Labour says Whittingdale should withdraw from involvement in press regulation over dominatrix story

Labour has called for Culture Secretary John Whittingdale to withdraw from involvement in regulation of the press because he had a relationship with a woman who worked as a paid dominatrix.
 
The Independent, Mail on Sunday, Sunday People and Sun are all believed to have looked at the story and decided not to run it.
 
Sources Press Gazette has spoken to say the story was dropped for public interest reasons. There is no evidence the minister paid the woman for sex and he is understood to have ended the relationship once he found out what she did for a living.
 
But Labour shadow cabinet minister Chris Bryant told the BBC: "It seems the press were quite deliberately holding a sword of Damocles over John Whittingdale.
 
"He has a perfect right to a private life but as soon as he knew this he should have withdrawn from all regulation of the press."
 
The story was first broken by the website Byline and was also reported by Press Gazette last week.
 
Whittingdale has never denied the relationship, but issued his first public statement last night after the story was reported by BBC Newsnight.
 
The relationship occurred before Whittingdale became a Cabinet minister following the 2015 general election although he was chairman of the influential Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee at the time.
 
He said: "Between August 2013 and February 2014, I had a relationship with someone who I first met through Match.com. She was a similar age and lived close to me.
 
"At no time did she give me any indication of her real occupation and I only discovered this when I was made aware that someone was trying to sell a story about me to tabloid newspapers. As soon as I discovered, I ended the relationship.
 
"This is an old story which was a bit embarrassing at the time. The events occurred long before I took up my present position and it has never had any influence on the decisions I have made as Culture Secretary."
 
Writing in Press Gazette yesterday Hacked Off founder and professor of journalism Briant Catchcart said: "A refusal to publish a story about a government minister having had a relationship with a dominatrix is, as we all know, wholly out of character for several of our national papers (while the others would normally follow up such a story with relish). 
 
"… any suggestion that the story was spiked because of ethical scruples is so inconsistent with normal recent behaviour as to be beyond consideration, and that the possible ethical reasons put forward by ‘Fleet Street insiders’ hold no water.
 
"You only have to look at the desperate thirst of at least two of the same newspaper groups in the past few days to report the details of a married celebrity’s ‘three-in-a-bed’ activities to see the normal instincts of such editors at work."
 
He believes newspapers were reluctant to attack Whittingdale because his department has the power to commence Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act, which imposes tough financial penalties on publishers who refused to sign up to a Royal Charter-backed system of press regulation.
 
Former senior Independent journalist James Cusick has written on Byline that he was investigating newspapers' reluctance to cover the Whittingdale story last October when the story was spiked by his editor. It was at this time that Whittingdale announced at the Society of Editors conference that he was not minded to enact Section 40.
 
On Friday, well placed sources told Press Gazette talk of a conspiracy to cover up the Whittingdale story was wide of the mark. They said the story was not run because:
 
  • He is not married
  • He does not appear to have broken the law 
  • He has not portrayed a false image
  • He is not a figure who is high profile enough to ring many bells with readers
  • The relationship apparently finished in any case before he became a Cabinet Minister (he was chair of the Commons culture select committee at the time).

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