IT IS now more than 20 years since the former Home Office minister David Mellor declared that the popular press was “drinking in the Last Chance Saloon” over its behaviour.
The News of the World phone-hacking scandal has now ensured it really is time for change. Much more needs to be done to restore confidence in the press – but not statutory control.
Clearly, there are things that require urgent reform. The old Press Complaints Commission was never an adequate safeguard for the public; that much is obvious. There was no independence as regards its relationship to the press.
So what we require now is a genuinely independent body that can restore public confidence – and whose decisions are accepted and respected by all the press when they are given. Reform needs to happen quickly.
We need to examine the right of reply that people who have been badly treated are entitled to. Their complaints need to be handled speedily and, if upheld, newspapers should give just as much prominence to their apology as they gave to the original story.
We also need to ensure that people who want to pursue newspapers through the courts are not warned off by lack of money. Legal redress is out of the reach of too many people. That, too, needs to be changed.
But no matter what Lord Leveson says today, I will not be voting for any statutory regulation of the press. Quite simply, it will not work. Legislation will take forever and get bogged down.
Furthermore, there are already adequate laws for people to pursue in courts for when newspapers break the law, through libel or defamation. We do not need any more legislative oversight.
Just as the expenses scandal ensured that every politician at Westminster was blamed, so the hacking scandal last year has ensured that every journalist and newspaper is now being blamed as well. The danger is that parties decide to overreact as a result.
Once Lord Leveson has reported today, the most vital issue will be to ensure that every party – including the SNP in the Scottish Parliament – responds to this as one.
The United Kingdom needs a platform to restore trust in the press which is strong and which carries public confidence.
• Brian Donohoe is Labour MP for Central Ayrshire