Looks like Cameron is going to kick Leveson into the long grass

Recently, I wrote to my (Salisbury) MP, John Glen,  regarding concerns about the likely government response to the Leveson enquiry. Five weeks after Leveson’s final recommendations were published nothing has happened to indicate that my fears were not  justified. Here is a copy of my email followed by my summary of a letter by Brian Cathcart (Founder of ‘Hacked Off’) published in the Guardian.

Copy of email sent to Mr Glen MP 17/12/2012:

Dear Mr Glen,

Thank you for your prompt and detailed reply.  I agree with nearly all of your comments and share your concerns that we should have a free press, one that is free from government (and establishment control). I also agree that the responses to the Leveson report were far too quick from all sides – more knee jerk than well thought out.

However there seems to be a major omission form the balance of your comments, i.e. a free press must also be one that is free from the control of powerful media owners.  Owners whose aim is to exploit their power for either  their own political propaganda or more simply to facilitate their own financial interests at the expense of the ordinary citizen.

I do not need to remind you that currently, the UK press is owned by the likes of Rupert Murdoch, the Barclay brothers, the pornographer Richard Desmond, Viscount Rothermere (Editor Paul Dacre) and even an ex KGB agent and Russian oligarch (Alexander Lebedev).  Ironically, as far as I am aware, the ex KGB agent has been the most responsible of these owners.

These people clearly believe that a free press is simply one where they have the freedom to do what they like. The evidence is incontrovertible and it is a shame that we had to spend £4-6 million on an inquiry when, as has been pointed out, some of these people have been breaking the law with impunity.  They could have been bought to justice, if it were not for their power over our political elites (of both main parties).  It is this power that the likes of Murdoch and Dacre have over our elected politicians that is the main concern and, given David Cameron’s (and other cabinet ministers) track record, I think you must appreciate my doubts that voluntary self regulation will work.

We know that the power of these people persists – any politician or person in authority who says a good word for Murdoch or makes the ‘right’ decision (including senior police officers and both Labour and Tory cabinet ministers as well as ordinary MPs) knows that they will be financially rewarded, usually a so called job “writing” articles for Murdoch newspapers. This is not corruption in the eyes of the law, that can be proved or brought to justice but it is corruption that we can see with our own eyes.

The behaviour of the press, since the Leveson report, indicates they have no intention of changing their behaviour.

Corruption aside, these owners and editors clearly have no scruples, no ethics and are not interested in honest reporting they just want the freedom to lie, bug, smear, steal, to get their own way.  Their main interest is in using their newspapers to promote their rather unpleasant style of hate filled, right wing propaganda with the aim of undermining rather than facilitating democratic debate.

In short they are five unelected, unaccountable rich men who want to set the nations political agenda and cultural tone according to their own prejudices.   In a free society the views of these owners and editors must be tolerated but not their methods or their positions of power.

A free press must be a diverse press where no one owner or corporation can be allowed to have a monopoly or controlling position – a principle accepted by most democratic nations except our current government. We need to remember that, had it not been for the Milly Dowler furore, Cameron and Hunt would have allowed Murdoch (a non UK citizen who does not pay UK tax) a controlling influence over the British media. In fact all the evidence suggests that Cameron & Hunt were all part of a joint endeavour under the ‘Rubicon’ title to ensure this happened. (The plan may yet be revived of course).

I fully and enthusiastically accept your argument for the need for a press free from political manipulation. But you cannot expect anyone to respect your position if you do not equally enthusiastically see the need for a press that is not dominated by corporate interests or the interests of a few megalomaniacs.

So I simply ask you once more to ensure that you do not let your party’s desire for a friendly and supportive press at the next election overcome your commitment to a genuinely free and diverse press.

It would also be good to hear you express just a little understanding for the many concerned citizens who do not believe that anything is going to change. Past experience has led them to expect some kind of cynical attempt at manufacturing a phony self regulator and in practice nothing will change. In fact it seems to me that Murdoch has simply entrenched his power base.  If Murdoch can give a gift of £11 million to an ex editor, dish out jobs as rewards, sack editors at will and influence elections then I guess he can get away with anything – truth, freedom, democracy do not stand a chance, especially when politicians are not prepared to make a stand. Please prove me wrong.

Best regards,

Colin Lawson

Here is my latest response based largely on Brian Cathcart’s letter in the Guardian:

Leveson said that politicians responding to the report must act in an above-board manner, otherwise they will inevitably encourage suspicions they are courting favour with editors and proprietors, and any outcome will be compromised.

In the five weeks since the report came out:

  • The prime minister rejected the central proposal of the report: ‘statutory underpinning’
  • He and other Tory ministers met editors, but published no minutes.
  • Begun a series of cross-party meetings from which no minutes have emerged.
  • Before Christmas the prime minister met Rebekah Brooks (former News International boss) who is awaiting trial on criminal charges and who received an £11 million handout/sweetener/ payoff from Rupert Murdoch.
  • The Prime Minister has failed to meet Hacked Off, the campaign for press reform, or the victims of press abuses, or any other relevant civil society.
  • Despite promises that government contacts with the press would be made public as a matter of routine, “to bring complete transparency to the relationship”, no such disclosures have been made for the last six months.

Cameron twice promised he would implement Leveson’s proposals, however actions speak louder than words and it looks likely that he has no intention of implementing any of the proposals that don’t have the approval of the likes of Rupert Murdock (a non tax paying, non UK citizen; Paul Dacre the obscenely unpleasant editor of the Daily Mail and Richard Desmond the pornographer and owner of the Daily Express.

It is looking increasingly likely that  Cameron’s need for a friendly press at the next election out weighs any consideration for fulfilling the promises made to Leveson and the UK public or the need for a free and independent press.

So Leveson has been kicked into the long grass along with banking reform. Hacked Off Condemns Leveson Discussions A ‘Cosy Stitch-Up’ (The Huffington Post UK/PA | Posted: 17/12/2012)


UPDATE 26th Jan 2013): Non UK citizen, Non tax payer Rupert Murdoch still interfering with British politics (supporting Boris Johnson for next PM) – so much for Leveson:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2013/jan/26/boris-johnson-rupert-murdoch-meeting?CMP=twt_gu

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