PRIME Minister David Cameron warned that Parliament should be “wary” of passing legislation to regulate the press of the kind recommended in the long-awaited Leveson Report on media standards.
In a damning report, Lord Justice Leveson condemned decades of “outrageous” behaviour by newspapers, finding that elements of the press repeatedly acted as if its own code of conduct “simply did not exist”, and “wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people”.
He proposed a new independent press regulator with “credible” rules and powers to enforce them, and said that this should be underpinned by legislation giving the statutory regulator Ofcom a role in “verifying” the independence and effectiveness of the new body.
Responding to the report in the House of Commons, Mr Cameron gave a broad welcome to Leveson’s proposal for a regulator with the power to demand prominent apologies and impose fines of up to £1 million, and said the “onus” was now on the press to implement these principles.
But the Prime Minister cast doubt on Leveson’s central recommendation that a new system of press self-regulation required a statutory underpinning if it was to command public confidence.
“I have some serious concerns and misgivings about this recommendation,” he told MPs in a Commons statement.
“For the first time we would have crossed the Rubicon, writing elements of press regulation into the law of the land.
“We should, I believe, be wary of any legislation which has the potential to infringe free speech and a free press. In this House, which has been a bulwark of democracy for centuries, we should think very, very carefully before crossing this line.”
Mr Cameron’s lukewarm response to Leveson provoked criticism from a number of MPs, including Labour leader Ed Miliband, who said that Parliament should put its faith in the judge’s recommendations.
Mr Miliband called for legislation in the next session of Parliament to put Leveson’s central recommendations on to the statute book by 2015.
“We should put our faith in the recommendations of Lord Justice Leveson that were delivered to us today,” said the Labour leader.
“I am sorry that the Prime Minister is not yet there, but I hope to convince him over the days ahead that is where we should go. We should put our trust in Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations.”