Cameron accused of Leveson betrayal


VICTIMS of phone hacking have accused Prime Minister David Cameron of betrayal after he rejected the recommendation of the Leveson Report on how to regulate an “outrageous” press that “had wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people”.
After nine months of hearings involving more than 600 witnesses, Justice Brian Leveson said Britain needed a tougher form of press self-regulation, backed by legislation. He denied that this amounted to statutory regulation because his proposed independent watchdog would not involve politicians (or newspaper editors).
Mr Cameron said he welcomed Justice Leveson’s principles but was wary of legislation that might infringe on free speech. “The danger is this would create a vehicle for politicians, whether today or some time in the future, to impose regulation and obligations on the press,” he said.
The founder of the Hacked Off campaign, Brian Cathcart, said: “Despite years of abuses and outrageous conduct, it seems that the Prime Minister still trusts the editors and proprietors to behave themselves.”
Mark Lewis, a solicitor for several phone-hacking victims, including the family of murdered teenager Milly Dowler, said some of his clients were feeling let down: “Cautious optimism lasted for about 45 minutes and then the Prime Minister spoke and said, well, he’s not actually going to implement a report that he instigated . . . He called it the victim test; he called it the Dowler test. It looks like he failed his own test.”
Mr Cameron’s stance was directly contradicted by his deputy in the governing coalition, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, who said changing the law was the only way to ensure the new regulator was permanently independent. “We need to get on with this without delay. We owe it to the victims of these scandals, who have already waited too long for us to do the right thing,” Mr Clegg said.
He was joined by Labour leader Ed Miliband, who said his party “unequivocally” backed the report.
Justice Leveson found that politicians had become too close to the press and that this was responsible for decades of political inaction over press abuses and the concentration of ownership. He criticised some police for poor judgment, but found no evidence of widespread corruption involving press relationships with police.
He said News International, the publisher of the now-defunct News of the World, seriously failed in corporate governance over phone hacking. And he found the account of a key event by James Murdoch, then executive chairman of News International, was less credible than that of an executive with a different story.
Justice Leveson found that News International and its parent company, News Corp, failed to investigate evidence that phone hacking was widespread among its journalists.
“There was serious failure of governance within the NotW. Given criminal investigation and what are now the impending prosecutions, it is simply not possible to go further at this stage … What can be said is that there was a failure on the part of the management at the NotW to drill down into the facts to answer the myriad of questions that could have been asked and which could be encompassed by the all-embracing question, ‘What the hell was going on?’ ”
That the company clung to the line that hacking was confined to “one rogue reporter” was “extraordinary” and said a great deal about the paper’s approach to ethics.
Justice Leveson found evidence was unclear as to what James Murdoch knew of hacking allegations. Mr Murdoch had been sent an email chain in which a hacking victim alleged that illegal practices were “rife within the organisation”. Mr Murdoch told the inquiry he had not read the whole chain and was unaware of this claim.
Justice Leveson concluded: “James Murdoch replied to the email within two minutes of receiving it. The speed and content of his reply appear to support his claim not to have focused on the key allegation.”
Mr Murdoch had also said he was never shown or told the significance of a different email, headed “for Neville”, that was also evidence that hacking was more widespread. In contrast, the then legal chief of News International, Tom Crone, told the inquiry the significance of this email was made clear to Mr Murdoch on June 10, 2008.
Justice Leveson said he concluded “that Mr Crone’s version of events … should be preferred to that of Mr Murdoch”.
Justice Leveson recommended legal protection for freedom of the press; increased damages for people who win libel or invasion of privacy cases; a system to protect media plurality; and rules to encourage politicians to reveal meetings with editors and publishers.
But he was criticised for failing to deal more thoroughly with digital media, devoting only one page to “new media”.
■An independent regulator, underpinned by statute, with power to fine newspapers up to £1 million ($A1.5 million) or 1 per cent of turnover for breaching a new code of conduct. No power to prevent publication.
■Majority on board of new body must be independent of the press, with no serving editors and no MPs.
■Arbitration to enable wronged parties to seek swift redress through a prominent apology and fines, if appropriate.
■”Kite mark” (standards) system for publications that sign up.
■Whistleblowing hotline for journalists put under pressure to breach the new code of conduct.
■Communications regulator Ofcom to review how new body is working every two years and to act as regulator if publishers refuse new body.First published in The Age.