, financial or otherwise.”


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John Whittingdale, allegations of a relationship with a dominatrix and Leveson. What on earth is going on?

02/04/2016, 10:45:16 PM

John Whittingdale has apparently not decided whether or not to issue a ‘commencement order’, which is a formality within the provision of the Crime and Courts Act.

The Act will allow judges to impose costs on newspapers who force plaintiffs to go through expensive court actions because they have not signed up to a recognized independent regulator providing a low cost arbitration service.

Many acts of parliament require commencement orders to bring them into force, just to give the bureaucracy a chance to prepare. Parliament passed the act, with cross-party support, and it did not intend for the Secretary of State to be given the authority to unilaterally repeal it.

Whittingdale apparently mutters something about how Parliament and Leveson had envisaged a situation where one or two newspapers were resisting joining a recognized regulator, rather than where all of the major newspapers have refused point blank.

Whatever Leveson intended, it surely wasn’t the situation we are in now.

Whittingdale not only has to decide the future of the BBC, but also has his finger hovering over a button that newspapers desperately do not want him to press.

The whole argument of those who opposed Leveson’s reforms, an argument that Leveson himself carefully tried to address and design his system around, was that they did not want the government to have the power to interfere in the freedom of the press.

And yet here Whittingdale is claiming that he is hesitating because he himself is worried about that very thing, while he knows that the press must be careful not to upset him in case he decides to push his button.

Meanwhile rumours abound that the papers have some lurid scandal up their sleeve and are holding him to ransom.

This story on on the culture secretary, with allegations of a relationship with a dominatrix, has been widely shared on social media. If true, it raises questions about Whittingdale’s judgement and whether he is escaping media exposure because of his position on Leveson. (more…)

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It’s a white man’s world in the lobby

20/12/2013, 10:38:02 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Since 1884 the cosy club of the lobby has shaped political journalism in Britain. With privileged access to MPs in the lobby outside the Commons’ chamber and a remit to report politicians’ views on “lobby terms,” (e.g. without naming the source), their judgement on what merits reporting and how it is written, frames the political debate.

However, for such an influential institution, relatively little is known about its members. For most other parts of Britain’s governing elite, such as MPs or the judiciary, there is a basic level of transparency. The gender balance and proportion from minority communities are a matter of public knowledge and debate.

But not with the lobby.

Uncut has analysed the membership of this august body to see how it measures up. The results paint a depressingly familiar picture.

In all, there are 155 accredited members of the lobby. Out of this total, 33 or 21% are women and just 7 or 5% come from minority communities.

For minorities, the reality is a little worse than even the raw numbers suggest. Only 5 of the 7  lobby journalists are employed by the types of news organisation to which aspirants will routinely apply in the hope of one day receiving the honour of a lobby pass.

Take a bow Rajeev Syal, the Guardian and Observer’s Whitehall correspondent, Samana Haq, ITN’s Westminster news editor, John Piennar, 5 Live’s chief political correspondent, Kiran Stacey political correspondent of the FT and Anne Alexander, Daybreak’s politics producer. You are the lucky ones.

Team diversity is completed by Adel Darwish, a longtime lobby hand now plying his trade for Middle East News, and Ahmed Versi who edits and publishes the Muslim News.

If the lobby looked like the country there would be over double the number of women journalists and three times as many from minority communities.

This institution has the dubious distinction of being about as representative than the House of Commons on which it reports where 23% of the MPs are women and 4% are from an ethnic minority.


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Leveson will protect the little guy

23/03/2013, 05:55:28 PM

by Horario Mortimer

Simon Jenkins, Peter Preston and Nick Cohen have all written vigorous dissents of the Leveson agreement in (on?) the Guardian this week.  Preston laments the vitriol that has infected the debate; while Cohen vents spleen at liberals with short-term aims of binding right wing tabloids at the expense of basic freedoms. Simon Jenkins rails against one-sided justice drawn up by victims.

All of them claim a victory for the establishment. Preston asks what

“independence” means in a quangoid Britain where the same cast of great and good characters, retired judges, retired permanent secretaries, Oxbridge dignitaries, shift sweetly from one padded committee seat to the next ?”

