David Cameron met with the editors of the Sun, the Telegraph and the Mail on Sunday in the two weeks prior to a government announcement delaying the controversial imposition of costs on the newspaper industry.
Despite promising to put the victims of press abuse ahead of proprietors several times during the phone-hacking scandal, Cameron failed to meet the victims of press abuse during this time.
Earlier this week, victims of press abuse including Gerry and Kate McCann, Christopher Jefferies and the Hillsborough families called on the prime minister to deliver on promises made during the phone-hacking scandal to improve press regulation.
Evan Harris, executive director of Hacked Off, said the prime minister “must have forgotten his promises to the victims of his press friends’ misconduct” by “spending so much time with his old friends in the press”.
Separately, John Whittingdale, the culture secretary who announced the surprise delay on October 19, held nine meetings with editors or proprietors in the six weeks prior to the announcement, including a round table with 10 senior representatives of the local newspaper industry.
Whittingdale met with victims of press abuse but not until weeks after he announced the delay to proposed costs, which were meant to commence on November 3 and which are vehemently opposed by the industry.
Cameron is likely to face mounting pressure from opposition parties when parliament returns from recess next week.
Speaking after the victims of press intrusion sent the letter to Downing Street, Liberal Democrat peer Tim Clement-Jones called on the prime minister to implement the law on press regulation and said his failure to uphold the cross-party agreement had “left victims of press intrusion feeling like his loyalties lie more with media moguls than with the people who have had their privacy invaded”.
The late-night cross-party agreement ensured that legislation on press regulation could be passed in 2013. “The Liberal Democrats fought hard to secure this deal when we were in government and we will continue fighting to make sure it is delivered,” said Clement-Jones. “The prime minister must reassure people immediately that he intends to implement the agreement; his silence so far is a strong cause for concern.”
Maria Eagle MP, Labour’s shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport, said: “By pretending it is business as usual and backtracking on Leveson, the Tories are deliberately turning a blind eye to serious allegations of high-level corruption and collusion between the press, the police, politicians and the judiciary,” she said.
In July 2011, at the height of the phone-hacking scandal, Cameron told parliament: “We have all got to be open about the fact that those on both front benches spent a lot of time courting Rupert Murdoch, courting News International, courting the Russian who owns the Independent — and the Daily Mail, and the BBC while we are at it … Everybody has done it. And we have got to admit that this sort of relationship needs to be changed and put on a more healthy basis.
“Now we are prepared to admit it, but basically, if you like, the clock has stopped on my watch, and I am determined to sort it out.”
Details of the meetings held with the newspaper industry were disclosed by transparency rules brought in after this date.
Cameron’s flurry of meetings with editors and political editors in October started on the 4th in when he met with Geordie Greig and Simon Walters, the editor and political editor of the Mail on Sunday, as well as two senior editors of the Financial Times, George Parker and John Thornhill, and held a reception for all political editors.
The following day he met Chris Evans, Rob Winnett and Peter Dominiczak of the Telegraph and Tony Gallagher, Tom Newton Dunn and Trevor Kavanagh of the Sun as well as David Dinsmore, the chief operating officer of News UK.
Whittingdale met with three representatives of the victims’ group in November and then again in March with the latter meeting prompting the letter calling for action from the prime minister.
Downing Street has said it would respond to the letter “in due course” while the DCMS said: “No decision has been taken about when to commence the cost provisions. The matter is still under consideration.”