Sunday, December 02, 2012
British PM: 'I'm NOT convinced by Leveson'. PM warns 'complicated plan to cross Rubicon' and regulate press by law COULD impinge on free speech
David Cameron today took just hours to throw out Lord Justice Leveson's plan for legislation to regulate the press, warning it could ‘infringe freedom of speech’.
The Prime Minister warned the judge’s 2,000-page report demanding media watchdog Ofcom oversee a new independent press body would put newspapers under the control of a government quango.
Mr Cameron put himself on a collision course with his deputy Nick Clegg, who said he could see no reason not to implement the report in full.
Cross-party talks are due to start tonight, with Labour leader Ed Miliband warning 'there can be no more last chance saloons' for the press.
Lord Leveson has called for a new system of independent self-regulation, with a powerful new body able to impose fines of up to £1million and demand front page apologies.
But he wants to law change to give state watchdog Ofcom - which regulates TV, radio and phone and postal services - power to oversee the process.
Mr Cameron told MPs: ‘The danger is this would create a vehicle for politicians whether today or in the future to impose regulations on the press. 'I am not convinced at this stage that statute is necessary to achieve Lord Leveson’s intentions.'
He warned using the law to control the press would 'cross the Rubicon' - a dramatic reference to the army of Julius Casaer crossing the Rubicon river which was considered an act of insurrection.
The Prime Minister said he had 'serious concerns and misgivings' about Lord Leveson's proposals for a statutory underpinning to a new regulation system.
'For the first time we would have crossed the Rubicon, writing elements of press regulation into the law of the land.
'We should, I believe, be wary of any legislation which has the potential to infringe free speech and a free press.
'In this House, which has been a bulwark of democracy for centuries, we should think very, very carefully before crossing this line.'
But Mr Clegg - who broke with parliamentary convention to make a separate statement in the Commons - bluntly dismissed Mr Cameron's call for a period of reflection on the controversial plans.
'We mustn't now prevaricate. I - like many people - am impatient for reform,' he said. 'And, bluntly, nothing I have seen so far in this debate suggests to me we will find a better solution than the one which has been proposed. Nor do I draw any hope from the repeated failure of pure self-regulation that we've seen over the last 60 years.
'We need to get on with this without delay. We owe it to the victims of these scandals, who have already waited too long for us to do the right thing.
'Too long for an independent press watchdog in which they can put their trust. I am determined we do not make them wait any more.'
But both Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg were united in opposition to some of the recommendations, including a plan for broadcasting watchdog Ofcom to oversee a new independent regulator.
The two leaders also expressed serious concerns about imposing tougher data protection rules on journalists. Lord Justice Leveson called for significant restrictions to exemptions granted to reporters under the Data Protection Act 1998.
Powers for the Information Commissioner to prosecute the media, investigators and others for breaches should also be extended, he suggested.
Mr Cameron said he would be wary about any move to 'reduce the special treatment that journalists are afforded when dealing with personal data' which he said were vital for investigative journalism.
Mr Clegg also said he had 'specific concerns' about the idea.
Lord Justice Leveson's long-awaited report calls for a new law to 'underpin' an independent press watchdog, a tightening of data protection legislation to limit journalists' rights to use personal information and a change in the law to allow publishers to be penalised in libel and other cases if they refuse to be subject to the regulator.
The judge said the press had ignored its own code of conduct in a way that had 'wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people' on far too many occasions over the last decade.
Under Lord Leveson's plan a new independent regulatory body would be overseen by media watchdog Ofcom.
But Mr Cameron said the head of Ofcom is appointed by ministers, putting politicians too close to the process of regulating the press.
'Ofcom is already a very powerful regulatory body and we should be trying to reduce concentrations of power rather than increase them.'
Instead Mr Cameron said he wanted the press industry to implement Leveson's principles for regulation, without Parliament changing the law.
Lord Black of Brentwood, the chairman of the Press Standards Board of Finance, warned the Leveson proposals are ‘profoundly dangerous’ and would put a state regulator ‘at the very heart of the newsroom’.
