My Lords, I regret that I cannot support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins. This has been a passionate debate so far and there is, no doubt, more to come. However, there has been a definite lack of balance. There has been no mention of the good that the press has done over the many decades that I have been a newspaper reader. We can go back to Harry Evans and thalidomide; to MPs’ expenses in the Telegraph; we can talk about phone hacking itself, which was exposed by newspapers; the noble Viscount has just brought the Paradise papers to the attention of the House.
Addressing myself to the amendment, I have spent a lifetime on both sides of the media fence, as editor-in-chief of ITV and Channel 4; as a Daily Mirror sports journalist 150 years ago, when Charlton Athletic used to win; and, too often, as the subject of media scrutiny and—putting it at its most charitable—the victim of some very painful criticism. I have several reasons for opposing the amendment. First, if there is a principle underlying the proposed new inquiry into the press et cetera, how can regional newspapers be exempt? Is it a principle or is it not? If there is a problem, pleading poverty should not excuse you.
Secondly, lumping the press and broadcasting with social media on the issue of misuse of data is to misunderstand entirely the nature of the problem we face. Newspapers and broadcasters are governed very strictly in their handling of data, not only by regulators but by the Information Commissioner’s Office, with a carefully crafted exemption for public interest data searches. The ICO is a statutory body with draconian powers which it is not afraid to exercise. We know that Facebook and its ilk are displaying scant regard for data privacy. I am sure that noble Lords all agree that the Cambridge Analytica issue is the tip of the iceberg. Traditional media offer no evidence to justify this lumping together in the amendment.
Thirdly, I suspect that lying behind the amendment is yet another attempt to exercise some statutory controls or levers over our free media. Any inquiry, not least that envisaged by this amendment, is bound to produce recommendations, with the risk to free speech of some statutory device, overt or covert, buried in them.
Fourthly, your Lordships have heard of the two relevant amendments in the other place, one of which was defeated and the other not moved. I have fought many battles in my career to keep legislation out of the media, not least at the BBC. Those pushing for some statutory levers over the free press are inclined, conveniently, to dismiss the incredible leap forward of IPSO. As a former member—I declare a former interest—of the now-defunct Press Complaints Commission, I am entirely satisfied that the PCC’s shortcomings have been rectified most effectively by IPSO. It is well resourced, beyond criticism in its independence of mind and, unlike the PCC, which was just a complaints body—which people tend to forget—IPSO is set up as a regulator. Its remit is as clear as it is effective.
In conclusion, I regret that I cannot support this amendment. I add that I do not believe, in keeping with my noble friend Lord Cormack—now listed—that it is proper for this House to cobble together a late amendment to spend public money on an ill-thought-through inquiry after the other place has clearly had its say. I see no public interest whatever in this amendment and I am certain that there are more important matters for us to spend the public’s money on.