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Monday 3 December 2012

Will Whittingdale Step Aside?

The Commons Culture, Media and Sport committee is to hold yet another inquiry into press regulation. Seriously. This comes after much effort and expenditure was involved in producing the Leveson Report. Now, it’s none of my business to suggest what the eleven members of the committee get up to, but it does seem that all the ground on this subject has been covered more than adequately already.

And, despite the decision to hold the inquiry having apparently been taken last week, the committee’s website is yet to be updated with the information, although the press has clearly been tipped the nod. Moreover, the list of proposed attendees does appear to be highly selective – unless, of course, there are to be more names added later. And then there is the committee membership.

Since the memorable hearings where the Murdochs were grilled, Labour’s Tom Watson has stepped down from the committee, and Tory MP Louise Mensch has resigned her seat. In has come Conor Burns, a forthright opponent of the Leveson recommendations, to produce a formidable Tory triumvirate along with chairman John Whittingdale, and Philip Davies.

Now consider the attendees: Young Dave has been invited, but so too has Leveson himself. On top of that, the only other confirmed invitations have been to Lord Hunt, co-author of the proposals for self-regulation that Leveson concluded did not nearly go far enough, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, and an unspecified number of those who support the Hacked Off campaign.

So where are the invites to all the other editors? On numbers of papers sold, there must be a case to ask Dominic Mohan, Paul Dacre, Tony Gallagher, Lloyd Embley, James Scott, Dawn Neesom, and Hugh Whittow. And, for good measure, they might as well ask Kelvin McFilth along, and get Ian Hislop to do the jokes. And there is also the potential for conflict of interest.

Burns has already made his opposition to Leveson well known, as has chairman Whittingdale. Indeed, the latter was spinning the anti-Leveson line on The Andy Marr Show (tm) only yesterday morning. His friendship with those in the Fourth Estate was highlighted by Hugh Grant during the exchanges on the programme. So perhaps the chairman might consider recusing himself?

Don’t bet on it. But do bet on many of those selected for grilling being better briefed than some of the committee. And look for the likes of Conor Burns letting his views get in the way of his ability to make a useful contribution to any inquiry, while other new members, for instance Labour’s Steve Rotheram, will be instinctively sympathetic to change, given his campaigning over Hillsborough.

Zelo Street will be monitoring this inquiry carefully over the coming weeks.

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