He expressed ‘great caution expressed about the role of the statutory regulator Ofcom in the new system’.
And he added: ‘That would be a state regulator at the very heart of the newsroom. Would you agree with me that, if the industry can make rapid progress in the task of establishing a new system, such a move would not be just be profoundly dangerous but completely unnecessary?’
The PM welcomed Lord Leveson's key requirements for a new independent self-regulatory body, including independence of appointments and funding, a standards code, an arbitration service and a speedy complaints handling mechanism.
He said that it should have the power to demand prominent apologies and to impose fines of up to £1 million.
Mr Cameron said the press now had a 'limited period of time' to make its own changes, and the 'status quo' would not be allowed to continue.
But Labour leader Ed Miliband said: ‘We should put our faith in the recommendations of Lord Justice Leveson. There can be no more last chance saloons.'
Mr Miliband said cross-party talks 'must be about implementing these recommendations, not whether we implement them'.
He added: 'The press must be able to hold the powerful, especially us politicians, to account without fear or favour. That is part of the character of our country.
'But at the same time I do not want to live in a country where innocent families like the McCanns and the Dowlers can see their lives torn apart simply for the sake of profit. And where powerful interests in the press know they won't be held to account.'
Cross-party talks are to begin today. All three leaders are likely to accept recommendations for frontbenchers to publish details of meetings and contact with media bosses.
Mr Cameron also said he supported Leveson's recommendations for ending the 'cosy relationship' between the press and the police.
The Premier also backed former culture secretary Jeremy Hunt who he said had endured 'a stream of allegations with great dignity' over his handling of the BSkyB bid, and the report confirmed that 'we were right to stand by him'.
It’s not just UKIP parents who are under suspicion in Britain
The Rotherham fostering controversy isn’t a mad one-off - it’s the logical conclusion to the intensification of state meddling in parents’ lives
The Rotherham foster family controversy has scandalised Britain. Understandably so. Rotherham council’s decision to remove three children from a fostering couple simply because the couple are members of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) reeks of a McCarthy-like political authoritarianism. It is not surprising that the decision has been slammed by the press as ‘ugly’, ‘poisonous’, ‘prejudicial’, ‘Orwellian’ and ‘arrogant’.
Yet this very reaction, not only from the press but also from leading politicians, who have described Rotherham council’s behaviour as ‘indefensible’, gives the impression that what happened in Rotherham was a one-off, an act of extremism by a crazy council. It wasn’t. Rather, the Rotherham mess is the logical conclusion to the ever-more embedded idea that the state should get to say who would make a good parent and who would not; that the state has the right to determine which political, cultural and lifestyle attitudes it is okay for parents to have and which ones it is not okay for them to have. It is this idea - promoted by some of the same people now getting irate over Rotherham - which leads to a situation where foster parents who have the ‘wrong’ views can have their kids removed.
The most striking thing about the Rotherham case is how open the council was about its prejudices. Usually, when councils want to take children away from parents whom they decree to be ‘undesirable’, they will draw up a list of often exaggerated physical or moral harms facing those children as a way of justifying their actions. But in this case, officials were explicit about the fact that these kids were being removed because of the foster parents’ political views. The council’s director of children’s services, Joyce Thacker, said that because the three children are of Eastern European origin, it would be wrong to leave them with foster parents who support a party that is anti-EU and critical of the ideology of multiculturalism. ‘If the party mantra is, for example, ending the active promotion of multiculturalism, I have to think about that’, she said. ‘I have to think of [the children’s] longer-term needs.’
In essence, Thacker is saying that anyone who is critical of multiculturalism is not fit to be a foster parent - or, by extension, a natural parent - because they might inculcate children with views that Thacker considers to be wrong, insufficiently multicultural. This isn’t the first time a council in Britain has removed children from parents or foster parents who are seen as having problematic cultural views. Earlier this year, Toni McLeod, a mother-of-four in Durham, had her children taken from her, partly because, in the words of Durham council, she had developed ‘inappropriate friendships [through] the English Defence League’, a small far-right political group. ‘Inappropriate friendships’ was clearly code for ‘inappropriate views’. Last year, Eunice and Owen Johns, a Derby-based black Christian couple in their 60s who had been fostering children aged between five and 10 for years, were told they were no longer suitable foster carers because of their views on homosexuality - that is, they had told social workers they would not teach children that homosexuality was an acceptable lifestyle.
