NUJ fringe at the Conservative party conference: What future for the press post-Leveson?
10 October 2012
The crisis in journalism that brought about the Leveson Inquiry was caused by a culture fostered and led by the top and that is why a new regulatory body, independent of the government and industry and with teeth is needed, Michelle Stanistreet told a fringe meeting at Conservative party conference.
The NUJ general secretary shared a platform with Hacked Off members Steve Barnett and Michael Moore, singer Charlotte Churchill, former Crimewatch presenter Jacqui Hames and George Eustice MP.
Charlotte Church, a victim of phone hacking who gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry (read her evidence to the Inquiry), said it was as if the press was a spoilt, badly-behaved child whose apathetic parents had let run wild. She said that it spoke volumes that the NUJ was on the stage and said: "The journalists' code of conduct and conscience clause are sound ideas. If there was a small piece of legislation which enforced the code and clause, the behaviour of the press would improve and there will be more happy journalists."
Jacqui Hames said, after her husband Dave Cook had fronted a Crimewatch programme about the murder of Daniel Morgan, a private investigator working for an organisation with links to News International, it was as if a grenade had been thrown into their lives. The family were put under surveillance by News of the World, their phones were bugged and mail tampered with. She said: "We had done nothing wrong, but my family is still coping with the fall out of that explosion."
Michelle Stanistreet said:
"It has been an uncomfortable year for the industry with a spotlight shining on journalistic practices. What it has revealed is that phone hacking and other unethical practices became endemic in certain parts of the press.That is why David Cameron was right to call for the inquiry and that is why he must be bold and adopt the recommendations of Lord Leveson when he reports next month.
"For it wasn't a matter of a rogue reporter or a few bad apples – these practices were happening on an industrial scale and this culture was created at the top. That is why the solution of Lords Young and Black to license journalists is a nonsense and will not work. We need genuine change that puts the interests of the public and of decent journalism ahead of the commercial interests of media owners and bullying management. That is why David Cameron must back a regulatory body with teeth, which can levy fines, investigate matters of concern to journalists and the public and provide a right of reply."
Hacked Off and Charlotte Church had had a private meeting with David Cameron. Charlotte Church said: "The Prime Minister seemed open to the idea of statutory underpinning but was very opposed to the idea of having massive amounts of statutory legislation for everybody to follow… which is not what Hacked Off want either."
George Eustice, Conservative MP for Camborne, Redruth and Hayle was the party's head of press from 2003-2005 and was succeeded by Andy Coulson. He said for the Left the Leveson Inquiry had become an excuse for Murdoch bashing, while the press was claiming it was an assault on its freedom and likened the proposed regulation to the situation in North Korea.
"We have to be candid friends," he said, "and say that the status quo is not tenable. The phone hacking scandal has happened on our watch and we cannot duck it."
He then went on to show how Murdoch interfered with the papers he owned.
"The political team at the Sun was about to write a favourable story about a speech made by David Cameron until they were told to pan it by Murdoch. Dominic Mohan, editor of the Sun, had decided to run a story about the naked pictures of Prince Harry but not run the pictures until he had Murdoch on the phone frothing at the mouth."
George Eustice said that newspapers need polices of compliance and an organisation to police them, which may need some statutory underpinning. This would not have a "chilling effect" he said. Broadcasting organisations operate under their watchdog Ofcom but are perfectly free, within the law.
Martin Moore, director of the Media Standards Trust and a founder of the Hacked Off campaign, said that when he had complained to the Daily Star about a story there was no-one responsible for dealing with the issue, whereas organisations such as Reuters have a process which will correct and retract inaccurate stories.
Steve Barnett said Hacked Off will continue to fight for an effective, genuinely independent regulatory system. But the second part of its campaign will be to lobby for new rules of media ownership and plurality.
About the participants:
Michelle Stanistreet is the general secretary of the National Union of Journalists. She worked as a journalist for ten years at the Sunday Express newspaper as feature writer and books editor. She was NUJ mother of the chapel at Express Newspapers. In 2006 she was elected vice president of the NUJ and in 2007-8 served as the union's President. In April 2011 she became the first woman in the NUJ's history to be elected as general secretary and was the union's first woman deputy general secretary elected in 2008.
George Eustice is the Conservative MP for Camborne, Redruth and Hayle. After working in the family farming business, he worked for the anti-euro 'No Campaign' as its campaign director between 1999 and 2003 and then as the Conservative Party's head of press under Michael Howard between 2003 and the 2005 general election. He was David Cameron's press secretary from June 2005- 2007 and was succeeded by Andy Coulson He is a member of the environment and rural affairs select committee.
Steven Barnett is professor of communications, a former Observer columnist and a prominent writer and broadcaster. He has advised government ministers and has given evidence or served as an adviser on several parliamentary committees. He specialises in media policy, regulation, the theory and practice of journalism, political communication, and press ethics, and has directed over thirty research projects on the structure, funding, regulation and business of communications.
Charlotte Church is a singer songwriter who has sold more than 10 million records. She rose to fame in childhood as a classical singer before branching out into pop music. In an interview with the Guardian, Charlotte Church said that when she was 13 she was asked to sing at Rupert Murdoch's wedding in New York. Her management was told she could either be paid £100,000 or she "would be looked upon favourably by Mr Murdoch's papers". It was a promise they did not keep. Read the interview with Simon Hatternstone.
Jacqui Hames, the former Crimewatch presenter and police officer, gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry saying she and her husband, Dave Cook, were placed under News of the World surveillance because of the tabloid's links to suspects in a murder case after Mr Cook made an appeal on Crimewatch asking for information about the 1987 murder of private investigator Daniel Morgan. She told the inquiry: "I believe that the real reason for the News of the World placing us under surveillance was that suspects in the Daniel Morgan murder inquiry were using their association with a powerful and well-resourced newspaper to try to intimidate us and so attempt to subvert the investigation 'These events left me distressed, anxious and needing counselling, and contributed to the breakdown of my marriage to David in 2010."
Martin Moore is director of the Media Standards Trust and a founder of the Hacked Off campaign. He has been working in news and media for over a decade, for the BBC, Channel 4, NTL, IPC Media, Trinity Mirror and others. He read history at Cambridge and holds a doctorate from the LSE where he was teaching and researching until summer 2006. His book, The Origins of Modern Spin, was published by Palgrave MacMillan (2006).