Politicians face lobbying register overload

The Leveson Report's suggestion that lobbying transparency should be broadened to include company bosses could overburden politicians to the point of dissuading them from holding meetings, it has been claimed.

Recommendations: Lord Justice Leveson delivers his inquiry report (Credit: Getty Images)
Recommendations: Lord Justice Leveson delivers his inquiry report (Credit: Getty Images)

While media coverage around the 2,000-page report has focused on Lord Leveson’s call for a new press regulatory body underpinned by statutory regulation, he also recommended that senior politicians publish details of relationships and meetings with ‘media proprietors, newspaper editors or senior executives’.

The recommendations on lobbying, which followed criticisms over the relationship between News Corporation lobbyist Frédéric Michel and former culture secretary Jeremy Hunt with regard to the planned takeover of BSkyB, were accepted by David Cameron last week.

While commentators have argued that the Cabinet Office already publishes details of meetings between media and politicians, Insight Public Affairs associate director Jim Rothwell pointed out that the new recommendations were more thorough, including non-face-to-face interaction.

Cicero Consulting head of corporate comms Michael Robb suggested that Leveson was ‘seeking to increase the transparency in policymakers’ wider relationships with the media, and move the debate well beyond the "lobbyist" tag’.

The news comes as the Government draws up plans for a statutory register of lobbyists. Public affairs  voices have suggested that Cameron’s acceptance of Leveson’s wider interpretation of ‘lobbyist’ to include proprietors and CEOs could inform this register.

Robb added that ‘this has long been a point of debate with regard to lobbying regulation’.

He said that to do so would increase policymakers’ burden of reporting to such an ‘unmanageable level’ that they may be disinclined to have potentially important meetings. ‘Transparency is absolutely vital for anyone who lobbies, but it has to be equal, proportionate and, most crucially, must not deter wide engagement in the public policy debate,’ added Robb.

Despite this warning, APPC chairman and APCO vice-chairman, public affairs, Europe, Michael Burrell supported the recommendations, adding that ‘a statutory register that did not cover Rupert Murdoch going into Number 10 would be odd’.

Leveson’s concern at ‘highly unsatisfactory comms

Lord Justice Leveson stated in his report that there was a ‘highly unsatisfactory course of communications’ between News Corporation and Jeremy Hunt’s special adviser Adam Smith.

Leveson stated there was a ‘remarkable amount of add-itional unsolicited communications’ with regard to the BSkyB bid, pointing out that some of this came from the alliance of media groups opposed to the deal and its public affairs representative Weber Shandwick.

However, these contacts ‘paled in comparison with the voluminous behind-the-scenes contact between Frédéric Michel and people at the DCMS’, which Leveson claimed were often counter-productive. Leveson pointed to Smith as being the main contact for Michel. Smith subsequently resigned once his contacts with Michel were revealed by the media.

Weber Shandwick chairman of corporate and public affairs Jon McLeod welcomed the recommendations in the report, adding: ‘What the report showed above all else is that the Michel model of lobbying is as outmoded as it is counter productive.’

Leveson has called for quarterly reporting of ‘details of all meetings with media proprietors, newspaper editors or senior executives’.

How I see it

Lionel Zetter, senior corporate counsel, APCO Worldwide

It gels with what we have been saying about lobbyists not just being a director of public affairs, it can be the CEO or the MD. The CEO of British Airways should be on the register, as well as the director of comms, and media firms should be subject to the same requirements as everyone else.

Simon McVicker, chair, CIPR public affairs group

Lobbying in itself is not the problem. The problem, as I see it, arises when politicians, public officials and lobbyists themselves fail in their responsibility to judge how far, and in what way, they consider activities to be in the public interest.

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