31 Jul 2013

Whatever happened to Leveson?

Home Secretary Theresa May has yet again shown a canny sense of how you need to get ahead of events.She has announced the government will regulate investigators after reports of how some may have regularly breached the law to help private companies, insurance firms and other outfits.

There is speculation that the scale of the offences looked into could outstrip the newspaper phone hacking saga by a scale of more than five to one.

Why more hasn’t been done with leads on such potential offences is a murky and unresolved business,  but Theresa May has made sure she’s put a bit of distance between herself and what went on.

As one phone hacking/blagging saga stirs, what of the original newspaper phone-hacking saga and the Leveson report proposals?

You might well ask. There are two royal charters drafted which come up with different proposals for how you set up press self-regulation. One of them was approved by all the main parties in the Commons.

The other has the backing of some of the big newspaper groups. Only one can go forward and get the royal sign-off and that one is pretty certain to be the one that the coalition and Labour voted for.

David Cameron would like nothing more than to negotiate a compromise with the newspapers but he can’t move unless the Lib Dems move and Nick Clegg won’t move unless Labour moves. Labour’s relishing David Cameron’s discomfort and has no intention of moving.

Labour sources say it will be excruciating for David Cameron to watch the phone hacking trials due to start in the September without having implemented any kind of new regulatory structure for newspapers.

Sources close to David Cameron say “phooey” or words to that effect.

The moment of maximum danger for the coalition, they argue, came when the Lib Dems and some other allies were threatening goverment business in the Lords with all sorts of amendments that would bring down government legislation in the name of trying to get something on press regulation written in law.

One Cameron ally says that saga threatened to “crater” the coalition. Now that moment has passed, the source says, press regulation may be unresolved but it can’t break up the coalition, stop its law-making or shift any votes amongst the public.

The trials, he continues, will address the issue of whether criminal acts were performed. The world will keep spinning with or without a new form of press self-regulation.

So we could like have a situation where the government sets up a club for newspapers which it probably knows no-one will join.

The membership secretary will sit at reception thumbing his empty visitors’ book, staring at the empty coat hooks … but the threshold will not be crossed.

When Jeremy Paxman appeared in front of Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry he warned the judge that his report could be “quietly forgotten about.”

Lord Justice Leveson said he was determined not to produce a document that simply sat on the second shelf of a journalism professor’s study.

“As high as the second shelf?” Paxman replied.

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