George Eustice: Leveson must get press control right

Last week the Leveson Inquiry reached its peak with evidence from David Cameron, George Osborne and Gordon Brown.

George Eustice: Leveson must get press control right
George Eustice: Leveson must get press control right

Some in the press have complained that Cameron only set up Leveson to distract attention from his own problems over the BSkyB bid, but that is not true. The inquiry was set up because certain newspapers were breaking the law on an industrial scale. It was not just phone hacking but the widespread use by most newspapers of an illegal market in personal information. The hacking of the phones of Milly Dowler and servicemen killed in action was a tipping point.

As I have said previously in PRWeek, although the inquiry has been uncomfortable for both the press and for politicians, it is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve the culture in our media. We must not return to business as usual once it is done. In July, Lord Leveson will switch to the fourth, and final, module of his inquiry: the future shape of press regulation, and this is the bit we must get right.

A number of points have emerged. Firstly, there is not a great deal wrong with the old Editor's Code used by the PCC, but it was never properly enforced. Secondly, most of the problems we have stem from the fact that there has not been a credible and consistent public interest test and there is now a strong case for a statutory definition that would not only protect the public but also journalists who cross boundaries to expose wrongdoing. Thirdly, newspapers have muddled up facts, opinion and conjecture in their news coverage, which is in clear breach of their own code and must end.

I am sceptical about having statutory regulation of newspaper content, but we must not rule out the idea of introducing some statutory measures that might make self-regulation of the press actually work. One idea is that you could have an auditor established in statute with responsibility for monitoring the internal governance of news organisations to ensure that they have the right management structures in place to abide by their own code. It is an interesting proposal that should be given further consideration.

George Eustice is Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth and a former press secretary to David Cameron.

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