A special adviser triggers fresh post-Leveson media fears after issuing an apparent warning to The Telegraph, underlining the culture secretary’s influence and connections.
Joanna Hindley, special adviser to Culture Secretary Maria Miller, warned the Daily Telegraph to consider Mrs Miller’s role in implementing the Leveson report when they made contact about an unfavourable story.
The move provoked a strong reaction from both sides of the press reform debate with former MP Evan Harris calling for the culture secretary to step aside from Leveson negotiations.
However, the prime minister’s spokesman has stated she was not in breach of any code, explaining: “She was raising legitimate concerns about the way in which the investigation had been handled. It is perfectly reasonable for her to do that.”
“She made clear that Maria Miller was in contact with the editor and would be raising those concerns directly. I understand that a letter has been sent.”
According to the Telegraph Ms Hindley told a reporter: “Maria has obviously been having quite a lot of editors’ meetings around Leveson at the moment. So I am just going to kind of flag up that connection for you to think about.”
The move has provoked Chris Blackhurst, current editor of The Independent, to speak out: “We don’t need statute. You only have to look at the front page of today’s Daily Telegraph to realise what happens when politicians do get involved.”
A Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokeswoman said: “Mrs Miller’s special adviser raised concerns with a journalist about the nature of an approach to Mrs Miller’s elderly father.”
“Her adviser noted that Mrs Miller was in contact with the paper’s editor and would raise her concerns directly with him, which Mrs Miller did subsequently. However, this is a separate issue to ongoing discussions about press regulation. Mrs Miller has made the Government’s position on this clear.”
A parliamentary watchdog was urged to investigate Mrs Miller’s expenses claims on Tuesday after the Daily Telegraph report.
No one can be confident that the public’s interests are being served rather than the interests of the editors and proprietors
Labour MP John Mann complained to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, after the newspaper revealed Maria Miller had allowed her parents to live at a property on which she claimed more than £90,000 in second home allowances.
Brian Cathcart, executive director of Hacked Off, has warned that ministers must be kept at arm’s length from the regulation of the press.
“It cannot be right that politicians who are subject to the scrutiny of the newspapers and who are constantly vulnerable to public challenge in this way are sitting down with editors and proprietors of those same newspapers to design a press regulation system.
“The direct involvement of ministers in these secret negotiations means no one can be confident that the public’s interests are being served rather than the interests of the editors and proprietors, or of the politicians.”