When councils aren’t removing children from parents or foster parents who have ‘unhealthy’ political views, they’re taking them away from parents who are just plain unhealthy. Under the cover of protecting children from so-called passive smoking and even from the ‘influence of obesity’, more and more councils are refusing to place kids with anyone who smokes or is fat. Last year, a couple in Essex were rejected as foster parents after the aspiring foster dad admitted to having smoked two cigars in the previous year - under Essex council’s rules, foster parents must be ‘tobacco-free for 12 months’ before they can receive children. The British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) advises that no child under two, and ideally under five, should be placed with families that include a smoker. One council in Scotland refuses to place children aged 11 or younger with smokers, and decrees that smokers must fully cleanse themselves of their filthy habit before they can foster young kids: ‘Foster carers who have successfully given up smoking should not be allowed to adopt or foster… until they have stopped smoking for a minimum period of 12 months.’
Fat people are also being denied the right to foster and adopt. The BAAF says being obese can ‘limit a parent or carer’s ability to look after a child’, and therefore, ‘practitioners need to consider obesity’ when placing children. Practitioners are doing this with relish. In 2009, a teetotal, respectable, long-married couple in their 30s in Leeds were told they were not suitable candidates for adoption because of the husband’s weight: 24 stone. Leeds Council informed the couple that people with a Body Mass Index of over 40 were ‘unlikely to be approved’ and therefore ‘[it would] be to your advantage to begin the assessment with an up-to-date medical where your BMI is clearly recorded as being under 40 and to demonstrate that you are able to maintain this weight loss’. In short, if you’re fat you don’t deserve kids; you’ll probably be too lazy and feckless to look after them properly.
These health judgements against aspiring foster or adoptive parents are also really judgements about cultural attitudes. Just as right-wing people and traditional Christians are denied the right to look after children because they’re seen as having the ‘wrong’ views, so fat people and smokers are forbidden from fostering because they have the ‘wrong’ attitude - they have failed to conform to the idea that every parent must be a super-fit, fruit-eating, multicultural, state-approved Decent Person. There’s a big class component to these judgements, too. If obesity and smoking, not to mention having supposedly un-PC views, are markers for being from a certain section of the working class, then the end result of these rules about who is and who isn’t fit to foster is that poorer people will be prevented from looking after needy kids - something that they have been helping society out with for decades.
The fact is that, for all these councils’ elitist, prejudicial judgements about what size, shape and political persuasion a foster or adoptive parent should be, around the country there are millions of natural parents who are overweight or who smoke or who have traditionalist, sometimes bigoted views that their children will either adopt or discard as they get older. Believe it or not, a fat dad who can’t run very far in the park can still be a brilliant dad; the mum who smokes 60 a day can still be a great mum; Christian parents who think homosexuals are weird can still provide loving homes for their kids. In only selecting for fostering or adoption those adults who conform to state diktats on health and PC and multiculturalism, various councils are starkly at odds with reality, with the fact that unhealthy, un-PC people are parents and are good parents to boot.
This is where we get to the nub of the Rotherham scandal and other recent efforts by officialdom to limit fostering and adoption to those people considered culturally acceptable: this is really about sending out a message to all parents, to natural parents as well as foster parents, about how they should behave and what they should believe. Increasingly, the worlds of adoption and fostering are being used as laboratories in which state officials can make clear what they consider to be a Good Parent. Because in this arena they get to select who can be a parent, they are seizing the opportunity to infuse parenting with their prejudices, to carve out a model parent - thin, tobacco-free, multiculturally on-message - whose image can be projected across society. Coupled with the state’s increasing cockiness in removing children from natural families that are considered ‘chaotic’ and its promotion of parenting classes for all natural parents, the use of the sphere of fostering and adoption to promote an idealised parent is strengthening the idea that the state should get to say what sort of people may have and bring up children.
