No more chances for press self-regulation
'I give warning here and now that if it fails, some of us will again have to come forward with a measure similar to this Bill.' And so it began.
George Eustice: Since 1949 there have been six inquiries into the press and after each they had 'one last chance' to make self-regulation work.'
The comment was made by the MP and journalist CJ Simmons in 1953 as he withdrew his Bill to establish a regulator of the press in return for the industry agreeing to introduce self-regulation.
Since 1949 there have been six inquiries into the conduct of the press and after each and every one politicians have given them 'one last chance' to make self-regulation work or else Parliament will legislate to establish an independent regulator recognised in statute. If press speculation is to be believed, there are some craven voices within the Government urging Number 10 to perpetuate this cycle of failure.
The publication of the Leveson Inquiry poses a dilemma for the Prime Minister. On the one hand are the angry newspaper proprietors and editors zealously trying to guard the unaccountable power they have accumulated and threatening to run a propaganda campaign against David Cameron unless he does as they command. On the other hand are the victims of phone hacking who have been promised by the PM that Leveson's recommendations would be implemented provided they were not 'bonkers'. Cameron has already said that we cannot do the last chance saloon all over again and the Government risks looking weak if it ignores the findings of an inquiry that it set up at a cost of more than £5m.
The fear that some in the press have about any measure set out in statute is irrational and paranoid. No-one is suggesting a state-controlled regulator where politicians can interfere in the free press. All we are really talking about is introducing some minor form of statutory recognition for a press adjudicator.
If Cameron was to be decisive and implement at least some of the proposals outlined by Lord Leveson, he might find that newspapers' bark is worse than their bite. Once a decision is made, they would reconcile themselves to it and journalists would soon see that a credible adjudicator is in their interests too.
George Eustice is Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth and a former press secretary to David Cameron.
This article was first published on prweek.com
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