Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Independent editor: 'My fears about Leveson'

Chris Blackhurst, editor of the Independent, says he is worried that MPs will jump on any recommendations from the Leveson Inquiry that suggests regulation of the press should have a statutory element.

Speaking at a City University debate on the "Lessons of Leveson" in London, Blackhurst suggested the inquiry was "deeply flawed" and a "political response to political embarrassment".

He said Leveson had not looked into the "dark arts" of PR and lobbying and it was "very strange" to have a public inquiry in parallel to a criminal investigation.

Blackhurst described the Sunday Times "cash for access" revelations about the Conservative Party as "a fantastic story" and said he hoped Lord Justice Leveson had read it. He claimed if journalists could not use subterfuge then the Sunday Times' story, the Telegraph's MPs' expenses scoop and the Independent's Bell Pottinger lobbying investigations could not happen.

He warned should Leveson came up with recommendations for some statutory controls to underpin regulation of the press: "If it goes anywhere near Parliament the MPs who were done over by the Telegraph on expenses could have their say. We could be in for a very torrid time."

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said she supported "statutory underpinning" of regulation of the press and said it worked in Ireland.

Professor Ivor Gaber, director of political journalism at City, claimed: "Self-regulation with teeth needs something to back-up the teeth. We can't have decent regulation without a statutory framework."

Brian Cathcart, of Kingston University, said "We have to acknowledge we've been in a very bad situation. It was like Berlusconi without the prostitutes." He added that Lord Justice Leveson had repeatedly said he did not want to interfere with the freedom of the press.
  • Blackhurst was also aggrieved by what he said had been a threat by Manchester United to ban the Independent from access after the club was upset by a story. Asked how the bust-up had ended, Blackhurst said: "We published a grovelling apology because we wanted to keep the relationship with Man United."
  • Former News of the World journalist Neville Thurlbeck, also speaking at the debate, claimed it was common for Fleet Street photographers in the 1970s and 1980s to listen in to phone calls by using scanners.
  • Pic: Jon Slattery

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