And then Cohen:

“Did you not notice that Leveson hurt no one in power? …Can you not see an establishment stitching up a winding sheet for our freedoms in front of your very eyes?”

And Sir Simon Jenkins:

“the cheering across town this week is from the rich, the celebrated and the powerful”

This is a classic example of the maxim that power is always somewhere else. As Peter Jukes tweeted it :

“Fleet Street bias and entitlement is a bit like white privilege, invisible if you’re an unconscious beneficiary of it.”

The three of them are in the privileged position of being given a platform from which, week in week out, they can shout out whatever they like right across the establishment and reach every sympathetic influential ear.

Their unusual freedom blinds them to the fact that the press is a very long way from being a conduit of free expression.


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Ed, on Leveson: you say compromise, I say stitch-up

20/03/2013, 11:34:40 AM

by Ian Stewart

Before New Labour, in the mists of time before the red rose and “Meeting the Challenge, Making the Change” (remember that?), we used to have a wonderful little enamel badge, now beloved of collectors. Round, in red and white with gold detail – the pen, the shovel (workers by hand and brain), the torch and three simple words. “Labour”, “Party” and perhaps most importantly “Liberty”.

Yes Ed, “Liberty” – not “censorship”, not “revenge”, not even “royal charter”, just liberty pure and plain. It is a word that is threaded through the tale of radical and socialist politics of these islands for hundreds of years.

Every assault on power and privilege since the middle ages has met with repression and censorship together. Under the tyrant Charles 1st, Freeborn John Lillburne and William Prynne were imprisoned, censored, flogged and in Prynne’s case publicly mutilated.

In the early nineteenth century, owning Tom Paine’s “Rights of Man” would get you a free trip to Australia. Early feminists who wished to spread sex education and contraception were prosecuted under obscenity laws. Every faltering step forward by our side has seen gagging acts, libel actions by the wealthy, repression and imprisonment.

You know this, you are not an ignorant man. So why have you conspired with Nick Clegg and David Cameron to limit not only press freedom, but also the right to free speech and free investigation for everyone who blogs or writes in this country? The hacking scandal, exposed by Nick Davies at the Guardian is a fine example of investigative journalism – so why have you now made Nicks job harder? Who benefits from this? Sure, Hugh Grant is probably a nice guy, a plank of wood on the screen, but ok enough for a lunch.

Last week the government you oppose announced that for the international wealthy, British justice is the best money can buy. With our repressive libel laws that treat corporations as individuals, this is so for every dictator, every oligarch, every tax-avoiding press baron out there. Your response? To further gag and limit journalists, on the pretext of aiding ordinary people. So please tell me:  how exactly does this help the patients of South Staffs NHS?


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Cameron caves on Leveson

18/03/2013, 06:58:13 AM

by Atul Hatwal

It was a weekend of fraught Leveson lobbying and negotiation. After a pugnacious performance from the prime minister last Thursday, when he abruptly curtailed the cross-party talks, the reality of his political position has slowly dawned on him.

The votes in parliament weren’t there. Specifically, David Cameron was headed for one of the biggest defeats for a sitting prime minister, on a fully whipped vote, ever.

With a potential pro-Leveson majority of over 40 in prospect, no previous prime minister in the past 90 years, not Gordon Brown, John Major, Jim Callaghan or Harold Wilson, would have suffered such a reverse on a party political issue.

Late Sunday night negotiations were still ongoing but the outline of a weekend deal hammered out by Nick Clegg, mediating between Cameron and Ed Miliband, had emerged.

