Nick Clegg stepped up to the plate on the phone hacking scandal today with a call for widespread reform of the media, outlining the his three principles of reform.
Nick Clegg stepped up to the plate on the phone hacking scandal today with a call for widespread reform of the media, outlining the his three principles of reform: press freedom; accountability; and plurality.
Attacking the toothlessness of the Press Complaints Commission, he said the press can no longer “act as judge, jury and executioner” over themsleves, and said that “as expenses was for MPs, and the financial crisis for the banking system, so the phone hacking scandal must be for the press” in acting as a catalyst for reform.
The deputy prime minister called press freedom “the lifeblood of liberal democracy”, hailing the last week a “triumph for investigative journalism”, highlighting the very best of British journalism as well as the worst; on accountability, he said the PCC had “failed”, and was only a “limited complaints body”, later saying “it’s not that difficult to have independent scrutiny of the press”; and on plurality, he said a corporate monopoly “threatens democracy” as much as a state monopoly.
In the press conference after the speech, on the public reaction to the scandal, he said:
“In the public, there are millions of people out there who thought the press were on their side… They don’t work out how the information is arrived at in their newspapers… The lid has now been lifted on that process.”
On the Coulson scandal, he said:
“It’s qute clear given what I said and the party said, we had serious misgivings about it [the decision to bring Coulson into Downing Street]… For a long time we were the only party to express concerns about phone hacking…
“But at the end of the day, the prime minister does not seek to veto my appointments, so I cannot veto his – it was his decision and his alone.”
“Yes, it’s about vetting and scrutiny, but it’s also an issue of judgement; the prime minister has explained on many occasions the reasoning for his judgement.”
Asked whether Rupert Murdoch, if not deemed “fit and proper” to own the whole of Sky, could be deemed “fit and proper” to own its current 39 per cent stake, he said:
“It would be the worst thing to allow politicians to decide on who’s fit and proper, it should be up to Ofcom to decide, as [culture secretary] Jeremy Hunt has said… I’m no lawyer… it’s not particularly clearly understood in law, whether it’s applied to corporate bodies or individuals.”
On his claim that he alone among the party leaders was not “in the pocket” of media moguls, he said:
“This is really not the kind of time to be terribly holier than thou and pious and engage in one-upmanship… This is on the record, and goes back years, the fantastic work done by my predecessors, by Lib Dem peers; Evan Harris has been very vocal… [Yet] every time we were blocked [by the main parties]…
“It’s one of the roles of liberals and Liberal Democrats… I think this is now an opportunity… There’s been so much tragedy, anguish, heartache and distress; it’s time to act.”
Asked whether Parliament should have new powers to compel witnesses to appear before select committes, he answered:
“Let’s see what happens – it hasn’t yet crystallised, we don’t know whether they’ll refuse. Power has to come with responsibility and accountability. If people think they can get away with it, it will invariably go wrong… It is immensely important as a matter of principle.”
“My message [to Rebekkah Brooks, James Murdoch and Rupert Murdoch] it to do the decent thing. You can’t hide away from this level of anger and interest…. When you’re that powerful you’re also accountable; you have to make yourself available.
“If you feel the facts are wrong, you’ve been unfairly maligned, set the record straight and turn up.”
On the treatment of Gordon Brown by News International, and his claims in Parliament yesterday, he said:
“My heart goes out to them for the treatment of their son… [However] I sense a whiff of rewriting of history… He was prime minister, and a very powerful chancellor, at the apex of poilitics for 13 years…
“Are we really to believe he was hampered? There were other areas in which he bulldozed his way through.”
And when asked if Vince Cable was owed an apology, for having been right all along about Murdoch, he replied:
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“Vince was never on the naughty step. Do I think that Vince’s misgivings about some of the implications of the proposed deal have been vindicated? Vince was acting, as Jeremy Hunt has beem, in a ‘quasi judicial’ role…
“Was it a deal that was signinficant enough to elicit very serious scrutiny? Yes, of course.