Letters: Power to curb press abuses


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These letters are published in the Monday 18 March 2013 edition of The Independent

Each of our charities works with different groups  – disabled people, women and girls, people living with HIV and people with mental health problems. But we share the same concerns over press regulation. In the current political manoeuvring, we must not forget that people’s lives will be affected by what happens next.

The Leveson Inquiry shone a light on serious failures by parts of the press, including inaccurate and prejudicial reporting, that  may not always affect a named individual but does affect a wider group. Our organisations have all seen the harm caused to people’s lives by this kind of reporting – harm that goes far beyond the mere causing of offence.

We have seen spikes in calls to helplines from women who have been victims of violence and are re-traumatised when media stories are published that blame women for attacks on them. Six in 10 people with mental health issues report that stigma and discrimination, often fuelled by repeated associations between mental health and violence, are just as damaging and distressing as the symptoms of their mental illness.

We have seen inaccurate and prejudicial reporting on HIV, leading to people being deterred from testing or being frightened of disclosing their HIV status to others; and nearly half of disabled people reporting that attitudes towards them have got worse over the past year, with inaccurate press coverage cited as the main cause.

Leveson recommended that any new regulators should be able to hear complaints from relevant third parties including representative organisations. As Parliament prepares to debate the way forward, we call on our politicians to ensure that this important power is given to any new regulator, backed by a strong code of practice that supports editors and journalists to uphold the highest possible standards of accurate and responsible journalism.

Holly Dustin, Director, End Violence Against Women Coalition

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive, Mind

Deborah Jack, Chief Executive, National AIDS Trust

Tracey Lazard, Chief Executive, Inclusion London

Liz Sayce, Chief Executive, Disability Rights UK, London E15


Are those in favour of state regulation of the press unable to imagine us in future having a government which abuses this power? Are those who gain control of the levers of power always so saintly? Why take the risk?

Given that all the serious offences committed by the press are offences under current laws, what is needed is to ensure that those harmed by the press have the power to take the press to court.

To ensure they do, there should be a fund (provided by the press and/or government) which underwrites their costs. Then citizens could undertake civil proceedings without fear that losing could financially ruin them.

Dan Dennis, Philosophy Tutor, Department of Continuing Education,  University of Oxford


What a surprise! The “nasty party” in general and the PM in particular are afraid of the gutter press. The Leveson report made it quite clear that self-regulation had failed and that statutory action is required. Of course the press barons do not want that; they want business as usual.

The one good thing to come out of this sorry affair is that at last the Lib Dems are starting to realise that they have more in common with Labour than with the Tories. Let us hope that we will not have to wait too long for a new political alignment to evolve.

D G Sawtell, Tydd St Giles, Cambridgeshire


The tendentious coverage of the Prime Minister’s latest position on Leveson in certain newspapers serves as a reminder of their potency as a tool to persuade in our democracy.

Like Blair’s grandstanding on the vote for 90-day detention of terrorist suspects, this is pure politics from Cameron and good strategy. Win or lose the vote, those papers will cast him in a favourable light hereafter.

As with Blair, perhaps we will see an immediate post-vote interview emphasising that he was governed by principle and, if the vote goes against him, that he tried his best. All good stuff, to make sure the other guy gets the Kinnock treatment.

James Richardson-Howell, Norwich


We need a new Attlee – but where is he?

Congratulations to Rosie Boycott (16 March) – the welfare state was indeed “nothing short of a revolution”.  In the 1920s we had the same ideas of austerity (except for the rich) that are being pushed on us now, especially in Germany with war reparations.

Finally we had to adopt Keynesianism, not by borrowing more but by taxing the wealthy –as high as 97.5 per cent in Britain and 94 per cent in the US. This is how we recovered from the catastrophe of the Great Depression and the Second World War, how we rebuilt the country and how the US created Silicon Valley and their electronics industry.

Is it not shameful that we have been set on exactly the same course again and by an Oxford graduate with a degree in modern history? He must have missed those lectures on the 1930s because he was punting on the Isis or breaking up restaurants with his Bullingdon Club buddies.

