A brief history of the many ‘last chance saloons’ in which our press have drunk to excess
Posted on 26 November 2012 | 5:11pm
It is not often that I give over this space to a Tory MP, let alone one who was closely involved in David Cameron’s failed efforts to secure a Parliamentary majority.
However, as the bulk of the press seeks to shape the pre-Leveson debate in a way that suits their own political and commercial interests, dressed up as principles of freedom, I thought you might enjoy the letter sent to his colleagues by backbencher George Eustice.
Mr Eustice knows a fair bit about the media, having been Mr Cameron’s press secretary. He therefore also knows a fair but about Mr Cameron, and is clearly concerned that the Prime Minister is seriously considering given the press one more ‘one last chance’ to sort themselves out. Here is his letter.
‘Following speculation that the government might be about to offer the press, “one last chance” to make self regulation actually work, I thought colleagues might be interested in the history of previous “last chances” over the past 65 years. Parliament has not always been good at learning from its mistakes, so has condemned journalism to suffer crisis after crisis. Here is the record:
1. 1953. Four years after a Royal Commission told the press to start regulating itself, nothing had been done. Only the threat of legislation forced them to create the General Council of the Press. Withdrawing his Private Member’s Bill, C.J. Simmons MP told the Commons: ‘I give warning here and now that if it fails, some of us again will have to come forward with a measure similar to this bill.’
2. 1962. A second Royal Commission told the press to make self-regulation effective: ‘We think that the Press should be given another opportunity itself voluntarily to establish an authoritative General Council . . . We recommend, however, that the government should specify a time limit after which legislation would be introduced.’
3. 1977. The third Royal Commission on the Press urged radical changes to the Press Council and said that if nothing was done parliament should act. The report said: ‘We recommend that the press should be given one final chance to prove that voluntary self-regulation can be made to work.’
4. 1990. Parliament backed the Calcutt Committee recommendations for radical improvements to self-regulation, including the establishment of an effective Press Complaints Commission. Papers were given a ‘year of grace’ to make this work and the Home Secretary, David Waddingston, told the Commons: ‘This is positively the last chance for the industry to establish an effective non-statutory system of regulation.’
5. 1993. The Calcutt Review concluded that the PCC was ‘not . . . an effective regulator of the press’. It recommended a Press Complaints Tribunal backed by statute. A Major government with a slender majority failed to implement this.
6. 2011. Amid public outrage over the revelation that Milly Dowler’s phone had been hacked, David Cameron told the Commons: ‘I accept we can’t say it is the last chance saloon all over again. We’ve done that.’
If you are interested in doing your bit to try to break this cycle of failure but would like further information or want to discuss the issue more fully, please do not hesitate to make contact.’
George Eustice MP for Camborne, Redruth and Hayle’
Mr Eustice’s reward for saying what he thinks, and speaking out in what he believes to be the national interest, is to have the label ‘useless Eustice’ regularly applied to him by the press. Meanwhile those who are on the side of the Murdochs and Dacres of this world, like the twin clowns Gove and Johnson, are given as easy a ride as can be imagined for a top flight politician … which is one of the reasons why they ‘believe so passionately’ in the freedoms our newspapers falsely claim to represent.
Meanwhile, in the interests of political balance, (one Tory, one Labour) here is the article Ed Miliband wrote in today’s Guardian.