Prime Minister David Cameron thinks the News of the World phone hacking scandal serious enough to warrant a judicial inquiry where witnesses give evidence under oath.
These powers were denied the current Iraq Inquiry. Indeed initially the then-PM Gordon Brown wanted proceedings conducted in private and had to yield to widespread protests.
Can we assume Cameron is the more fearless? No, he senses a once in a lifetime opportunity to punish the Press for its audaciousness in exposing MPs expenses fiddling.
The Press Complaints Commission failed to get to grips with phone hacking at the News of the World. But it took its lead from the police investigation and Parliament’s silence on the affair. So it was in good company.
Cameron wants to scrap the PCC and replace it with an independent system that has “proper, decent standards,” he told this morning’s press conference at No. 10.
Labour leader Ed Miliband wants to keep the present concept of self-regulation but in a new body that has real teeth to regulate the Press.
The Prime Minister is looking to appoint a set of right-minded people to man a second inquiry to sort out newspapers. He’s seeking cross-party support and will probably get it. Yes, they’re all in it together.
Both politicians fail to recognise the PCC acts best as a referee working where it can to seek redress for the public against the Press. Very unsatisfactory it is in many instances; where a complaint is upheld apologies are often buried.
But to have a Press watchdog with powers to investigate and punish would entail an organisation many times the size of the PCC. Who’s going pay? Certainly not Richard Desmond’s Express newspaper group; it left the present body on grounds of its expense.
Desmond would have to be compelled to come under any new regulation. Where would compulsion end? Before too long we could have the Ministry of Truth deciding what’s fit for us to read.
Freedom of the Press is one of the keystones of democracy. It has been hard fought and battle continues in Britain today. Any surrender of those rights cannot be taken lightly.
Defending the Press is not a comfortable place to be. You find yourself allying with bedfellows like the Red Tops, who would re-introduce public executions if they could for, well, at least for immigrants, benefit claimants and anyone else they thought would curry favour with their readers.
But nor do I support open season on anyone whom the Press trains its sights. The hope is newspaper proprietors have had a nasty fright and learned the lessons that led to the closure of the News of the World.
Regulating the Press raises the danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It’s well to remember those that hacked Milly Dowler’s mobile phone and the rest will be punished under existing laws.