For David Cameron it will represent an astonishing volte face from his position on Thursday. If the new deal is confirmed this morning, as expected, he will have U-turned on three central points:

  • Statutory underpinning for the royal charter – the charter will be embedded in law. A super-majority in parliament will be required to change its terms, rather than the charter being amendable by the privy council
  • The editors’ veto on membership of the regulator – the editors will no longer be able to block appointments. A majority decision of the appointment panel will be able  to confirm membership of the regulator
  • The editors’ control over the code of conduct – the editors will no longer write the code. It will be drafted by a joint team of editors, journalists and members of the public

David Cameron will ultimately accept 90% of the case made by the victims’ lobby group Hacked Off, as embodied in the Labour and Lib Dem proposals for a royal charter. The one compromise by the pro-Leveson coalition is likely to be to cede the option of exemplary damages against egregiously non-compliant organisations.


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Nick picks Ed over Dave. Leveson is coming.

13/03/2013, 03:49:17 PM

by Atul Hatwal

The Leveson saga reached a turning point in the House of Commons at lunchtime today. As ever with that place, it was wrapped in the arcane minutiae of parliamentary procedure, but make no mistake it was pivotal.

Following the Conservative’s refusal to countenance enacting Leveson, pro-reform forces have looked to make amendments to existing bills to legislate for the majority of Lord Leveson’s recommendations. Principally, these amendments have been tabled for the Crime and Courts bill and the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform bill.

The Conservatives have been privately panicked at the prospect of these amendments coming to a final vote in either the House of Commons or the House of Lords. Their whips have been warning the leadership for weeks that it is unlikely the Tories will be able muster the votes to defeat the amendments, and so prevent Leveson becoming law.

Late last night came a final throw of the dice. The Conservative whips tried to re-schedule Commons debate on the Crime and Courts bill amendments. Specifically, they tabled a welter of new amendments to the bill – 29 pages of them – and tried to specify that any debate of the Leveson changes would happen after consideration of the government’s new additions.

With a fixed limit of two days debate on the amendments, all of the Leveson provisions would have been lost.

This procedural attempt to remove the Leveson amendments was contained in something called a programme motion: a motion which sets the timetable for parliamentary debate and is itself discussed, and voted upon, on the floor of the House of Commons.

In response, Labour tabled an amendment to the programme motion that would have guaranteed time for debate of the Leveson amendments.

For the Conservative plan to work, they needed the co-operation of their Liberal Democrat partners to defeat Labour’s amendment to the programme motion.

It offered the Lib Dems a potential route to help out David Cameron without being seen to publicly renege on their commitment to support Leveson.

Until this lunchtime, no-one on either side of the debate knew conclusively how hard the Lib Dems would push their coalition partners on Leveson. When Lib Dem home office minister, Jeremy Browne, got up to speak at the despatch box, on the programme motion for the Crime and Courts bill, he implicitly answered the questions on the Lib Dem’s commitment to Leveson.


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Revealed: How the Tories watered down their original Leveson proposals under pressure from the press barons

15/02/2013, 09:54:43 AM

by Atul Hatwal

It’s taken an age. The Tories’ proposals for establishing a press regulator through a royal charter have been mooted for months but were only published earlier this week. After David Cameron’s commitment to swift action in the Commons debate, following the publication of the Leveson report last November, they had been expected at the start of January. But weeks passed and nothing emerged. Why the delay? What took so long?

Uncut can exclusively reveal that the Conservatives were in fact ready to publish proposals several weeks ago. A team operating under cabinet office minister Oliver Letwin prepared a draft setting out how the royal charter would operate, in December. This draft was personally authorised by Letwin and cleared at the highest levels in Number 10. It represented the Conservatives’ view of what was needed to establish an effective regulator without statute.

But even this proved to be too much for the press barons and under private pressure from the industry, the Tories have further watered down their proposals. The result has left the cross-party negotiations on Leveson in chaos.

Two changes have been made to the Tories original proposal, weakening regulation beyond the levels even David Cameron and Oliver Letwin felt necessary.

In the December draft of the proposals, seen by Uncut, Letwin’s team enshrined the independence of the recognition body that underpins the press regulator, to protect it from interference by government.

The body could only have its terms of reference altered if backed by a  two-thirds “super-majority” in the House of Commons and it could only be dissolved by an act of parliament. A whole section of the draft document was devoted to this topic:

The Recognition Panel

(1) (An amendment of the Recognition Panel’s Charter has no effect until each House of Parliament has by resolution by the required majority directed that the amendment is to have effect.

