Insight and analysis from Press Gazette editor Dominic Ponsford

Daily Mail launches broadside against 'elitist liberals who want to decide what newspapers should be allowed to print'

With the Leveson report now thought to be less than two weeks away, the Daily Mail today devotes 12 pages to a dissection of the interconnected bodies which it clearly sees as being behind a conspiracy to undermine the popular press.

Here are some snippets from the investigation, which focuses on Sir David Bell, the networking and training organisation Common Purpose, the Media Standards Trust, Hacked Off, and several other leading figures from the press reform lobby.

It’s a big piece of work (taking me the whole of my hour-long train journey to read in detail this morning).

So in case you don’t have time to read the whole thing , here are some snippets from Richard Pendlebury’s ‘special investigation’ which I think get to the nub of the Mail’s case:

Hacked Off, one of the lobby groups created by Sir David Bell (who stepped down as chairman of the Media Standards Trust only when he was appointed a Leveson assessor) and Julia Middleton's network played a significant role in creating and shaping the Leveson Inquiry, which will cost the taxpayer almost £6 million.

That is their campaign's proud boast. And, as we shall see in this investigation, it is hard to dispute.

***

Significantly, among the leadership of Common Purpose, the Media Standards Trust and Hacked Off, vested interests intertwine. Many, but by no means all, of the most prominent activists are politically left of centre. Some are involved in the quangos that the New Labour project created. As such, they are representative of a new elite.

***

Common Purpose has claimed more than 35,000 people have 'graduated' from its courses in the UK and across the world.

 

As well as firms in the private sector, government departments, local authorities, quangos, charities and police forces have all sent staff on Common Purpose's leadership programmes.

 

A week long '20:20' course in advanced leadership costs almost £5,000.

***

On the specious basis that FoI legislation was being abused, causing damage to the charity's reputation, Common Purpose compiled a 'blacklist' of the individuals concerned. Common Purpose officials sent private, personal details of these people to public bodies around the country, with the warning that new FoI requests about the charity from those listed should be treated as 'vexatious'.

In other words, Common Purpose tried to block the legal rights of those individuals and prevent their freedom of expression.

 

 

 

David Gilbertson, former Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and Assistant Inspector of HM Constabulary, told us: 'I was invited to join Common Purpose some years ago. I went to six or eight training sessions. I had just been promoted to Commander …

'I dropped out half way through the course. I thought it was a waste of my time and public money. The fees were being paid by the Met.

'Some there clearly wanted to network … I know people use Common Purpose to do deals, because one person on the course turned up at my office in Scotland Yard with someone else pitching for an IT contract. I said I didn't do contracts. It certainly wasn't an application through the normal system.

'People do see it as a way of getting on.'

***

In July 2011, a nuclear bomb was dropped on Britain’s newspaper industry: The Guardian alleged that the News of the World had deleted messages from murder victim Milly Dowler’s mobile phone, giving her parents ‘false hope’ that she was still alive.

Despite the fact that we now know The Guardian story — which followed others detailing the hacking of messages left on celebrities’ phones — was almost certainly untrue, this was the tipping point.

***

On July 11, at the request of Hacked Off, the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, met Milly Dowler’s parents and ‘members of the Hacked Off team’. 

The following day, The Guardian produced another front-page bombshell. It claimed that The Sun had secured information on the medical condition of the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s son by illegally obtaining his medical records.

The story was wrong. But it would be four days before The Guardian published an apology.

By then, though, the Hacked Off campaign had achieved its goal. On July 13, David Cameron announced the terms of reference for an inquiry which would focus on events at News International. Lord Justice Leveson would lead it. 

But in an example of the power now accorded them by politicians, Hacked Off made it clear it was unhappy with those terms. The lobby group wanted a much more wide-ranging inquiry which, among other matters, would examine the allegedly illegal actions of news groups other than News International.

***

By July 20, they had their way on many of the points they demanded.  Broader terms of reference were announced by Cameron. On its website, a euphoric Hacked Off claimed that it had ‘secured’ the following changes to the Inquiry which now would include: 

  • The conduct of politicians and the press;
  • The conduct of the press  and the police;
  • Failures of data protection;
  • Newspaper groups other than News International;
  • Mobile phone companies and others responsible for holding personal data;
  • The conduct of police forces other than the Metropolitan Police and the prosecution authorities, including the overlooking of evidence and inducements to police officers rather than simple corrupt payments;
  • The corporate governance of media organisations.

This was a triumph indeed. On July 28, Leveson himself remarked that the terms of reference ‘in the week following the initial statement by the Prime Minister on July 13 grew very substantially’.

Thus a body that could trace its origins to David Bell’s elitist Common Purpose, that was launched on the basis of an error about Milly Dowler, and supported by a motley crew of celebrities, politicians and lobbyists, had a hugely powerful influence on the terms of reference of a supposedly independent judicial inquiry.

***

 

Finally, here is the concluding comment from today's Daily Mail leader column: 

 

...if some form of statutory regulation is introduced because of Leveson, you can bet your life it will be elitist liberals such as Bell who decide what is in the ‘public interest’ and what newspapers should be allowed to print.

The consequences of this for both a press that has been free of political control for over 300 years and the public’s right to know doesn’t bear thinking about.

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