UK DEPUTY prime minister Nick Clegg on Sunday warned the press and Conservative party not to pre-empt or reject the recommendations of the Leveson inquiry into media regulation, indicating he would work with Labour to implement the recommendations so long as they were “proportionate”.
He said the test of the reforms would be whether politicians, journalists and media proprietors could look the parents of Milly Dowler, the murdered schoolgirl whose phone was hacked, in the eye in a post-Leveson world.
Clegg stressed that he did not have prior knowledge of the Leveson recommendations and that he was not seeking to restrict the press.
He added: “Britain benefited massively from having such a vibrant, raucous, lively and dynamic press. The question for Leveson is how do you balance that great liberal tradition with a reassurance to Mr and Mrs Dowler that the lessons have been learnt and it won’t happen again.”
Lord Justice Leveson is due to publish his report in November, but there are already signs that David Cameron is looking for a way to reach an agreement with the media that stops short of any statutory underpinning of the press.
Answering questions at his party’s conference in Brighton on the south coast of England, Clegg was asked repeatedly whether it was possible for the media to be independently regulated in the long term without some form of statutory framework.
He claimed the written press was like “desperate animals around a disappearing waterhole, fighting over an increasingly small number of customers”, which explained its “increasingly shrill tone”. He said he doubted his children would buy newspapers in the traditional manner.
Senior Tory MPs opposed to regulation have started to attack the way in which Leveson conducted his inquiry. But Clegg said: “We as a government asked him to do a job and, assuming he comes up with proposals that are proportionate and workable, we should implement them.”
His stance was welcomed by the Hacked Off campaign which, along with the comedian Steve Coogan, is due to meet Clegg tomorrow to urge the party not to backtrack on its call for some form of statutory underpinning to press regulation.
Clegg warned against “some of the cardboard cut-out characters being bandied about statutory regulation”. He said “some people were creating a spectre of statutory interference which is never going to happen”.
He said: “The true question is that everyone knows that in order to ensure that the press, like any other industry or vested interest, is properly held to account when things go wrong and people abuse citizens’ privacy ... there is proper recourse to scrutiny and accountability.
“Everyone accepts that the indispensable ingredient has to be a proper form of accountability and scrutiny independent of the industry itself. Can you have something that is genuinely independent of the press — so it can be tough on the press when it is merited — that does not even indirectly have some kind of footing in statute? How do you ensure that independence if you do not have it reflected in some sense in statute? That is where the argument lies. Everyone agrees that the Press Complaints Commission was a joke — a judge and jury of the press itself.”
Clegg added that he agreed with David Cameron that the test for a government response to Leveson will be whether the proposals are seen as acceptable from the point of view of the victims of media intrusion.
He said: “Can we look Milly Dowler’s mother and father in the eye, whose privacy was so outrageously abused at a moment of extraordinary grief?” — The Guardian, London