As expected, a sharp political divide has opened up between Labour and the Conservatives over the Leveson report. In his statement to the Commons, David Cameron praised most of Leveson’s recommendations but declared that he had “serious concerns and misgivings” over his call for a new system of press regulation to be underpinned by statute. This, he suggested, would set a dangerous precedent by “writing elements of press regulation into the law of the land”. He warned that this would create “a vehicle for politicians, whether today or some time in the future, to impose regulation and obligations on the press”.
But he ended by emphasising that the status quo “is not an option” and said that the press had “a limited period of time” to set up a new regulatory system that complies with “Leveson principles”. And, while Cameron is opposed to state-backed regulation on principled as well as pragmatic grounds, he was careful not to rule it out completely.
In his response to Cameron, Ed Miliband began by immediately signalling his disagreement with the PM, stating that he hoped to “convince” him in the days and weeks ahead that “we should put our trust in Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations”. Lest there be any doubt that Labour favours state-backed regulation, Miliband went on to say “[Leveson] recommends that both Ofcom’s role and these criteria of independence and effectiveness will be set out in statute, a law of this Parliament. A truly independent regulation of the press, guaranteed by law. Lord Justice Leveson’s proposals are measured, reasonable and proportionate. We on this side unequivocally endorse both the principles set out and his central recommendations.”
Cameron is opposed to any form of state involvement, Miliband is unambiguously in favour. The divide could not be clearer. While both have agreed to cross-party talks, it’s hard to see, at this stage, how their differences could be bridged.