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Leveson Inquiry: David Cameron condemned over media regulation

Senior media figures hit out at the Prime Minister today as they launched a robust defence of self-regulation.

Former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie launched a scathing criticism of David Cameron's "obsessive arse-kissing" of the Murdochs and slammed the "ludicrous" inquiry into media ethics and phone hacking.

His comments came after Associated Newspapers editor-in-chief Paul Dacre accused Mr Cameron of a "cynical act of political expediency" by declaring the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) was a "failed" body.

At the latest Leveson Inquiry seminar, editors united in their support of self-regulation.

Mr Mackenzie said: "The only reason we are all here is due to one man's action; Cameron's obsessive arse-kissing over the years of Rupert Murdoch."

Mr Mackenzie said Mr Cameron wanted Rupert Murdoch "onside at all costs".

He said "There was never a party, a breakfast, a lunch, a cuppa or a quiet word or drink that Cameron and Co would not turn up to in force if The Great Man or his handmaiden Rebekah Brooks was there.

"There was always a queue to kiss their rings. It was gut wrenching."

He said final proof the Prime Minister had "clearly gone quite potty" was his hiring of Andy Coulson as his director of communications, but the phone hacking scandal had prompted him to order: "Stop the arse kissing and start the arse kicking".

Regularly prompting laughter, Mr MacKenzie mocked both the inquiry as well as poking fun of its chairman Lord Justice Leveson, "who couldn't win when prosecuting counsel against Ken Dodd for tax evasion".

Mr MacKenzie mocked questions asked of the inquiry's witnesses, including if an editor knew the sources of many stories.

"To be frank, I didn't bother during my 13 years with one important exception", saying that time the Sun was later forced to pay out £1 million in libel damages to Elton John.

Mr MacKenzie said there were "plenty of laws" to cover what had happened rather than the inquiry: "This is the way in which our Prime Minister is hopeful he can escape his own personal lack of judgment."

He said Rupert Murdoch told an anecdote about Gordon Brown "roaring" down the phone at him after the Sun overshadowed his Labour Party conference speech by deciding to endorse Mr Cameron for the next election, prompting Brown to declare: "you are trying to destroy me and my party. I will destroy you and your company".

The point of the anecdote was to show there is "nothing wrong with the press", and the scandal was "simply a moment in time when low-grade criminality took over a newspaper", he said.

"If anything, the only recommendation that should be put forward by Leveson is one banning by law over-ambitious and under-talented politicians from giving house room to proprietors who are seeking commercial gain from their contacts.

"In tabloid terms, arse kissing will be illegal."

Associated Newspapers editor-in-chief Paul Dacre said over-regulating the press would "Put democracy itself in peril", also hitting out at the Prime Minister.

"Am I alone in detecting the rank smells of hypocrisy and revenge in the political class's current moral indignation over a British press that dared to expose their greed and corruption.

"The same political class, incidentally, that, until a few weeks ago, had spent years indulging in sickening genuflection to the Murdoch press."

Launching a staunch defence of self-regulation, Mr Dacre said: "Over-regulate that press and you put democracy itself in peril.

"And self-regulation, I would argue, is at the very heart of a free press.

"Which is why I profoundly regret that a Prime Minister - who had become too close to News International in general and Andy Coulson and Rebekah Wade in particular - in a pretty cynical act of political expediency has prejudiced the outcome of this inquiry by declaring that the PCC, an institution he'd been committed to only a few weeks previously, was a 'failed' body."

Mr Dacre said it was "emphatically not" and that the British press was "vastly better behaved" thanks to the PCC.

He said the commission was naive over phone hacking, but police were also to blame: "If phone hacking results in the abolition of the PCC, then logically it should result in the abolition of the police and the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service)."

Mr Dacre made several suggestions for reform of the PCC, including a way to compel all newspaper owners to fund and participate in self-regulation, and for corrections to be given more prominence.

From next week the Daily Mail, the Mail on Sunday and Metro will introduce a Corrections and Clarifications column on page two, he said.

He also suggested the possibility of an Ombudsman for press standards.

"The Ombudsman could also have the power to summon journalists and editors to give evidence, to name offenders and, if necessary - in the cases of the most extreme malfeasance - to impose fines.

"On the principle of 'polluter pays', offending media groups could, within reason, be forced to carry the costs of any investigation affecting their newspapers."

Mr MacKenzie also defended the PCC, saying: "they were misled, they were lied to".

"The phone hacking had nothing to do with the press and regulation.

"You had a bunch of people, alleged criminals, that's what that was about."

He said the "over-reaction" of the inquiry was due to "a Prime Minister who has got his hand in the bloody till in a relationship with a powerful businessman".

John Kampfner, chief executive of Index on Censorship, echoed warnings of the over-regulation of the press, but said it would never be possible to create the "perfect media".

"That it happened was an indictment on two generations of politicians, from Tony Blair flying to an Australian island to kneel at the feet of Rupert Murdoch to David Cameron's intimate Oxfordshire suppers, to police chiefs taking jollies, to a so-called regulator happily taking no for an answer."