This is all proving disastrous for children in need of care. It was reported last year that there has been a ‘steep rise’ in the number of children being taken away from their birth parents and put into care by the state, particularly following the Baby P tragedy of 2008, but that at the same time there is a ‘crisis in foster care’ because ‘tough guidelines [are] scaring off potential foster parents’. In short, the state is tearing apart more and more natural families, but it is then incapable of finding new homes for the children it removes because it is making foster and adoptive parents jump through so many lifestyle and cultural hoops. The state’s suspicion towards the family unit makes it take more children from their birth parents, and its distrust of potential foster parents means it finds it increasingly difficult to place those children in other family homes. So they languish in care, victims, primarily, of the vile prejudices and fears of our rulers.
SAS hero walks free... and thanks the Press: Sniper jailed for 'illegally possessing' Iraqi gift pistol has his sentence quashed
An SAS hero jailed for keeping an Iraqi pistol as a war trophy thanked the Press yesterday for helping secure his freedom. Danny Nightingale’s 18-month prison sentence was quashed by senior judges following a three-week newspaper campaign. He will now be able to spend Christmas with his young family.
The sniper’s release yesterday came as Lord Justice Leveson published a report calling for draconian controls on the Press.
But Sergeant Nightingale, who has served with valour in Iraq and Afghanistan, said: ‘For the media support that has been out there, thank you people.’
The Daily Mail had kept up the pressure with a series of stories including an interview with his wife Sally, 38.
She described him as a ‘hero who had been betrayed’ and a father reduced to a voice on the phone for their daughters, five-year-old Mara and Alys, two.
Mrs Nightingale, who raised £100,000 to fund a legal battle to free her husband, said: ‘I’m very, very happy. We have fought for this and now we have got justice.
‘I did not dare to dream that this would be the outcome. It will be brilliant to have him home. It can only be good for all the troops out there fighting for our country to see justice has been done.’
Describing him as an exemplary soldier, Appeal Court judges cut Sgt Nightingale’s prison term to a 12-month suspended sentence – allowing the 37-year-old to immediately return home to Crewe.
He was reunited with his wife in emotional scenes at the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand in London.
‘I need to say thank you so much to my wife, family and friends for their trust and support. They have been amazingly courageous and dignified in all they have done,’ he said.
‘The great British public and people around the world have been absolutely wonderful in their support. It has been extremely humbling.’
The judges also granted the non-commissioned officer permission to appeal against his conviction.
Sgt Nightingale was sent to a military prison in Colchester three weeks ago after pleading guilty to possessing a working 9mm Glock pistol and more than 300 rounds of ammunition at his home.
The sentence sparked a national outcry. David Cameron said he was ‘sympathetic’ to the Nightingale family and a protest petition attracted 107,000 signatures.
Three judges – the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, Mr Justice Fulford and Mr Justice Bean – heard the appeal and ruled that the offences were ‘committed in exceptional circumstances by an exceptional officer’.
They were told the 9mm Glock was a souvenir from Iraqi soldiers Sgt Nightingale helped train in 2007. But during his tour of duty he was ordered to fly home urgently with the bodies of two fallen comrades. His belongings in Iraq – including the firearm – were packed by colleagues and sent back separately to Britain, first to SAS headquarters and then to a home he rented with other soldiers.
Sgt Nightingale intended to pass the gun to his regiment to be decommissioned and displayed as a war trophy.
But he forgot he had the weapon and ammunition after suffering ‘significant’ brain damage that affected his memory when he collapsed on a 220-mile charity trek in the Brazilian jungle.
He amazed medics by not only surviving but returning to fitness so he could deploy on operations. The Glock and ammunition were found when police raided his rented home in Hereford last year following a dispute between his SAS housemate and his estranged wife.
Sgt Nightingale, who was serving with special forces in Afghanistan at the time, said he did not remember having the weapon.
