A former Cabinet minister today hit out at attempts to "rubbish" the report of Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry into media standards even before it is published.
Tory Lord Fowler, an ex-journalist, warned of a "campaign in motion" to denigrate Lord Leveson's findings, and cautioned his own colleagues in government about attacking the inquiry.
- November 21, 2019
- November 29, 2018
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"It was the Prime Minister and the Government who set up this inquiry and they were totally right to do so," he said.
"It's certainly not open to any member of the Government to dissociate themselves or attack the inquiry process.
"There may well be differences of view at the end but we should at least wait to see what Lord Leveson has to say."
Lord Fowler said the inquiry had been "comprehensive and fair," but added: "What I deplore is the undoubted effort that is now taking place to denigrate and rubbish the report even before anyone in Parliament or the public has had the opportunity of reading it.
"Let no one doubt that there is a campaign in motion to do just that."
Lord Fowler's comments came as peers split over the need for more press regulation in the wake of the phone hacking scandal and other revelations.
Lord Fowler defended the media's right to investigate and expose injustice, but went on: "Don't ask me to defend the activities of those who pry, sometimes illegally, into the private lives of the citizen … or bribe the police or other officials to get a story."
Lord Fowler said: "We need a complaints system which is demonstrably independent and not seen as a defence mechanism for the press.
"We need a system where the public interest is put first. We need a system which is as fearless as the best of the newspapers they are reviewing. And we need a system which includes all newspapers and where there is a power of investigation into abuse."
Ministers now have the chance to "put things right" and must not again warn the press that it was "drinking in the last chance saloon", he told the House of Lords, adding: "We want action and action that is in the public interest – providing us with a free press but with proper safeguards for the legitimate rights of the public."
Lord Sugar said he hoped Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry into press standards would result in recommendations allowing fines to be imposed on newspapers, similar to those issued by the Financial Services Authority when companies it regulates step out of line.
He added: "And more to the point, if necessary, banning those responsible from practising their profession in the same way a lawyer or doctor would be struck off if they had acted improperly."
Lord Sugar said the pressure to get stories was forcing staff to make them up to provide front-page headlines.
"It is impossible for journalism to be treated in the same way as a production line. You cannot fabricate stories in matters of the public interest simply because events are not occurring as frequently as newspapers would like them," he said.
Headlines were often "created from throw-away remarks or taken completely out of context".
He criticised at a double page spread in The Sun today which he said "accuses the noble Lord Sugar here of blasting the BBC", adding: "I made the fatal error of giving someone an interview about enterprise and youngsters and it resulted in me blasting the BBC.
"And of course this morning my telephone was blasting with executives from the BBC – as if they haven't got enough to worry about at the moment – asking me what this is all about."
The Sun's article quotes Lord Sugar is quoted as saying it would be the BBC's fault if there was not another series of Young Apprentice and suggesting that in that case he "may have to take the format somewhere else".
Replying for the Government, Viscount Younger of Leckie highlighted Lord Sugar's comments on the demand for stories.
"Certainly this is something that needs to be looked at in terms of media process," he said.