In an expected but nevertheless controversial move, the UK government today confirmed that it will not carry out the second phase of the Leveson Inquiry into press standards. The move has sparked a furious response from some commentators who claim that it is a sign of the government cozying up to right wing press.
The initial inquiry, set up by former Prime Minister David Cameron in 2011, was created to address relations between media and police and examine how journalists acquired confidential information. It was prompted by the acrimonious UK phone hacking scandal which touched celebrities, the Royals and even the families of murder victims. The seismic investigations surrounding the scandal led to a number of resignations, arrests, convictions and ultimately the closure of Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid News Of The World. Murdoch and son James were hauled before politicians to give evidence about wrong-doing.
The first part of the report, which looked at the culture and practices of the press and relations between politicians, press and the law enforcement agencies, was published in November 2012. The second part was due to address the extent of improper conduct by individual newspaper groups, how these were investigated by authorities and whether police received corrupt payments by the media.
Culture Secretary Matt Hancock, who confirmed the news today to the UK parliament, said the “world had changed” since Leveson’s 2012 report and the press was now behaving better. But vocal rival politician and Labour MP Tom Watson criticized the decision, calling it a “bitter blow to the victims of press intrusion.” He claimed that some newspapers had “helped write” Hancock’s statement and accused the Culture Secretary of failing to “stand up to the tabloid-style newspapers who are propping up this government.”
Former Labor adviser Alastair Campbell was among those to vent at the decision:
Hancock conceded that “there were far too many cases of terrible behavior” by the press but said that “over 40 people were convicted” following investigations into the hacking and that the media landscape of today was very different to that of five years ago, in part due to the fall in print circulations.
“Britain needs high-quality journalism to thrive in the new digital world,” he added. “We seek a press — a media — that is robust and independently regulated. That reports without fear or favor.” The ruling Conservative Party opposed Leveson ‘part two’ in its election manifesto last year.