Labour MP: Editors must come out of 'smoke-filled rooms' and tell us their plans for self-regulation

Labour MP and former journalist Meg Hillier has called on the press to be more open about its post-Leveson regulation plans.

Despite putting her “faith” in the industry to regulate itself without statute, she has criticised editors for keeping the details of their proposed plan under wraps.

Hillier, who was Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change from 2010-11, has refused to back statutory regulation of the press despite her party’s clear, pro-statute position.

But she told Press Gazette the industry is in danger of losing further support in Westminster.

“Since the editors had their meetings we haven’t really heard more – it’s gone very quiet. So much for openness and transparency – come on,” she said.

“If you’re saying you’re going to solve this yourself, I’m saying, as someone who might well support that, tell us what you’re doing. Tell us what’s emerging. Give us a bit of commentary.”

“You do a running commentary on what we do here, that’s fair enough, it’s all on Hansard, it’s all public domain. And you’ve gone off into a little smoke-filled room – or maybe it’s not smoke filled, but mineral water filled – and you’re not telling us.”

She also warned that if press owners were seen to be interfering with negotiations too much there would be anger within Parliament.

“There is a great anti-Murdoch feeling here as well,” she said.

“If proprietors are seen to be interfering with those discussions between the editors or hiding what’s going on or having any influence on how it’s publicised that goes down very badly.”

She warned that owners’ involvement would “stoke up feeling that we should have statutory regulation”.

And despite not backing it herself, she can understand why Labour figures, including leader Ed Miliband, are backing statute – “channeling the public anger about the Milly Dowler phone-hacking and some of the other phone-hacking”.

Last month deputy leader Harriet Harman said the nation cannot rely on the “good faith of the press” to ensure a new system “remain independent and effective”, and opted instead to back a statutory solution.

Hillier said: “The chronology is, when we as MPs had the view we should all be sorting things out for ourselves [after the expenses scandal] that wasn’t taken very lightly by the media and the public didn’t like that idea.

“And now we have this independent body looking at what we’re doing, which has statutory underpinning… So that’s very much in the trend but I just think I have a greater faith in proper journalism.”

Although Hillier has her reservations about the way the Leveson Inquiry was handled, she does believe that most political and media figures were too quick to condemn it as well as praise it when it came out in November.

“All parties came out of the traps very quickly with their instant reactions on a very large and detailed report and a long, expensive inquiry,” she said.

“I think there’s a danger in this 24-7 media world that everyone has to have something to say and it’s not very popular or fashionable to say, ‘well, actually, I want to think about it’.

“There’s an enormous pressure on the leader of the opposition to come out and say something.”

On Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry itself, Hillier said she believes it could have been handled a lot better.

“Leveson went way beyond his remit. I have to say I object to highly paid lawyers making a lot of money asking all sorts of ex-Prime Ministers [questions] – I’m not sure what relevance they had for forwarding press regulation.

“What we were trying to do was get better media and fairer media. This set-up has dragged the media right into the apparatus of the state effectively because Leveson was a creature of the state.”

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