Last week Nick Clegg invited members of the party to submit questions they would like the forthcoming hacking inquiry to cover. I submitted my concerns, and those expressed in the comments section of my blog post on the subject.
I've just had Nicks reply. It's pretty comprehensive!
Thank you very much for responding to my email last week, in which I asked people to contact me with their views and suggestions on the phone hacking scandal.
This is clearly an issue that so many people in our party – myself included – feel strongly about. I received over 1000 emails within just 24 hours of my request and I think this is testament to our party’s democratic culture and willingness to engage with the issues that really matter. As you know, events are moving very fast, but there are a few particular suggestions I received that I’d like to give you an update on:
Bringing those responsible to justice:
There have now been numerous charges laid down – illegal phone hacking, blagging, police officers bribed and police investigations hampered. The criminal proceedings are ongoing and the Government has been assured that the Independent Police Complaints Commission has the resources and powers necessary to properly deal with these allegations, no matter how senior or powerful the people in question.
Many of you called for a judge-led inquiry – and I agree, which is why I pushed for one last week. We must use this scandal as an opportunity to tackle the distorted relationships in British public life. There will be a two-stage, judge-led inquiry to look at the culture, ethics and practices of the British press as well as the role of the police and politicians. The inquiry will also examine the specific allegations concerning both the original police investigation and the actions of any individual editors or journalists as soon as criminal investigations are complete. All party leaders will meet to agree the details of those inquiries and in those discussions I will argue strongly for inquiries that are independent, open, able to access all information and call witnesses.
Many of you called in to question the legitimacy of News Corp’s bid to take full ownership of BSkyB. As you know, this week Rupert Murdoch finally took the right decision and withdrew the bid. Liberal Democrats have for more than a decade expressed concern over Murdoch’s media ownership – often to much criticism from the establishment. Having called on Murdoch myself to reconsider just three days ago, I very much welcome this decision.
Replacing the Press Complaints Commission:
As you may recall, just last year at our Party Conference, Liberal Democrats approved a policy motion on cleaning up the PCC. We have now got consensus from all three parties on the inescapable need for an overhaul of the regulatory system. The PCC has failed: it is toothless, ineffective and run by the media industry itself. We need an independent body that is insulated from vested interests, free from Government interference and has real power, including the ability to fine editors or journalists that break the Code of Conduct.
Many people emailed in their thoughts on what a future British media industry should look like. In a speech yesterday, I set out the principles that I believe must guide future reform – freedom, accountability and plurality:
• First, it is vital that we maintain the freedom of the press. Liberty and democracy are founded on freedom of expression and it would be wrong to respond to this crisis by inhibiting a free and vigorous press. After all, while certain types of journalism have been exposed for what they really are, the last week has also been a triumph for proper, investigative reporting.
• Second, the media must be held to account. Over the last few years there have been huge improvements in the way many professional organisations and public bodies are held to account. The media, however, has not kept up and this needs to be addressed.
• Third, we must have a plural press that fosters healthy competition and diverse debate. As a liberal, I believe in diversity of ownership – just as too much power in the hands of central government damages individual freedom, so a media monopoly threatens press freedom. There are many questions about plurality – and crucially how we define plurality – that we must now ask.
This scandal has shone a light on the murky underworld of British public life – a world the Liberal Democrats have been battling for years. Labour and the Conservatives have both been keen to cosy up to News International – but Liberal Democrats alone have remained unwilling to bend to suit News International’s agenda. While the other parties waved through takeovers, attended weddings and employed News International journalists, we stuck to our principles, often to our cost. The result for us was years of being ignored by The Sun and the News of the World when in opposition, coupled with vicious attacks during the general election, when Liberal Democrats threatened to overturn the established red-blue-red-blue pattern, and so locking the Murdoch empire out of British politics.
But, whatever this politician did, or that party did, we now have a rare opportunity to work together in the national interest. More details of the scandal will no doubt continue to come to light in the coming weeks and months, but we must stay focussed on the task ahead. If we get this right while the demand for change is strong, we can rebuild the confidence in our major institutions that has been so badly knocked.
But what we really mustn’t forget is the devastating impact this scandal has had on the families of those involved. I met with the Dowler family a few days ago and I cannot begin to imagine the pain they must have gone through as a direct result of the News of the World’s actions. I truly believe we owe it to all the people so ruthlessly targeted by parts of the media, to ensure that this never, ever happens again.
Thank you once again for your suggestions – your input is extremely valuable.
All best wishes,
Nick Clegg MP
Leader of the Liberal Democrats