Today’s Mail on Sunday reported:
‘David Cameron is heading for an explosive confrontation over press freedom this week by resisting calls to introduce heavy-handed new laws to police UK newspapers. But he will order them to “clean up their act” immediately with a tough new watchdog – using the threat of sweeping legal action if they fail to do so.’
Below is a short history of “last chances” the press have had to clean up their act. Each and every time self-regulation has failed.
Now is the time for effective and independent regulation.
1953 Four years after a Royal Commission told the press to start regulating itself, nothing had been done. It took the threat of legislation – a broadly-supported Private Member’s Bill from C.J. Simmons MP – to make them create the General Council of the Press. Withdrawing the Bill, a sceptical Simmons warned: ‘I give warning here and now that if it [the Council] fails, some of us again will have to come forward with a measure similar to this bill.’
1962 A second Royal Commission told the press it had to make self-regulation effective, but again warned of legislation: ‘We think that the Press should be given another opportunity itself voluntarily to establish an authoritative General Council . . . We recommend, however, that the government should specify a time limit after which legislation would be introduced.‘
1977 The third Royal Commission on the Press urged radical changes to the Press Council, which was found to lack independence and credibility, and said that if nothing was done Parliament should act. The report said: ‘We recommend that the press should be given one final chance to prove that voluntary self-regulation can be made to work.’
1990 The Calcutt Committee on Privacy was a response to Hillsborough, the grossly intrusive reporting of the death of TV presenter Russell Harty and an accident suffered by actor Gorden Kaye. David Mellor, then a Home Office minister, had said: ‘I do believe the press – the popular press – is drinking in the last chance saloon.’ Calcutt recommended the establishment of an effective Press Complaints Commission and newspapers were given a ‘year of grace’ to make this work. Home Secretary, David Waddingston, told the Commons: ‘This is positively the last chance for the industry to establish an effective non-statutory system of regulation.’
1993 The Calcutt Review concluded that the PCC was ‘not... an effective regulator of the press’. It recommended a Press Complaints Tribunal backed by statute. A Major government with a slender majority failed to implement this.
2011 In the Commons in July 2011, speaking after the revelation that Milly Dowler’s phone had been hacked, David Cameron said: ‘I accept we can’t say it’s the last chance saloon all over again. We’ve done that.’
Hacked Off is working hard on behalf of the many ordinary victims, some of whom will be your constituents, and the public, of whom 78 per cent support independent press regulation, to ensure that their voices are not drowned out by the press. We need your help. Over the next few days we will be providing you with information about the key issues and rebuttals of the claims of the newspaper proprietors and editors.
Professor Brian Cathcart
t 0207 808 727