Leveson: My views censored by the Manchester Evening News: What do you think?

I wrote this piece to appear in the “opinion” section of the Manchester Evening News on Monday, but they refused to print it. The MEN is owned by Trinity Mirror.

Tell me what you think? Were they right to censor me. Do you agree with what I am saying?

John Leech MP

 

This Thursday, the long awaited Lord Justice Leveson report is published into media regulation. On behalf of the Liberal Democrats, I want to make clear that we will support any reasonable recommendations he makes that are proportionate and workable.

However, we are clear that a balance needs to be struck – We need to change the way in which media accountability works, but we should also defend the principle of a challenging, independent and free press as an integral part of democracy.

In all the rows between Labour and Tories about who was closer to Rupert Murdoch, the central reason for the report has been forgotten.

It is because journalists systematically broke the law, and tapped the phones of celebs, politicians and normal people to find stories.

Do you remember how you felt when you heard that journalists had hacked the phone of Milly Dowler? I know I felt disgust and contempt.

 We need a system in place that allows us to look at the parents of Milly Dowler in the eye and say that we have done all we can to stop what happened to them happening to anyone else.

 Leveson happened because journalists, by their actions, showed that voluntary self-regulation, administered by the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), simply does not work.

The last three Prime Ministers have had relationships with some members of the press that goes well beyond a professional relationship all politicians need with journalists. Tony Blair jetted off to meet Murdoch in Australia, and was Godfather to his son.

Gordon Brown altered the Data Protection Act following press lobbying, and the current PM, by appointing Coulson and being close friend with Brooks, both now charged by the police, has made similar mistakes.

Both the Tories and Labour recognise that the Liberal Democrats did not have the same relationship with the Press as them.

In June, David Cameron said  ‘Let me be frank: we are talking about the relationships that Conservative politicians and Labour politicians have had over the past 20 years with News Corporation, News International and all the rest of it. To be fair to the Liberal Democrats, they did not have that relationship.”

And Labour peer David Puttman added ‘In truth, the only party that has consistently taken a thoughtfully independent position on this issue has been the Liberal Democrats.”

In 2003, we argued that the PCC be reformed into a genuinely independent body, with compulsory membership and at arm’s length from editors. These are exactly the same reforms being talked about today.

In 2009, we referred the Metropolitan Police Inquiry into phone-hacking to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, saying that the Met could not act as judge and jury in their own trial.

In 2010, Chris Huhne MP called for a full judicial inquiry into phone hacking. We were the first political party to do this.

It was thanks to Lib Dem Minister Tom McNally that the Communications Bill contained the plurality test that prevented News International taking full control of BSkyB in 2011.

 And at our 2011 Conference, we passed a motion on phone hacking which again called for the overhaul of the PCC and stronger ‘fit and proper persons’ rules.

Nick Clegg has made the Lib Dem view clear. Giving evidence to Leveson, he said,

‘Maintaining the freedom and diversity of the press is critical. As a liberal, it is my deepest instinct to preserve a press that is fiercely independent, and protected from political interference. Any proposals from government or this inquiry must have this principle at its heart.

We wait to see what Lord Leveson recommends on Thursday.

 

12 responses to “Leveson: My views censored by the Manchester Evening News: What do you think?

  1. Why did the MEN censor it? What bit didn’t they like?
    I thought opinion pieces didn’t have to agree with the paper’s overt political stance. Has that changed?

  2. I think it’s more than likely they just didn’t print it for no reason as they already had their quota of op-eds for that day and felt your opinion is no more important than any other member of the public. They probably also felt this was political trash and wanted to print real peoples views on what is affecting them and not some attempt to make yourself squeaky clean, which we all know is far from true after your scaremongering over Christie in 2005.

  3. Your opinion on Leveson is that you’ll wait and see what he says, then support any recommendations which you agree with and think are workable.

    This is a perfectly reasonable approach to take, indeed at this stage it’s probably the only reasonable approach to take. However, I can fully understand that the MEN would feel that it’d be far more useful to publish your views in a day or two instead, once you’ve something more concrete to offer.

  4. The Manchester Evening News directly approached me to do an opinion column on the 9th of November, for publication last Monday. Phil, they haven’t delayed the column, they have told me they are not printing it because they don’t agree with it. (a) The Manchester Evening News broke the Christie story in 2005. i supported the doctors, and not a senior NHS manager.

    http://menmedia.co.uk/manchestereveningnews/news/health/s/154/154878_christie_fury_at_shakeup_talks.html

    http://menmedia.co.uk/manchestereveningnews/news/health/s/155/155028_support_for_docs_in_christie_storm.html

  5. If they refused to print it because it contained a lot of LD flag waving and no real opinion on Leveson then I’m fine with them not printing it.

    But if the facts are as you’ve represented them: that they approached you for a column and then they refused to print it because they didn’t agree with what you’d said then yes, they should be ashamed.

  6. John,

    Since the day that the MEN was bought from the Guardian by Trinity Mirror it’s bias in favour of Labour has been absolutely obvious.

    I have no doubt that had you removed the comments referring to Blair jetting off to Australia to sidle up to Murdoch, and about Brown altering the Data Protection Act then the MEN may have considered printing your comment.

    Had you not pointed out that the Lib Dems had been at the forefront of calls for press reforms, whilst Labour and the Tories were always after the event, then maybe your comment would have been more likely to have been printed.

    The simple truth is that the MEN is now a mouthpiece for the Labour Party, and as such you can no longer expect them to print your views un-censored unless you only ever express views that promote positively the Labour Party.

  7. Pingback: Leveson: MEN censorship shows why Leveson was necessary | donaldsonic·

  8. Whatever the reasons for MEN not printing an article they had originally commissioned, I don’t think that represents censorship. That represents editorial discretion. You (and I) may disagree with the decision not to publish, but to describe it as censorship is surely hyperbole.

  9. Tom, I thought it was ironic that the Manchester Evening News was arguing against regulation yet regulating the opinions of others. I was asked to write an opinion piece, and then told it was not being printed because they disagreed with it.

    If they had said the article was too long, or they had edited it down, or even delayed it because it was a busy news day, then that is editorial discretion.

    The hyperbole is coming from those who are deliberately misrepresenting Leveson as an attack on free speech. No-one makes that accusation in Ireland, where there is regulation, or in the broadcast media.

    Isn’t the logical conclusion of those opposed to any regulation Fox News?

    • Hang on, John. There is a world of difference between regulating what you publish and regulation what somebody else publishes.

      You are well within your rights to delete a comment from this thread, for example, and that does not constitute a breach of my freedom of expression. If you ban me from writing on any platform, however, that is clearly censorship (and would have J S Mill not only turning in his grave, but crawling out of it to wave a copy of On Liberty at you with his skeletal claw).

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