(2) The Recognition Panel may not be dissolved otherwise than by way of Act of Parliament.

(3) The reference to an amendment of the Recognition Panel’s Charter is a reference to —

(a) the addition of a provision to the Charter,

(b) the variation of a provision in the Charter, or

(c) the omission of the whole or part of a provision from the Charter.

(4) A resolution under this section is to be regarded as being by the required majority if at least two-thirds of the members of the House in question who vote on the motion for the resolution do so in support of it.

(5) A motion for a resolution under this section may be made by any member of the House in question.

(6) “The Recognition Panel’s Charter” means the Royal Charter dated [ ] 2013 under which the Recognition Panel was incorporated.

Sources within the newspaper industry have suggested that publishers were panicked about safeguarding the remit of the recognition body in this way because it effectively removed their ability to pressure  future governments to amend the terms of reference.

The feedback to the Tories from the press camp was robust and unequivocal: preserving the independence of the recognition panel with these protections was unacceptable.


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A sensible report from the EU? On media regulation? Wonder if it was reported fairly by our press?

30/01/2013, 10:43:58 AM

by Horatio Mortimer

A group of experts convened by the vice president of the European Commission, Neelie Kroes, this week published its report on media freedom and plurality. An EU report “calling for media regulation?” You can just imagine the frothing in some newsrooms.

The group was initially convened for several reasons :

  • firstly the fear that in certain countries, the media was not as free and diverse as it should be, and did not conform to the principles of freedom and democracy expected of members of the EU;
  • secondly, as part of the effort to make the institutions of the EU itself more democratic;
  • and thirdly to consider ways to protect the vital democratic functions of the media from potential damage caused by the technological earthquake that is reshaping the industry.

The EU is a union of democracies that have agreed to open their markets to each other to increase trade, prosperity and peace.  The single market requires universal standards to be applied in the production of goods and services so as to avoid regulatory arbitrage where firms move production to wherever they have the fewest obligations.

Each country must therefore trust the others to do their part in the governing of the EU, and also to implement the rules that have been commonly agreed. In order to trust them, we need confidence that they are properly governed, and democratically accountable. If we fear that governments of other member states have been captured by special interests and no longer faithfully serve their citizens, then we begin to lose faith in the governance of the whole union.

Some of the eastern states, which made such astonishing democratic progress during the process of gaining EU membership, have begun to slip back. Once a country has its membership, there is much less pressure to maintain those standards. The situation in Hungary is an example of how bad habits can die hard.

Meanwhile in Italy a mogul gained a position of such dominance in the media that after the fall of the government he had corrupted, the best way he could protect his business and personal interests was to get himself elected prime minister.


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The debate on Osborne’s Autumn statement will, once again, ignore what really matters

04/12/2012, 07:00:37 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Is the national scandal David Cameron’s lack of inclination to implement Leveson or his failure to facilitate a similarly forensic investigation and debate on the culture, practices and ethics of the financial sector?

The central reality of Britain in 2012 is that our national wealth remains more than 3 percent below its pre-crisis peak. The Autumn statement should tell us precisely how far George Osborne’s debt and deficit targets are off track. But the core truth is obvious: our anaemic growth makes it ever harder for us to sustain the public services and quality of life we would like.

We have not been through a deeper and longer growth contraction than the notoriously grim 1930s because of Rupert Murdoch. Labour rightly insists that if Leveson is implemented then the indignities and injustices of the press will be reduced. But we have little to offer in terms of policies that will provide comparable certainty that the financial crisis of 2008 will either not happen again or not precipitate such a deleterious effect upon the wider economy if it does.

Labour has made much of Cameron’s reluctance to provide a statutory underpinning to press regulation but the call made by Michael Jacobs and Tony Wright for a judicial inquiry into the financial crash on the lines of Leveson went unheeded. Instead we had the Vickers Report, which Osborne managed to get away with partially implementing, in spite of Sir John’s insistence throughout that his recommendations will only work as a complete package.


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