UK & World News

  • 6 December 2012, 18:49

Leveson: Hacked Off Calls Meetings A Charade

Meetings between ministers and newspaper editors about press regulation are a "charade", according to the campaign group Hacked Off.

The group accused them of "cherry-picking" from the Leveson report like an "a la carte menu".

They warned David Cameron against taking the "heart and soul" out of the Leveson recommendations, which they said had the overwhelming support of the public.

Hacked Off's latest intervention came as national newspapers announced they would be putting in place the broad proposals of the Leveson Inquiry, apart from its call for a system backed by law.

A statement issued on behalf of the editors said: "The editors of all national newspapers met yesterday and unanimously agreed to start putting in place the broad proposals - save the statutory underpinning - for the independent self-regulatory system laid out by Lord Justice Leveson.

"Lord Hunt and Lord Black will report back to the Government very shortly in detail on how the industry proposes to implement the Leveson plan."

But Hacked Off's petition calling for the report to be implemented in full has now been signed by 142,600 people including the author Salman Rushdie and libel reform campaigner Simon Singh.

At a press conference at the Houses of Parliament, Hacked Off director Professor Natalie Fenton told reporters: "It is a charade for the politicians and the editors to get together and pick out some of the recommendations and say these are acceptable or not and take out the heart and soul of the Leveson recommendations which provide the backbone for establishing a fair system going forward."

Professor Brian Cathcart, professor of journalism at Kingston University and co-founder of Hacked Off, said: "Leveson did not expect or intend his plan to be picked apart, to be treated like an a-la-carte menu.

"He intended it to be taken together and I would say it was judiciously designed to ensure that there was no political involvement in the process, that actually he was creating a clean process that protected the press from political interference.

"Contrast that with what Natalie has just described as a charade, in which we have government ministers supposedly calling editors before them to order them to come up with a plan of their own, and we're told they're cherry-picking which bits of the Leveson plan they find acceptable.

"This is not what the public was expecting."

Baroness Hollins, whose daughter, Abigail Witchalls, was seriously injured in a knife attack in Surrey in 2005, told the press conference that the family had suffered "unprecedented press intrusion" and that press regulation could not be left to the industry.

She said: "The methods that the press used were intrusive, and involved what you could only really call harassment.

"It extended, we're sure, to phone-hacking, although we have no evidence of that, continued at intervals for five years, and included her being placed under surveillance for four weeks, because she'd had another baby.

"I feel very strongly that Lord Justice Leveson's recommendations should be implemented in full. I think his principles are excellent, and I would support something in law to verify that the future press regulation is actually fit for purpose.

"I do not believe that this could be left entirely to the owners of newspapers."

National newspaper editors met on Wednesday to discuss proposals for sufficiently robust independent regulation, which they hope will see off demands for a watchdog backed by law.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman told reporters: "We agree with the central recommendation of the report which is that you need a tough, independent regulatory body.

"The objective is to ensure that it is properly independent and is seen to be independent and that the public have confidence that this is a robust, independent regulator.

"How you achieve that independence is one of those issues we are looking at and discussing in the cross-party talks.

"I'm not going to get into the different options now but we are looking at a number of options. We are trying to get on with that work as quickly as we can but I am not going to put a specific timetable on it."

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