Leveson's verdict: 'The press have wreaked havoc'. Cameron's verdict: I reject the report's key finding
After Leveson tells the country that a new law is vital to tame the press, PM praises report but crushes hopes of consensus by arguing another way
The father of Madeleine McCann has urged the Prime Minister to 'do the right thing' following the publication of the Leveson Report into media standards and practices.
Mr McCann, who gave evidence to the inquiry, welcomed the results of the 16-month investigation, but insisted the report should have gone further.
Gerry and his wife Kate, said they were treated like a commodity as an "insatiable" hunt for headlines led to the sacrifice not only of the search for the truth but of their "dignity, privacy and well-being."
He urged the Prime Minister to reconsider his position against any statutory underpinning of press regulation.
Lord Justice Leveson's report said newspapers in Britain have been guilty of years of malpractice that “wreaked havoc on the lives of innocent people” and must ultimately be regulated by law to prevent further wrongdoing.
But just hours after delivering his report and calling for the first press laws since the 17th century, Lord Justice Leveson’s hopes that his proposals would receive broad political support were crushed.
David Cameron warned that he had “principled and practical” concerns about “crossing the Rubicon” and legislating to control the press, while the Labour leader Ed Miliband insisted Parliament should “put its faith” in all Leveson’s recommendations.
In an unprecedented split in the Coalition, the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg also came out in favour of legislation, arguing that press laws were needed to ensure any new regulator “isn’t just independent for a few months”.
Months of difficult negotiations and lobbying now lie ahead which will pit parts of the press against the victims who Leveson found they had intimidated and harassed.
Last night Mr Cameron’s allies suggested he would defy the House of Commons even if, as expected, it votes in favour of the new law to underpin independent regulation. He is unlikely to drop his opposition to a statutory approach even if a majority of MPs vote in favour of one, they said.
Among Lord Leveson’s main findings in his mammoth 1987 page report were:
:: Unethical practices by the press extended far beyond the News of the World and went on for many years. Editors at a number of newspapers “talked and joked” about phone hacking but did nothing to stop it while unwanted intrusion and surveillance of celebrities was common place.
:: Newspaper “recklessly” prioritised sensational stories, irrespective of the harm that they could cause to those affected and “heedless” of the public interest.
:: Meanwhile proprietors and in particular Rupert Murdoch paid scant attention to regulating the activities of their newspapers that often “intimidated” or took “retribution against complainants or critics”.
But the report was much kinder to politicians who courted the press, concluding that there was no evidence they were unduly influenced by need to gain press support.
In particular Leveson cleared the Government of being unduly influenced by News International in its decision over the BSkyB takeover – a finding criticised by political opponents.
Leveson said there was “no credible evidence of actual bias” on the part of the former Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt in deciding on the takeover, but criticised the role given to his special advisor Adam Smith, which he said gave rise to a “perception of bias”.
Leveson disputed Rupert Murdoch’s testimony that he did not try and influence politicians, pointedly remarking: “He must have been aware of how he was being perceived; to suggest otherwise would be to suggest that Mr Murdoch knows little about human nature and lacks basic insight, which could not, of course, be further from the truth.”
Leveson admitted that the section of his report on phone hacking at the culture at News International that led to it was limited given on-going court actions and will ultimately be the subject of a second inquiry.
He did not criticise the Metropolitan Police for its initial response to phone hacking allegation against Clive Goodman and Glen Mulcaire accepting that in the aftermath of the 7/7 terrorist attacks they were under “enormous pressure”. But he concluded that when further evidence of phone hacking came to light in subsequent years the police failed in its duty to take the allegations seriously.
The report also criticised James Murdoch, when he was in charge of News International, for failing to investigate phone hacking and asking, as Leveson put it, “what the hell is going on?”
Significant parts of the Leveson report deal with his proposals for a new form of press regulation to replace the discredited Press Complaints Commission. He rejected industry proposals for a more limited form of independent regulation and instead suggested:
:: Creating a new press regulator independent of both the industry and Government with the power to fine newspapers up to one per cent of turnover up to £1 million for “serious or systematic” breaches of the standards code. It would also have the power to direct the “nature, extent and placement of apologies”.
:: Newspapers would not be obliged to sign up to the new body but if they chose not to take part they would face paying all the legal costs of any court action against them for defamation or privacy. However, publications that signed up could be exempt from legal costs if they could prove that they offered arbitration to the complainant.
“This is not statutory regulation of the press,” he insisted. “I am proposing independent regulation of the press, organised by the press, itself with a statutory process to itself promote press freedom, provide stability and guarantee for the public that this new body is independent or effective.”
However just hours later in the House of Commons David Cameron appeared to disagree warning MPs that Parliament should be “wary” of passing legislation to regulate the press.
“I have some serious concerns and misgivings about this recommendation,” he said. “For the first time we would have crossed the Rubicon, writing elements of press regulation into the law of the land.
“We should, I believe, be wary of any legislation which has the potential to infringe free speech and a free press.”
The Labour leader Ed Miliband disagreed arguing that ithout statutory underpinning “there cannot be the change we need” and calling it the “crucial new guarantee we have never had before”. Unusually he was backed by the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg who split with Mr Cameron to back regulation.
Victims groups welcomed and backed Leveson’s recommendations but expressed anger at Mr Cameron’s refusal not to endorse them in full.
Solicitor Mark Lewis, who represents the family of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, said that Mr Cameron had failed the victims of phone hacking: “Cautious optimism lasted for about 45 minutes and then the Prime Minister spoke and said he is not going to implement a report that he instigated.”
Professor Brian Cathcart, director of Hacked Off, which represents the victims of phone hacking, said: “Lord Justice Leveson has... given the Prime Minister a workable, proportionate and reasonable solution to the problems of press abuse. The Prime Minister has not done his job.”
There was also some criticism from within the inquiry team itself – about one of Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations. Shami Chakrabarti, director of the Civil liberties group Liberty - whose served as an assessor in the inquiry team - said her organisation was unable to back the last-resort alternative of compulsory statutory regulation: “Leveson’s main proposal makes sense for the public, press and politicians alike. What nobody needs and Liberty cannot support is any last-resort compulsory statutory press regulation - coming at too high a price in a free society.”
Christopher Jefferies, the former public school teacher whose arrest over the murder of Joanna Yeates sparked a tabloid frenzy, said: “I think he is very much mistaken. I think the Prime Minister leaves himself open to the accusation that what he is doing is simply once again, as too many Prime Ministers have done in the past, is bowing to illegitimate pressure from a body which does not want to have its power curtailed in any shape or form.”
The Leveson Report: Key points
*David Cameron rejected the central recommendation of Lord Justice Leveson’s report: that a new press watchdog independent of MPs and newspapers must be backed by new press laws.
*The legislation, as recommended by Leveson, would enshrine a legal duty on the Government to protect the freedom of the press.
*The new watchdog, which would replace the Press Complaints Commission, should be able to levy fines on offending newspapers of up to £1m and have the power to direct the “nature, extent and placement of apologies” in newspapers. Leveson rejected the print industry’s own proposals for regulation.
*The watchdog would create an arbitration system enabling victims of the press to seek redress without the cost of legal action.
*Newspapers that refuse to join the new body could face direct regulation by Ofcom.
*The recommendations split the Coalition. Nick Clegg made clear he is firmly in favour of new legislation. Ed Miliband endorsed the Leveson Report in its “entirety”.
*Leveson criticised the Cabinet Minister Jeremy Hunt and former Scotland Yard officer John Yates.
*Victims of media intrusion broadly welcomed the report. Hugh Grant said he hoped it would “mark the start of a new era for our press”.
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