Every ordinary person I meet, as opposed to politicians, is talking revolution, like Rosie Boycott – but where are the Attlees and the Bevans now we need them? Or will it be a Hitler with his lethal xenophobia?

John Day, Port Solent, Hampshire


As the gap between the growing super-rich and the growing super-poor sectors of our free-market societies increases, is it not inevitable that some kind of redistribution of wealth scheme will prove to be the only alternative to total economic collapse? However, the crude and broad-brush approach of the Cyprus government will only really punish those in the middle who are neither rich nor in any way responsible for the financial landslide.

Let us in this country take a 50 per cent levy from every multi-millionaire’s account and wipe out all the deficit and austerity instantly. If anyone has a better alternative, speak up.

Shahriyar Saeb-Noori, Torquay

The Pope and the poor

I was disappointed that The Independent swallowed the propaganda emanating from the Vatican about the new Pope. In the developing world every political organisation (for that is what the Vatican is) tries to recruit among the disaffected and the poor.

Pope Francis seems more concerned with celebrating Mass with the poor than with bringing them dignity and jobs. Baptising children of unwed mothers is another old tradition of conservative Catholicism – to add to the numbers, like death-bed conversions.

If the Vatican had not waged its war against contraception many of these mothers would not be in their unfortunate situations. I’d like to ask Pope Francis how anybody can be against contraception and on the side of the poor.

Aroup Chatterjee, London E8

Judge blames Satanic influence

Howard Jacobson is disappointed by the unimaginative secular language used by Mr Justice Sweeney when sentencing Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce for perverting the course of justice, saying that he doesn’t simply mean that the judge “shows no sign of having read the Bible.” (“Oh for a judge who had read Dante or Shakespeare to sum up the tragedy of Vicky Pryce”, 16 March).

Many years ago I represented a defendant in Ipswich Crown Court in front of a judge who clearly had read his Bible, or at least the first letter of Peter. The accused, a bank official, had confessed to fraud on a customer of the bank after hearing heard a sermon preached at his local church. Addressing him before sentence after his plea of guilty, the judge said: “The devil goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, and he certainly made a meal of you!”

David Lamming, Boxford, Suffolk

Argentina’s aggression

The UK should demand that Argentina should not just recognise the Falklanders’ decision for self-determination, but hold a referendum on independence for the indigenous Mapuche nation of Patagonia. Their territory, recognised since 1641 as independent by the previous regional power, the Spanish Empire, was invaded in 1862 by colonialist Argentine troops. Argentina continues to oppress the Mapuche. 

David Crawford, Bickley, Kent

Baby boom

The only rational reaction to your leader (16 March) welcoming the current “baby boom” in our already over-crowded island is despair. You doubtless think that a larger younger generation is needed to support a longer-living older one. What will you ask for when this cohort of baby boomers becomes old? Another baby boom? You are arguing for an ever-increasing population. But the world and Britain cannot sustain an ever-increasing population.

Duncan Howarth, Maidstone, Kent


From experience in mid-Wales, I’d recommend not only wearing long trousers in the countryside as a defence against ticks (letter 15 March), but also tucking trousers into socks. I was bitten on the leg just above the sock line. Although I tested negative for the Lyme disease bacterium, I believe I contracted a virus that ticks also carry which led to 18 months of inflammation and pain.

David Redcastle, St Albans, Hertfordshire

Same old Tories

With David Cameron’s ditching of the major Leveson principle, George Osborne’s failure to implement Vickers in full, and the apparent abandoning of a minimum price for alcohol, it’s clear that New Tory (just like Old Tory) is controlled by the press, the City and the brewers.

Gordon Whitehead, Scarborough, North Yorkshire

Easter story

I have just received the latest marketing information from Waitrose. It’s a booklet with my name and “Easter Story” on the front, with the symbol of  a lamb. It’s full of recipes and money-spending opportunities for Easter. I was under the impression the Easter Story was about something else.

Jane Gregory, Emsworth, Hampshire