Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

If the cursory level of questioning of the Sun’s editorial executives is to be any guide, David Cameron has little to fear from the Leveson Inquiry’s brief to make recommendations on the “future conduct of relations” between politicians, media proprietors and newspaper editors.

Dominic Mahon, editor of the Sun, who was among five executives who gave evidence (9.1.2012), faced only a superficial inquiry about Rupert Murdoch’s involvement in the Sun’s endorsement of the Conservatives at the 2010 general election.

Mahon was similarly not pressed to give any details of his four meetings with the Prime Minister in the twelve months since the general election; nor was there any probing of the Sun’s political campaigning on behalf of the government.  In August 2010 Cameron was given two-page spreads in the Sun to launch a hotline to expose “benefit scroungers” or another in October 2010 for the re-launch of the Prime Minister’s campaign on behalf of the “Big Society”.

Having focussed initially on the grievances of celebrities and distressed relatives, the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics will start taking evidence in the New Year from newspaper proprietors and executives and the repercussions are likely to become increasingly uncomfortable for David Cameron.

Unanswered questions over the extent to which the Prime Minister was aware of illegal phone hacking at the News of the World are also bound to return to the political agenda if the Metropolitan Police decides to lay charges against the paper’s ex-editor Andy Coulson or any of the other seventeen former employees of News International who have been arrested and are currently on bail.

Because the opening stages of the inquiry concentred on the experiences of those who had suffered at the hands of media intrusion – and the ongoing unresolved dispute among journalists over who-knew-what about the extent of phone hacking – Cameron has been largely insulated from any further damaging fall-out from his decision to hire Coulson in May 2007 as the Conservatives’ media strategist, and then take him into Downing Street as the government’s director of communications after the 2010 general election.

Inaccurate speculation and the use of invented anonymous quotes were identified by Alastair Campbell as two of the greatest failings of political correspondents when he gave evidence to Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry.

Tony Blair’s former spin doctor ranged far and wide in presenting a damning critique of media ethics but neither counsel for the inquiry, Robert Jay QC, or the judge asked Campbell whether his own approach to political public relations might have contributed to the very shortcomings he was complaining about.

David Cameron’s promise when establishing the Leveson Inquiry in July 2011 that he would ensure a new era of openness about ministers’ meetings with media proprietors and executives is proving to be an empty gesture.

Five months have elapsed without any new information being released and the Prime Minister’s published log for his first fourteen months in Downing Street was a meaningless charade.  He hid behind euphemisms such as “general discussion” when describing the purpose of meetings with Rupert and James Murdoch.

Journalists’ use of a public interest defence to protect their sources has been strengthened immeasurably by the decision of the Metropolitan Police to abandon its misjudged attempt to use the Official Secrets Act to pursue the Guardian over the Milly Dowler story.

But the mindset which gave rise to the authorisation of such draconian measures reflects a backlash within officialdom to the run of recent media disclosures, ranging from collusion between Rupert Murdoch’s media companies, the Police and government to the House of Commons’ cover-up over MPs expenses.