Clegg statement on Leveson: our proposals pose no danger to press freedom, but will give assurance to victims

clegg on levesonNick Clegg – who declared on Thursday his backing for a free and fair press – has now published a statement on how he’s approaching next week’s critical Commons vote on how the Leveson Report is taken forward:

Next week MPs will have the chance to deliver the robust, independent self-regulation for the press that Lord Justice Leveson recommended in his report.

It was hoped that talks between the party leaders would be able to agree how such a system would work, but the Prime Minister’s decision to end those discussions now means that the issue will be decided in Parliament on Monday.

I believe the Prime Minister’s own draft of a Royal Charter, itself the result of extensive cross-party talks, takes us towards a possible solution but needs strengthening in a few important respects, such as ensuring the press does not have the power of veto over who sits on the independent regulator.

I have not given up hope of finding a cross-party agreement, which is why today we are publishing a strengthened version of the Royal Charter that can deliver what Leveson wanted. We will also put in place an explicit safeguard in law against future governments playing around with the Royal Charter – a crucial guarantee for both the public and the press.

I have always been clear that I don’t dismiss out of hand a legislative approach, I hope the approach we are publishing today plots a middle course between the dangers of doing nothing and the fears some people have of a full-scale legislative approach.

This is a system that both myself and Ed Miliband back, and that I believe Conservative MPs can also support. It reassures the press that there is no danger to their historical freedom while giving assurance to the victims that they will be protected from unwarranted bullying and harassment.

Issues like the reform of press regulation shouldn’t be party political. I hope that people from all sides who are serious about finding a solution will agree that what we have published today represents our best chance of meaningful reform.

Confused as to the key differences between the Lib/Lab Leveson Royal Charter proposals and the Tories’? The Spectator has offered this handy guide to the key differences:

1. Tories: industry representatives should be able to veto an appointment to the board of the regulator. Lib/Lab: Press should not have a veto.
2. Tories: newspapers can propose changes to the code of conduct which the regulator is obliged to accept. Lib/Lab: the regulator has the final say over changes to the code of conduct.
3. Tories: the regulator should tell a newspaper to apologise for mistakes. Lib/Lab: The regulator should tell newspapers how to apologise.
4. Tories: the regulator should accept complaints from third parties only when there has been a ‘serious’ breach of the rules. Lib/Lab: The regulator should exercise discretion over when to accept complaints from third parties.
5. The Lib/Lab group says the Tory amendments to the Crime and Courts Bill leave it open for future governments to meddle with the Royal Charter without consulting parliament, and that their amendment will make it harder for politicians to do this. The Tories say that a two-thirds majority in both houses is already baked into the Royal Charter.

Meanwhile The Guardian reports the intriguing fact that Nick Clegg will need to approve any form of Royal Charter as his job title (besides Deputy Prime Minister) is Lord President of the Council. Though this gives him the power to exercise a veto, in reality we can assume he would respect the will of Parliament.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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6 Comments

  • Richard Dean 16th Mar '13 - 11:50am

    These five points of divergence do not seem to be simple ones.

    1. If the press (who exactly are they by the way?) can veto an appointment, what is to stop them vetoing anyone who they feel might be effective?

    2. Doesn’t the Lib/Lab proposal give the regulator rather too much power? On the other hand, the Tory proposal gives the “press” too much power. Can this be resolved by a parliamentary committee? – or would this look too close to politicians controlling the press?

    3. Is this really a huge issue? And does the Lob/Lab proposal represent a rather onerous duty on the Regulator, and one that might backfire? What happens if the regulator gets it wrong, can the Regulator then be sued?

    4. Again, is the Lib./Lab proposal not giving the Regulator too much power? Why not simply say that the regulator must investigate any complaint? Will the regulator have some recourse if complaints are made that are mischievous or false? Can the Regulator fine a mischievous complainer, for example?

    5. Isn’t this a rather technical question that could be answered by simple reference to the relevant documents? If so, why the divergence of opinion?

  • Actually, I think Point 3 is a big issue. Most of us know of cases where a front page spread accusing someone of something is published which is subsequently found to be groundless. The apology/response appears as a small item on P23. This has to be unacceptable.

  • I thought I understood the basics until I read this article in the Telegraph:
    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/tobyyoung/100207160/camerons-reckless-gamble-over-leveson-could-mean-the-end-of-free-press/

    It says that Labour is in favour of authorising exemplary damages for all publishers, not just the ones who refuse to subscribe to the new regulator, and suggests the result will be that publishers are compelled to subscribe. I find it difficult to understand the logic of the last step, and perhaps it is simply scaremongering. Can anyone comment?

  • Stephen Donnelly 16th Mar '13 - 4:35pm

    I agree with four out of five of the positions taken by Clegg.

    I am uncomfortable with with the power been given to the regulators to accept complaints from third parties because it does little defend individual freedom, but potentially allows general restrictions on free speech to be imposed by pressure groups. Clegg imagines this power being used by a domestic violence charity, but it could, for instance, also be used by religious group to protest against a supposed offensive remark, with only the opinion of the regulator to decide where the line should be drawn. An over active regulator could pose a serious threat to freedom by exercising this power.

  • Kevin Philip Jones 16th Mar '13 - 5:56pm

    I’d have thought the 1st ammenment of the US Constitution would suffice. surprised that Liberals would have anything to do with inhibiting the press.

    ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.’

  • David Evans 17th Mar '13 - 8:15am

    I think that the difference is a question of scale. At the time of the first amendment, the Press in the US was weak and the government was seen as being in danger of being too strong. In the UK at the present day, the press is very powerful and can come very close to choosing the government.

    To me the whole thing is about preventing the abuse of power by the powerful at the expense of the weak. That requires much more than just a tame talking shop. it may not be 100% Leverson, but it needs to be much, much more than 100% Cameron.

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