David Blunkett, the former Home Secretary, has has his private life in the newspapers often enough to yearn, Hugh Grant-style, for a world where the press is not free but obliged to operate within parameters outlined by the government. But I’ve interviewed him for Radio Four’s Week in Westminster (it airs at 11am this morning) ahead of next week’s Leveson report and he has come out against the idea state-mandated regulation.
It was an unusual discussion: the supposedly illiberal Blunkett, himself a compensated victim of hacking was defending press freedom. A Tory, Nadhim Zahawi, was urging David Cameron to act.
As a former Home Secretary, Blunkett’s words carry some weight. He wants change, mainly a stronger Press Complaints Commission
‘I think we all want a complete transformation of what currently is the PCC so that it actually does have teeth so it can provide redress. I would like it not just to mediate but to able to make a judgment where the particular journal publication won’t play ball, and I’d like proper compensation. I think we’ve got a long way to go on the back of next week’s announcement in persuading the media, the print media, to go along with something much tougher than is on the table.
But the 42 Tory MPs demanding that government acts now are being too hasty, he says. If the press was to propose a bigger, toothier self-regulatory watchdog then “we don’t need statutory underpinning or requirements, and if we don’t we’re in a different ball game.”
Blunkett echoed Boris Johnson’s message at the Spectator parliamentary awards on Wednesday: what is supposed to be a serious discussion about press ethics and freedoms has descended into a sectarian war.
I don’t think we should be in two camps. There is a terrible problem at the moment with some of the print media having a go at people who don’t agree with them and there’s a similar problem on the other side if you’re not in favour of statutory regulation you’re somehow a patsy of the media – well I’m neither.