Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons.

Speech at the Rally for Media Reform - 17/05/12

Thank you very much. Well I sincerely hope that the Leveson Report will not be going into the hands of Jeremy Hunt, because if this is about anything it’s been about exposing wholesale disregard for the rules of fairness and for abiding by the law. And I’m afraid that Jeremy Hunt has shown that he is not prepared to obey the rules or obey the law, so as far as I’m concerned he shouldn’t be in his job and I hope it will be a different Secretary of State that receives the Leveson Report. But I do hope that, actually, we’ll be able to find some cross-party working to solve these problems that have been around for years.

And I can see many of you who have been around for years on this issue, campaigning on these issues because we know these are not new problems. There’s nothing new about the police selling and the media buying information which is both protected by the criminal justice system in terms of it being a criminal offence to buy and sell information from the police but also a disciplinary offence, but obviously it’s been going on for years and there’s nothing new about that.

There’s nothing new about having no proper redress for individuals where the press complaints code is breached.

There’s nothing new about the press being too powerful and media monopolies being too powerful.

So these are longstanding problems.

But what is new is that we have at this moment an historic opportunity to actually solve these problems and not be here in another one, two, three decades still discussing the same problems. So I think this is a very, very historic and important moment, and I really want to thank Hacked Off and the Coordinating Committee for Media Reform. We have to get to the end of this, and we can do so.

I think that what we have to understand is: what is the problem. And I think the problem is two-fold.

The sense of invincibility in the Murdoch empire. They owned too many newspapers: 37% of the readership. It was owning too many newspapers: they were too powerful, they were invincible and above the law and above the rules. And behind them and their behaviour, because of their invincibility, the rest of the media no doubt followed through.

That’s the first thing, invincibility.

And secondly, impunity. They felt if they broke the rules and breached the code that actually there was not a proper press complaints system that could do anything about it. And therefore if you get that combination of invincibility and impunity, they feel they can do what they like.

Now, we need to have solutions to those problems. But I think that it’s wrong to characterise those of us who want redress for individuals and want a diverse rather than monopolistic press – it’s wrong to characterise us as being against a free press. And I personally feel, as many of you do here, very strongly about that.

I think that just as the press are prepared, if they get too powerful, to abuse that power, so too can government. And although it’s a long time ago it remains very strongly with me to this day what it felt like when the Tory government, in the shape of the Tory Attorney General and the Tory Home Secretary, decided to prosecute me for contempt, because of an article that I’d worked with The Guardian on which actually exposed wrongdoing in the prison system. So the idea that we want the press to be muzzled is absolutely wrong, because actually government does need to be held to account and we do need a free press.

But we do have to make change to address the invincibility and impunity.

Firstly, redress for individuals. I think we’ve got to have a system that applies to all newspapers. Opting in is hopeless. The magistrate doesn’t have to say to the defendant, ‘would you like to opt in to the criminal justice system?’ It doesn’t have to say to an employer who’s sacked somebody, ‘will you please opt in to the employment tribunal?’ You need something which can actually apply to newspapers so whoever has broken the code, that individual can actually have redress. So it’s got to apply to everybody, not just those who choose to have it.

Secondly, it’s got to be enforceable. It can’t just make rulings; it’s got to be able to enforce them.

Thirdly, it has got to be independent: independent of government and independent of the press. Lord Hunt – David Hunt – says he is independent. He is appointed by the newspapers and he is a former Tory cabinet minister who sits on the Tory benches in the House of Lords. I don’t know what his definition of ‘independent’ is, but that is not mine.

And, it’s got to be easy to use for everybody.

So applying to everybody, enforceable, independent, and easy to use: that’s what we should have from a redress system.

And as far as the invincibility – tackling the invincibility – is concerned, we have to address media monopoly. Not just cross media ownership but within newspapers, because that was the problem with Murdoch. We need to have a way of measuring that is agreed by everybody. We need to have a ceiling on ownership – 37% is way too much, we need to have a ceiling. We need to have proper mechanisms for requiring divesting of newspapers. And we need to have strong support for Ofcom or the regulator that’s going to be dealing with this.

I want to just quickly say, in conclusion, that I think the Leveson Inquiry is doing a great job, and they’ve really shone a light on it and allowed a debate which hasn’t been able to really properly happen before. And I really pay tribute to all of Leveson and his team who are involved. I think it’s really important that we’ve been able to have a more free debate and hopefully it can lead to judicious reform.

But I think at the end of the day what I hope we have is no victors and no vanquished here. What we need is a proper, fair system which gives redress and tackles monopoly. So I think that although many of us feel bitter in a whole load of ways, for all sorts of reasons, we’ve got to somehow have the equivalent of a knife amnesty and put down our weapons and actually try and work out how we have a sensible solution.

And I do want to also just pay a final personal tribute to those who’ve actually challenged the power of the press, and the irresponsibility and the abuse. Because I think it takes real personal heroic bravery. I think that the people who’ve come to Leveson and have actually relived in front of the media the experiences which have been so painful for them, I think we really owe it to them. People like the Dowler family who’ve been prepared to come forward and say that – I think that has been enormously important. And similarly, Charlotte Church, coming and talking about how they were prepared to pay tens of thousands of pounds to her young unemployed teenage lover in order to give details. That must have taken an awful lot to come forward and say that, so I think we really owe them.

And I also think we owe it to the kamikaze preparedness to risk all. Tom Watson for actually throwing his person in front of the railway train. So far – but we have to check on a daily basis – living to tell the tale. And also I’d like to pay tribute to Ed Miliband, because it’s very easy to not actually stand up and say ‘enough is enough’, ‘this can’t go on’, and actually I don’t think we would have had that Leveson Inquiry had we not had Ed Miliband saying as a party leader, ‘we’ve got to have an Inquiry, this can’t go on’.

But at the end of the day, we’ve got to – for all those people who’ve suffered, and for all those people who’ve taken risks – we have to actually finish the job, address that invincibility, address that impunity, and have a free press and one which is fair.

[AUDIENCE MEMBER: What about Vince Cable? Three cheers for Vince Cable.

HARRIET HARMAN: Well the thing about Vince Cable though is – what he did – is he said privately to somebody that he wasn’t going to act in a quasi-judicial way, and that is not the way to do it. So no, I wouldn’t give three cheers for Vince Cable.]


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