The report of Part 1 of the Leveson Inquiry will be published this Autumn. We will consider the anticipated date of delivery shortly. As Lord Justice Leveson toils away analysing the evidence of 650 witnesses and the 6,000 pages of documents, the media and politicians sharpen their knives and oil their spinning machines. The past fortnight has seen only one item of actual news about the Inquiry. But that has not stopped the media publishing rumours, spin and nonsense about it. In the first of a new occasional series we round up the media’s Leveson material from the past couple of weeks.
First the news. The Inquiry has a first rate website providing comprehensive documentation and public information and this is the place where we find the only actual “news” of the week about the Inquiry. The site gives us are the updated costs figures for the Inquiry, published on 5 September 2012. The summary of costs, July 2011 to June 2012 [doc] shows a total figure of £3.903 million. The largest components of this were £1,214,700 for the staff costs of the Inquiry secretariat and £1,015,700 for Counsel to the Inquiry.
The overall sum seems quite modest for 96 days of evidence and a year’s worth of Inquiry – set against, for example, the £20 million spent a few hours of the Olympics closing ceremony. However, predictably, the “Daily Mail” could not resist the opportunity for a dig
The soaring bill has led to questions about David Cameron’s decision to set up the inquiry in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal. Philip Davies, a Tory member of the Commons culture, media and sport committee, said: ‘We are spending a lot of money feathering the nests of lawyers in order to find out what we already know and, potentially, to end up with a form of statutory regulation of the media that will be a disaster for free speech.’
There has been a second item of Leveson “news” in wide recent circulation. This concerns the timing of the publication of the Leveson Report at the end of Part 1 of the Inquiry. It is worth recalling the background on the “timing of delivery” question.
In his statement to the House of Commons on 13 July 2011 the Prime Minister indicated that he hoped the Inquiry would report within 12 months. Lord Justice Leveson was formally appointed on 28 July 2011. In his opening remarks, Lord Justice Leveson indicated that the time had remained at 12 months despite the substantial grow in the terms of reference. The most recent statement was by Lord Justice Leveson on the last day of sitting of the Inquiry
“I will produce a report as soon as I reasonably can. I recognise the urgency of the matter and the need to provide my views for the consideration of the government and all those interested parties speedily so that decisions can be made as to the way forward.”
Now, “sources” have told the Guardian that Lord Justice Leveson will not produce his final report until early November. Although this has been widely reported as fact there has been no official statement on the point. Of course, it would be entirely understandable if Lord Justice Leveson needed a short extension of time – new material is provided every day. It might, however, be better if comment had been sought from the Inquiry secretariat (if it was, it is not mentioned). Perhaps then actual information on the point could have been reported. But that would, doubtless, have been a repetition of the obvious point made by Lord Justice Leveson at the last hearing: the report will be published as soon as reasonably possible.
We had a post last week about “Leveson, Leaking, Spinning and Briefing”. One feature of this was the ruminations of “Independent” editor Chris Blackhurst on Lord Justice Leveson’s Rule 13 letter. This drew a rebuke from the Inquiry. But Mr Blackhurst is unrepentant. Taking advantage of his own columns, he tells us that “The positive power of the press must be recognised”. Apparently, he was afraid that all newspapers and journalists “were in danger of being traduced” and so he had spoken out “to put down a marker and get our voice heard”. We can see his point. After all, it is going so difficult for the voice of the press to be heard amongst the clamour of pro-Leveson reporting …
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister continues in his attempt to backtrack from the “Dowler test” for the acceptability of the Leveson recommendations. To remind ourselves, this is what David Cameron told the Inquiry on 14 June 2012:
“that’s the test of all this. It’s not: do the politicians or the press feel happy with what we get? It’s: are we really protecting people who have been caught up and absolutely thrown to the wolves by this process. That’s what the test is”.
Last week, the spin was that the Prime Minister was preparing to reject any recommendation in favour of statutory regulation “even if it is strongly recommended by Lord Justice Leveson”. When Hacked Off pointed out that this was not consistent with the “Dowler test”, the Downing Street spinners were ready with their response
“a well-placed source said Mr Cameron’s words had been misinterpreted and he had not intended to give a veto to any particular victims over the new system of regulation”.
Politics and Nonsense
Then there is Leveson and politics. What is the significance of the move of Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt to Health and his replacement by a relative unknown, Maria Miller? A number of views are possible. Some thought that a fresh face and an open mind at Culture was a positive development. But New Statesman political editor Rafael Behr tweeted.
“No.10 convinced hacking/Leveson a transient W’minster bubble obsession. Hunt’s being mired in it seen as no obstacle to promotion”.
Meanwhile, former “Guardian” editor Peter Preston – who is proving a reliable spokesman for the Fleet Street ancien regime – is convinced that “Leveson looks even less likely to end up as law after the reshuffle” – with a new culture secretary, a different justice minister and an election looming, the Tories seem to have less stomach for a ‘Leveson Act’. He concludes that:
The arguments for letting the PCC and Lord Hunt get on with reform are pragmatic as well as political. The arguments for calling in parliament’s draftsmen are neither.
In short, let the newspaper proprietors have their way again. It is to be hoped that this will not be the considered view of the “Observer” and the “Guardian”.
And there remains strong body of “anti-statutory regulation” sentiment in the Labour Party. Writing on Sunday in the “Sunday Mail” (the Scottish version of the Sunday Mirror, no relation to the Daily Mail), former Labour MP Brian Wilson urged Leveson to resist any temptation to recommend state regulation of the press. The full article is not available online but there is a report on Allmedia Scotland which quotes him as saying:
“As we have seen in the ongoing case of the News of the World, the law is well capable of catching up with alleged offenders, when it chooses to do so. No additional regulations are necessary. … The Press faces tough times with the internet transforming the way information is received. Yet the failings of the internet offer the best argument for maintaining a strong and vigilant Press, providing reliable information and commanding public trust.”
Neither of these arguments bears serious examination but it is disturbing to find a former senior Labour politician (and former editor of the alternative West Highland Free Press) repeating them in a mainstream newspaper.