He pleaded guilty to two charges at the court martial on November 6 and was sent to the Military Corrective Training Centre in Colchester.
His lawyers yesterday argued that he was pressured into pleading guilty to possessing the gun and ammunition with the trial judge suggesting he would receive five years in a civilian jail if he fought the case.
William Craig QC, for Sgt Nightingale, said: ‘No defendant should be told that and no judge should indicate that to a defendant. He failed comprehensively to follow [legal] guidance.’
Lieutenant Colonal Richard Williams, Sgt Nightingale’s former commanding officer, told the Appeal Court the sniper had ‘saved many lives’ by inventing a new bandage to treat gunshot wounds.
Tory MP Julian Brazier who raised Sgt Nightingale’s plight in Parliament, said: ‘The original sentence was a serious miscarriage of justice. ‘I am delighted that Danny will be going home to his family for Christmas.’
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said: ‘The justice system has worked. [CRAP! It was publicity that worked] ‘I was pleased that an appeal was heard quickly and it is right that a court should decide on whether the sentence was appropriate. ‘The Court of Appeal has decided the sentence was too harsh and has freed him.’
Comment from Australia
WHAT do the latest James Bond movie, `Skyfall', and Sir Robert Menzies, Australia's longest-serving prime minister, have in common? If you say, no idea - then that's understandable.
If, on the other hand, you answer Tennyson's poem Ulysses, then you win the prize.
In the latest Bond movie, M, facing a parliamentary inquiry into her failures as head of MI6, recites the final lines from Tennyson's poem, which supposedly was a favourite of the founder of the Liberal Party.
In the poem the ancient Greek hero Ulysses, though old and soon to confront death, longs for one last chance to prove his valour and strength and to embark on another perilous journey. He states:
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
The sentiment is one of overcoming adversity, not giving in to suffering, and battling against all odds to demonstrate one's bravery and heroism.
Pain, suffering and loss have always been with us and are an inevitable part of being human. The challenge, though, is how best to overcome adversity.
For Sir Robert Menzies' generation, who experienced two world wars and the Great Depression, the belief was that individuals, although often with the help others, had to rely on their own bravery, resilience and the conviction that after the tempest, still waters would prevail.
The welfare state, with its insatiable desire to intervene and comfort all, had yet to take control and individuals and their families still relied on one another and local networks to meet their needs.
Welfare payments were few and far between, unemployment relief was meagre and universal health care had yet to be introduced.
An essential part of Australia's bush ethos and the ANZAC legend was to fight against adversity and face a harsh future stoically. Stories such as Henry Lawson's The Drover's Wife epitomised the ability to survive in a hostile environment and to do what was necessary to raise a family.
In modern-day tragedies such as Victoria's Black Saturday bushfires and last year's floods in Queensland, we saw again this spirit of resilience and bravery when ordinary people achieve heroic feats.
Tennyson's poem and Lawson's short story embody a romantic notion of the hero and one increasingly lacking today when the common cry is one of victimhood.
Read the papers, watch or listen to the news or surf the net and it's clear we are surrounded by those seeking redress and government action for what has been or is being suffered.
As Joe Hockey said in a speech earlier this year, we live in a time characterised as the age of entitlement.
Many succumb to drugs and alcohol and, instead of taking responsibility, argue it's because of the sins of others and they must get government support.
Some are the victims of violence and abuse and, instead of breaking free, bemoan their fate, trapped in the past.
Even in education, the victim mentality is now rife with working class, migrant and indigenous students told that only positive discrimination will turn failure into success.
Supposedly, performance at school is not a matter of ability or effort, but the result of home background.
Instead of working harder, at-risk students are told it's not their fault that they underachieve.
Today's generations are wrapped in cotton wool and expect that all they have to do is to complain and things will work out in the end.
Worse still, the victim mentality drains individuals of their ability to stand on their own two feet, confront and overcome problems and get on with life with a positive attitude.
While there's no denying that those experiencing pain, loss and disadvantage need help and support, maybe, just maybe, things would be better if, like Ulysses, instead of victimhood, the cry was one of: To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.