DAILY MAIL COMMENT: Cameron leads the fight for liberty
10:12 GMT, 30 November 2012
Let the Mail say at once that Lord Justice Leveson, though sometimes let down by sloppy researchers, has approached his impossibly wide brief in a fine spirit of public service. To the best of his abilities, he has tried to be fair and keep his patience, while tackling issues over which passions have inevitably run high.
To his credit, too, he has avowed his belief in the central importance to democracy of a free Press, accepting the former can’t exist without the latter.
Reassuringly, he has stressed newspapers should not be restricted to reporting weighty matters, deemed by the great and good to be ‘in the public interest’. They should also be free to entertain and provoke.
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But as he points out, this doesn’t mean there’s no need for reform.
Indeed, this paper has long shared the public’s distaste over the conduct of some sections of the Press — and since the phone-hacking scandal (exposed by a newspaper) we have helped draw up plans for a new and much tougher regulatory body.
True, it is striking that on the two specific charges of malpractice that triggered his inquiry, Sir Brian Leveson brings in verdicts of not guilty.
He finds the Guardian was wrong to assert that a News of the World hacker had deleted messages from Milly Dowler’s voicemail, so raising false hopes that the missing schoolgirl was still alive.
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He also concludes the early failure of the police to investigate hacking at the NoW (more than made up for in the scores of arrests since) had nothing to do with a corrupt relationship between the owners and the Met.
Rather, the innocent explanation was that officers were too busy fighting terrorism at the time.
Despite all this, we have the gravest reservations about some of Sir Brian’s recommendations.
Repeatedly, he has said he is not proposing statutory regulation, but merely a body ‘underpinned’ by statute. This is just playing with words.
For the new regulator would depend on recognition from Ofcom, whose chairman is appointed by the Government.
Indeed, Sir Brian seems worryingly unable to grasp that once MPs and the media quango become involved, the freedom of the Press from state control will be fatally compromised for the first time since 1694.
Though he assures us his regulator will be appointed by an independent panel, he doesn’t answer the burning question: who will appoint the panel
Isn’t there an acute danger that it will end up like so many public bodies, including Ofcom itself — stuffed with Blairites, on massive salaries, with a Left-leaning perception of what constitutes the public interest
Chillingly, Sir Brian also suggests any publication that refuses to accept the new body’s jurisdiction should be made to pay the full costs of an ensuing civil court action even if it wins the case.
Lord Justice Leveson has stressed his report is not a proposal for statutory regulation – but a body 'underpinned' by statute
So, for the first time, the principle of punishing the innocent would be enshrined in British law.
Elsewhere in his report, Sir Brian displays an other-worldly naivety that can only undermine public faith in his understanding of the issues at stake.
Isn’t it extraordinary that he gave an entirely clean bill of health to the police and politicians in their dealings with the Press
As for his suggestion that the police should be banned from talking to journalists off the record, how on Earth does he imagine stories of police corruption or incompetence have ever been brought to light
Praised: The Mail helped bring the killers of Stephen Lawrence,who was murdered in a racist attack while waiting for a bus, to justice
He praises the Mail for bringing Stephen Lawrence’s killers to justice. But if it weren’t for confidential briefings by senior officers, the guilty would still be at large.
Most surprising of all, perhaps, is his ignorance of the unregulated internet’s effects on the ability of the Press to compete. Can he really believe, in the age of the smartphone, children could have been protected from seeing pictures of the naked Prince Harry, simply by banning newspapers from publishing them
Indeed, in his statement yesterday, Sir Brian raised the internet only to dismiss it as unimportant while failing to mention the huge democratic deficit opening up as, one after another, newspapers go to the wall.
Both Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg must see how our democracy is imperilled by the slow death of the commercially viable Press. Yet for grubby political reasons, they have embraced the Leveson report, backed by expenses-fiddling MPs with axes to grind.
Indeed, the way Mr Miliband yesterday put politics before principle was truly depressing.
To his enormous credit, however, David Cameron sees this report for what it is — a mortal threat to the British people’s historic right to know.
If he prevails in protecting that right, with the help of like-minded freedom lovers in the Commons and Lords, he will earn a place of honour in our history.