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May 1, 2014

Sajid Javid: Hacking down to ‘bad apples’ – press freedom ‘cornerstone of democracy’

By William Turvill and Press Association

New Culture Secretary Sajid Javid today reiterated his assertion that the press industry must now decide how to proceed with regulation.

Suggesting the phone-hacking scandal was down to “bad apples”, he said in Parliament: “We must be careful to recognise that the press and their freedom is a cornerstone of our democracy.”

The new Cabinet minister (pictured: Reuters) spoke as a Court of Appeal judge rejected a bid by newspapers and magazines to continue a legal battle over the Government's rejection of the industry's own press regulation charter.

Javid said the rival Royal Charter set up with cross-party support in Parliament now existed but it is up to the press to decide what to do next.

Since the Leveson Inquiry, the majority of the industry has set up its own regulator, the Independent Press Standards Organisation, and is refusing to sign up to the Royal Charter over fears of political interference.

The Culture Secretary indicated at the weekend that the ball was in the industry's court and today found support from fellow Tory Paul Uppal, who urged Javid not to "throw the baby out with the bathwater".

During culture, media and sport questions in the Commons, Uppal said: "Like many in this chamber I have a confession – I am occasionally a political anorak and watch political campaigns.

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"And over the last few weeks watching the Indian elections, particularly the media coverage over there, can I just impress on you – although the British press is far from perfect, we have to be mindful of throwing the baby out with the bathwater on this issue."

Javid replied: "You make a very important point. As I have said before a number of industries have bad apples, make mistakes, but we must be careful to recognise that the press and their freedom is a cornerstone of our democracy."

Labour former minister Chris Bryant said Javid was wrong to use his description of bad apples.

He said: "It wasn't just one bad apple, it wasn't just one rogue reporter, it was systematic abuse of people who were the victims of crime themselves, people who had lost family members in Afghanistan.

"So I hope you will understand that those people, those victims of those crimes and unethical conduct, are still deeply troubled by the creation of this body IPSO because it's been cobbled together by two Conservative members of the House of Lords.

"It still is a case of the press marking their own homework."

Javid replied: "You will know that both the industry and the Government agree, as do all parties in this House, that self-regulation is the way forward.

"That was at the heart of the Leveson principles. As I said, the Royal Charter has been set up, the press have responded by setting up a self-regulator, now it's for them to decide how they wish to take that further."

Former culture secretary Ben Bradshaw said the victims of press abuse, who had been "thrown to the wolves", were not happy with the industry's attempt to set up its own regulator.

The Labour MP said: "I hope you will [meet the victims] because as you will be aware, they are not happy with what's happened since the Leveson Report, they are certainly not happy with attempts by some newspapers to set up a replacement for the discredited Press Complaints Commission, and do you agree with the Prime Minister who said on oath to the Leveson Inquiry that the test is not 'did the politicians or press feel happy with what we get', it's 'are we really protecting the people who have been caught up and absolutely thrown to the wolves by this process?'"

Javid said: "I'm sure you recognise that since Lord Leveson's report was published that we have made significant progress on this issue on a cross-party basis.

"As you know the Royal Charter has now been set up and it's now for the press to decide what they wish to do next."

Javid added that he would seriously consider meeting the victims of press abuse.

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