Cameron and #Leveson: My Dilemma

The extraordinary political drama surrounding the publication of the Leveson Report yesterday leaves me with something of a dilemma.
On the one hand, I want to commend David Cameron for making a principled stand for free expression in Parliament yesterday.  This Prime Minister seems hostile to the Human Rights Act, so his words on the importance of free speech are noteworthy:

The issue of principle is that, for the first time, we would have crossed the Rubicon of writing elements of press regulation into the law of the land. We should be wary of any legislation that has the potential to infringe free speech and a free press. In this House, which has been a bulwark of democracy for centuries, we should think very, very carefully before crossing that line.

Cameron also said he was “instinctively concerned” about changing the rules on Data Protection and journalistic sources (Hansard link ), which, from a free expression point of view, is also a welcome attitude.  Some might argue that these are platitudes, but they are on record in Parliament and there is no reason why free speech campaigners should not trumpet these comments.
However, these statements are tempered by the concern that, in appearing to reject Lord Justice Leveson’s key recommendation, it seems as if the Prime Minister is undermining the Inquiry he himself set up.  This is likely to further alienate people from parliamentary politics.  Labour and the Liberal Democrats are right to ask what the point of the Inquiry actually was, if the central conclusion is summarily dismissed.  In taking an early position against ‘statutory underpinning’, Cameron has aligned himself with the newspapers, rightly or wrongly symbolised by the hated Murdochs.

The Prime Minister has also placed himself in opposition to the McCanns, the Dowlers, and Hugh Grant, which politically speaking seems an incredibly risky manoevre.  It is so counter-intuitive to the project of re-election that I am persuaded that he has indeed taken the position on a matter of principle.
I am no fan of David Cameron’s policies, and usually enjoy watching his poll numbers fall.  But I worry about a situation in which a Prime Minister loses public support because he makes statements in favour of free expression.

3 Replies to “Cameron and #Leveson: My Dilemma”

  1. Everybody I’ve seen talking about this seems to be under the illusion that we have a free press in this country rather than a loose alliance that has come together to protect vested interests, corporate power and a sociopathic establishment (where, for example, was this “free” press when we were 45 Minutes From Doom?)
    Once you wean yourself from that pernicious piece of false consciousness the whole Leveson circus shows itself to be nothing more than a bad and expensive joke.

  2. Robert,
    The idea (if one can call it such) which has been put forward in just about every paper in recent days that what Leveson proposes is “State control of the Press, OMG!” is propaganda, and has all the factual integrity one normally associates with such a product.
    Leaving aside the interesting issue of whether we had a ‘free press’ in the first place (ranging from actual State control via the D-notice system and the embedding of spooks in every national newspaper if Roy Greenslade is to be believed to the impression that is is ‘free’ only in the sense of ‘free to promote the proprietors’ political and social agendas and deliberately conflating ‘the public interest’ with ‘what interests the public’); leaving aside that, as I say, what Leveson is actually proposing is an independent regulator which will not be beholden (for either its staff or its finances) to the owners and editors and which – in order to ensure that independence – will need a degree of statutory underpinning in its constitution.
    The idea that this even begins to approach a situation where the press can only do things with the prior imprimatur of a State body is, at best, disingenuous.
    Self-regulation has been shown most emphatically not to have worked and so other means need to be tried. Leveson’s suggestions are eminently reasonable and Cameron’s immediate rejection of them is indicative of the very problem Leveson himself described; namely, the close association between the press owners and bodies such as Government, Parliament and the Police which is far more corrosive to our society than making Dacre and his ilk have to think twice before behaving in a thoroughly objectionable manner.

  3. Thank you for this Robert. I find myself with the same dilemma. Cameron has taken a very unpopular line and I am left wondering why. I think he was wise not to uncritically accept everything in Leveson and give himself time to reflect and just hope he will be brave enough to modify his views if necessary. Leveson was wise to scarper off to Australia as I guess he knew there would be some dissent to his report. I can’t agree that Cameron is bound to implement all of Leveson. After all as someone we once knew so wisely said “you can be ill advised” Maybe I am naive but I can’t decide whether Cameron is truly worried about the long tern negative effects of legislation or is he in the pockets of the press/Rebecca Brooks. I guess time will tell.

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