May promises new guidance for police and media

New guidelines that will bring "common sense" to relationships between the police and media have been drawn up, Theresa May told the Leveson Inquiry.

The Home Secretary has received guidance from police chiefs which recommends that officers should not accept gifts, gratuities or hospitality except those "of a trivial nature".

May said it was important that officers did not put themselves in a position where "people could feel that they are being influenced by the receipt of such gifts".

The new guidance from the Association of Chief Police Officers(Acpo) would bring a "clearer" set of rules for meetings between the police and journalists, she added.

"I think it's trying to apply common sense to the relationship the police should have with the media," she said.

May said she hoped new draft guidance from the Acpo would provide greater clarity and consistency about relationships between the Press and police – and denied it would have a "chilling effect".

Previously forces drew up their own guidelines, with wide divisions in what was deemed acceptable. Acpo suggests allowing officers to receive only "light refreshments" during meetings with reporters, seemingly ruling out lavish lunches.

The guidance calls for "more robust decision-making" and recommends that forces should have a single register of gifts and hospitality governed by the head of professional standards.

It calls for a "shift to blanket non-acceptability save for a certain circumstances and a common-sense approach to the provision of a light refreshments and trivial and inexpensive gifts of bona fide and genuine gratitude from victims and communities".

The guidance continues: "One extreme can properly be considered to be a breach of criminal law (the Bribery Act 2010) through to the low-level hospitality which could in no way be considered as a breach of integrity on any party involved."

May said: "I think that is a sensible approach that is being taken by Acpo in an attempt to find a greater consistency.

"What's important isn't that they have a single force register but that everybody knows that there is a general belief that they shouldn't be taking gifts, gratuities and hospitality, except where they are of a more trivial nature."

Lord Justice Leveson hoped tighter rules would not stop beat bobbies tipping off local reporters to community news stories.

He said: "It is obviously important that, for example, neighbourhood police officers should be able to speak to local press about events in the neighbourhood – good news stories, concerns, seeking witnesses, all that sort of material – and it seems to me sensible that everything one can do to encourage that sort of contact is worthwhile."

The Home Secretary said: "The important thing is for officers to know where the line is drawn between who they are able to speak to and what they are able to say in those conversations.

"It shouldn't have a chilling effect but I think what's important is that we have a framework that doesn't have a chilling effect and a framework that enables common sense to be operated in these relationships."

Hacking investigation

May later set out her reasons for not ordering a fresh investigation when new phone hacking allegations surfaced in the New York Times in September 2010 – four months after she took office.

She told the inquiry: "It wasn't the role of the Home Secretary to decide whether information in a newspaper should be investigated.

"It is the role of the police officers to decide whether information that is printed is new evidence or hints at new evidence such that they feel it is necessary to investigate that."

May denied suggestions that she had initially "parked" the phone hacking issue amid claims that the relationship between Scotland Yard and News International was too close.

The inquiry heard that May was sent a briefing note preparing her for possible questions she might face after Sir Paul Stephenson quit as Metropolitan Police Commissioner on 17 July over his relationship with former News of the World executive editor Neil Wallis, who was hired by Scotland Yard as a PR consultant but was later arrested on suspicion of phone hacking.

It included preparation for issues which MPs were likely to raise when she made a statement to the Commons, including one that suggested it was wrong that Sir Paul felt he could not talk to David Cameron or the Home Secretary about the matter because it might have "embarrassed the Prime Minister because of his relationship with Andy Coulson", the former News of the World editor who had earlier quit as the PM's director of communications.

May was asked if she felt Sir Paul had been unable to raise the issue but replied: "I don't recall any such conversation."

She told the inquiry that, by the time revelations that murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler's phone was hacked were published on July 4, she had "growing concerns" about the way the press was regulated but still broadly favoured the system that was in place.

Gove: Murdoch is a 'great man'

The relationship between the press and politicians is not always in the public interest, Michael Gove said today.

Some journalists and MPs could end up "relying upon each other for confidences which are not shared with the public at an appropriate time", the Education Secretary told the Leveson Inquiry.

Gove, a former journalist on The Times, also heaped praise on media mogul Rupert Murdoch, confirming that he believed he was a "great man".

The idea that the relationship between politician and the Press was "poisonous" is an overstatement" but it could be a "little rough edged", said Mr Gove, Conservative MP for Surrey Heath, adding: "It is also the case that there are some politicians and some journalists who develop a close relationship which may not be altogether in the public interest".

