Leveson didn't seem impressed by the idea of criminalising lying, but its an interesting one - and notably doesn't involve a regulator but wider laws.
Leveson inquiry: make political lying a criminal offence, says Peter OborneSevere sanctions could restore politicians' and journalists' integrity, Daily Telegraph columnist tells hearing
(emphasis added by me)Lisa O'Carroll, guardian.co.uk,
Peter Oborne has called for the integrity of parliament to be restoredPeter Oborne, the Daily Telegraph columnist, has told the Leveson inquiry that "political lying" should be made a criminal offence for both politicians and journalists reporting on Westminster.
Oborne, the Daily Telegraph's chief political commentator, said during his witness appearance at the inquiry on Thursday that it had become far too easy for politicians to lie or make misleading statements to parliament and a severe sanction might restore some integrity in Westminster.
He said directors of publicly listed companies could go to jail if they make false or misleading statements on shares and assets. "Whereas politicians I have noticed, freely make entirely false statements about how they are conducting themselves and why one should vote for them," Oborne added.
He said it would very healthy if such a criminal sanction could be applied to politicians and journalists.
Lord Justice Leveson put it to him that such a draconian penalty would have "a chilling effect upon journalism".Oborne said it could be a workable system if the standard of proof was high enough. "A lie, is a deliberate untruth, something you write or something which is not true, which you say or right down in the full knowledge that it is not true."Earlier, Oborne told Leveson that journalism was a "noble profession", but many in the lobby system in Westminster did not seek out the truth but merely "suck up to powerful people".
He decried the cosiness between successive governments and News International, which he said was regularly brought into the "inner sanctum" with privileged seats at Labour and Tory party conferences.The News International annual party in the conference season had an "extraordinary power", attended by the "entire cabinet" and "influence brokers and the senior members of the media class", he said."Our democracy was starting to become a private conversation between elite groups," Oborne added. "Political reporting, as I observed it, had become a matter of private deals, arrangements invisible to voters."He blamed new Labour for creating this system where favours would be traded with pet journalists, while those who remained fastidiously outside the system, such as the Daily Telegraph's former political editor George Jones, would be "frozen out".
He said Labour had created a "narrative … that there was a hostile press" when, "on the contrary", they had "manipulated a particular kind of acceptable public truth".
In a sustained attack on Labour and its policy of spin, he said "they were interested in truth if it served their political purpose".
He called for a new "apartheid" to be introduced which would put some distance between politicians and journalists."[We are at] a moment in British history where a political system is coming to an end, based on media dominance. Parliament has an opportunity to re-assert its traditional function," Oborne said.
He added he was pleasantly surprised when he heard from a "relevant" figure that when David Cameron first became Conservative leader he decided to keep some distance from Rupert Murdoch.
Oborne said a News International source had told him that they had coached Cameron on what to say when he first met Murdoch, but he had not played ball and the meeting went "badly".
The inquiry has heard that Cameron became close to the former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks, attending her wedding in June 2009 and signing off texts "LOL".
Oborne was also critical of the Sun's coverage of the Iraq and Afghan wars. He claimed the Sun's one dimensional coverage of "our boys" had failed to engage on the serious questions of Britain's complicity in rendition, illegal killings, use of drones and human rights abuses.He added that there was an unethical silence on this across Fleet Street with some notable exceptions, such as the reporting by the Guardian's Ian Cobain.Oborne said the press had also operated an "omerta" when it came to phone hacking but urged Leveson not to conclude that this was because any alleged illegal activities were going on at rival papers.
He put it to Leveson that there should not be more press regulation because of the phone-hacking scandal because this was a failure of the police to enforce the law.
Leveson said this would be like a motorist caught speeding protesting that the police had not enforced the law.