Applause rang off the walls of committee room 10 at the Houses of Parliament yesterday as Goldsmiths lecturers and students joined a packed committee room, for the reading of Lord Justice Leveson’s report into press standards.
It was a day of mixed emotions for members of Media Reform, the coordinating committee for reform advocacy groups that is run from Goldsmiths’ Leverhulme Media Research Centre, as David Cameron poured cold water on what initially looked like a victory.
Leveson’s recommendations for statutory underpinning and a legal obligation on the government to protect press freedom, closely echoed Media Reform’s central demands.
During Levenson’s presentation, one member of the committee, who looked close to tears, mouthed to a colleague: “This is exactly what we asked for, I can’t believe it”.
But speaking shortly after Leveson’s address, the Prime Minister said he had, “serious concerns and misgivings” about the proposed legislation, a position that put him at odds with Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband who spoke in favour of the proposals.
Des Freedman, chair of Media Reform and Goldsmiths’ lecturer, praised Leveson’s inquiry for exposing, “the relationships that take place at the heart of British politics.”
He said: “We’ve moved a long way just because of the inquiry. But it’s just the beginning.”
However, questions were raised particularly over the issue of media ownership.
Professor James Curran, director of the Goldsmiths Media Research centre, said: “On ownership, there is virtually nothing. A few crumbs with some quite worrying phrases.”
Donnacha DeLong, NUJ President, said the breakdown of the “monolith of the media” was essential to help journalists facing “a range of abuses that most of us… would never tolerate in the work place.”
Angela Phillips, ethics chair of Media Reform and lecturer in Journalism at Goldsmiths, spoke out strongly against the alternative Hunt-Black plan which has been drafted by members of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) and which could see the licensing of journalists.
She said that the plan: “Has actually tried to put across the idea that big media should have the right to hand out press cards, big media should have the right to tell us which one of us can write in the press. I think that is the biggest threat to freedom of speech, certainly in my life time.”
Regarding this issue, Leveson made a forceful assertion that the Lord Black model did not come close to delivering regulation that is itself free and independent, which was met claps and cheers in the conference room.
However, the ultimate outcome is far from clear, as Cameron signalled he would not “cross the Rubicon” of statutory underpinning.
This position added weight to comments made by John McDonnell’s the secretary of the parliament NUJ group: “Today is just the first whistle being blown in the game.
“There will be a dogged battle over the next six to twelve months.”
[reporting by Sasha Filimonov and Oscar Quine]