Newspaper proprietors and executives would "from time to time" attempt to influence ministers but "robust politicians" would listen politely but not bend, he said.

He had never expressed a view on the News Corporation bid to take full control of BSkyB to his political colleagues, he went on.

Asked about Murdoch, he described him as "one of the most significant figures of the last 50 years" and agreed he was a "force of nature, a phenomenon and a great man".

Gove repeatedly denied discussing News Corp's bid for BSkyB with News International bosses and said he had "no recollection" of knowing about the proposed takeover before it became public.

"I haven't followed the the progress of the bid with the same interest as others," he told the inquiry.

"I imagine it would have been significant if someone had taken me into their confidence and I have absolutely no recollection of any conversation of any kind."

'A degree of human sympathy' for Coulson

But he had discussed Andy Coulson's resignation as Downing Street's communications director with News International's then chief executive, Rebekah Brooks, when the pair met socially.

Coulson quit the role four years after he resigned as News of the World editor following the jailing of royal reporter Clive Goodman for hacking phones.

The Education Secretary said: "Both of us felt a degree of human sympathy for him having had to resign twice."

Mr Gove, whose wife Sarah Vine is a prominent Times journalist, said he maintained close friendships with reporters, but "tried to exercise appropriate judgment on all occasions".

He used a "set of common sense rules" in his contacts with journalists, he said.

"As a minister I have to be very careful that human interaction and friendships don't lead me to make any judgment politically or with regard to the dispersal of information or public money that would embarrass the Government or put them in an invidious position."

Asked why the public apparently holds politicians and journalists in contempt, Mr Gove quipped: "'Twas ever thus", adding: "Human nature doesn't change much over time and politicians and journalists have always tended to be held in relatively low regard."

He also said he doubted the impact of newspapers at elections, believing their role was overstated.

"Disproportionate attention is paid to what newspapers may say, for example, during an election campaign," he said.

"I think the public are shrewder in making up their minds about which parties to support than is sometimes imagined."

Asked about Rupert Murdoch's plan to back a free school – those outside local authority control – in East London, which was later dropped, Gove said: "I believed that Rupert Murdoch was only interested in establishing a school for purely philanthropic reasons."

The Education Secretary said he was "open minded" about free schools making a profit, unlike some of his Coalition colleagues.

'Exercising a precious liberty'

Gove and Lord Justice Leveson later became involved in a debate over Press regulation and freedom of speech, with the Education Secretary warning against new laws governing the media.

Journalists were "exercising a precious liberty", Gove said, adding: "I am concerned about any prior restraint and on their exercising of freedom of speech."

But Lord Justice Leveson told him: "Mr Gove, I do not need to be told about the importance of freedom of speech, I really don't.

"But I am concerned that the effect of what you say might be that you are in fact taking the view that behaviour which everybody so far in this Inquiry has said is unacceptable, albeit not necessarily criminal, has to be accepted because of the right of freedom of speech."

Gove replied: "I don't think any of us can accept that behaviour necessarily, but there are a variety of sanctions … By definition, freedom of speech doesn't mean anything unless some people are going to be offended some of the time."

But Lord Justice Leveson, who has heard from the parents of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, whose phone was hacked by News of the World journalists, and from the mother and father of missing Madeleine McCann, responded: "Don't you think that some of the evidence I have heard from at least some of those who have been subject to Press attention can be characterised as rather more than, 'Some people are going to be offended some of the time'?"

Gove said: "I am sure that there are cases where journalists and others have behaved in ways which are deplorable."

But he added: "Some of us believe that before the case for regulation is made, the case for liberty needs to be asserted as well."

The Education Secretary said he was "unashamedly on the side of those who say we should think very carefully before legislation and regulation", adding: "The cry, 'Something must be done' often leads to people doing something which isn't always wise."

The free speech debate followed comments Gove made at a lunch for political reporters in Westminster, where he suggested the Leveson Inquiry could have "a chilling effect" on the press.

Today, he described his remarks as "reflections I had been turning over in my mind for a wee while", and said allegations that journalists broke the law while chasing stories were disturbing.

But he added: "One of the questions is 'Are the existing laws sufficient to punish those who have been responsible for wrongdoing, to provide a suitable deterrent in the future?'."

He pointed out that phone hacking and bribing public officials were already crimes, saying: "I have a prior belief that we should use existing laws of the land and that individuals and institutions should be judged fairly on the basis of the existing laws of the land."

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