The Guardian has been, well, guarded in its comments about the appointment of John Whittingdale as Culture Secretary, careful not to condemn before seeing him in action.
As chair of the culture, media and sport select committee, the MP’s previous positions were well-known: he was firmly opposed to state control of the Press and has an ingrained antipathy towards the BBC licence fee. So pretty similar to most senior newspaper figures.
And so the Guardian warns him against inflicting “vandalism” on the BBC whilst not accusing him of planning to do so. Similarly, the paper believes the Leveson reform process is “now effectively dead and buried” without actually spelling out whether it is angry or relieved.
Given The Guardian has refused to sign up to any State-approved regulator as outlined in the Royal Charter system, it is not unfair to conclude the Guardian is riding two horses – quietly ignoring the pro-full Leveson camp but keeping them happy by remaining outside the IPSO tent. So as far as Leveson and IPSO are concerned, perhaps the only conclusion is that the Guardian is neither angry nor relieved at Whittingdale’s elevation.
Whittingdale has never been an enthusiast for the Royal Charter idea, and it’s fair to say there was no sign of enthusiasm in the Conservative manifesto for continuing to beat that particular drum.
It read: “Alongside the media’s rights comes a clear responsibility, which is why we set up the public, judge-led Leveson Inquiry in response to the phone-hacking scandal.” Which is all beyond doubt.
But it then goes on to say that they (with the full and enthusiastic participation of the other parties) “created a new watchdog by Royal Charter” without saying that no-one has signed up, no significant organisation is likely to join or indeed will be forced to join.
The Conservatives also claimed they “legislated to toughen media libel laws” but this is only half true – there was indeed legislation, the 2013 Defamation Act, but it was an attempt at the codification and clarification of case law and to bring existing legislation into line with the realities of the digital age. It was definitely not a toughening.
The Defamation Act was not introduced in Scotland, the re-examination of which is now part of the Scottish Law Commission’s remit.
The SNP manifesto had nothing to say about Royal Charters, only that it would “support the UK Government’s actions to implement Leveson… and work with other parties to ensure effective regulation of the media on a non-political basis.”
On the basis that it looks unlikely that the UK Government will force the outstanding elements of the Leveson recommendations on the Press, it looks even less likely that the Scottish Government will impose them here.
But the Leveson process is not finished. One of the most contentious recommendations was the introduction of a compulsory arbitration system for cases which might otherwise result in expensive court action and IPSO is now consulting on ways to introduce such a scheme. This will not be easy, especially as compulsory arbitration is illegal in Scotland.
IPSO chair Sir Alan Moses is currently re-examining the structures he was handed, so it’s fair to argue implementation of further Leveson principles is far from dead and buried,
And let’s not forget Sir Brian Leveson’s work is only half done and cannot be restarted until the remaining phone-hacking allegations are dealt with, most notably the charges faced by ex-Mirror Group senior figures.
Leveson 2, the investigation into the police, is still awaited and given the dawn arrests of journalists, many of whom were subsequently acquitted, it will be a brave politician who lets the police escape the Leveson inquisition on the basis of “There’s nothing left to see, move along now please”