The Prime Minister's Press Conference On Hacking: Transcript

First Posted: 08/07/11 11:50 Updated: 07/09/11 11:12

Press

Good morning and thank you for coming.
Over the past few days, the whole country has been shocked by the revelations about the phone hacking scandal.
Murder victims, terrorist victims, families who have lost loved ones in war, sometimes defending our country...
...that these people could have had their phones hacked into order to generate stories for a newspaper is simply disgusting.

I cannot think what was going through the minds of the people who did this.
That they could hack into anyone's phone is disgraceful.
But to hack into the phone of Milly Dowler, a young girl missing from her parents, who
was later found to be murdered, is truly despicable.
But this scandal is not just about some journalists on one newspaper.
It's not even just about the press.
It's also about the police.
And yes - it's also about how politics works and politicians too.
And I want to be very frank about how, as a country, we should deal with it.
People want to know that three things are going to happen.
One: action will be taken to get to the bottom of these specific revelations and allegations about phone hacking, about police investigations and all the rest of it.

Two: action will be taken to learn wider lessons for the future of the press in this
country.
And three: that there will be clarity - real clarity - about how all this has come to pass, and the responsibilities we all have for the future.

That's what the country expects at this time of crisis and concern...
...and I want to make sure that everything that needs to be done, will be done.

FIRST INQUIRY
First, we need action to get to the bottom of the specific revelations and allegations we have seen.
It's clear that there have been some illegal and utterly unacceptable practices taking place at the News of the World - and possibly elsewhere.

There is now a large-scale and well-resourced police investigation.
Of course, in 2006 we did have a police investigation- but we can now see that it was plainly inadequate.
This in itself requires investigation.
A separate allegation is that police officers took payments.
That specific allegation is now being investigated by senior officers at the Met - and with my full support they have brought in the IPCC to oversee this.

So for those worried about the police investigating the police, this has full and independent oversight.
But let's be clear.
Police investigations only get you so far.
What people really want to know is - what happened? And how was it allowed to happen?
That is why the Deputy Prime Minister and I have agreed that it's right and proper to establish a full, public inquiry to get to the bottom of what happened.

A judge needs to be in charge so there's no question that it is totally independent and things are done properly.
These are the questions that need answering:
Why did the first police investigation fail so abysmally?
What exactly was going on at the News of the World?
And what was going on at other newspapers?
Of course, the bulk of the work of this inquiry can only happen after the police investigation has finished.
That is what the law requires.
But that doesn't mean we can't do anything now.
So we will consult now with Select Committees and others on the terms of reference, remit and powers...
...and what can be started will be started.
I want everyone to be clear.
Everything that happened is going to be investigated.
The witnesses will be questioned by a judge under oath.
And no stone will be left un-turned.

SECOND INQUIRY
But we need action as well to learn the wider lessons for the future of the press.
And this is something we can get on with straightaway, even while the police investigation is still ongoing.
That is why I want to establish a second inquiry to begin at the earliest available opportunity, ideally now - this summer.

This inquiry should be conducted by a credible panel of figures drawn from a range of different backgrounds...
...who command the full support, respect and above all confidence of the public.
They should be truly independent, without any motive but to seek the truth and clean up the press.
This second inquiry should look at the culture, the practices and the ethics of the British press.
In particular, they should look at how our newspapers are regulated and make recommendations for the future.
Of course it is vital that our press is free.
That is an essential component of our democracy and our way of life.
But press freedom does not mean that the press should be above the law.
Yes, there is much excellent journalism in Britain today.
But I think it's now clear to everyone that the way the press is regulated today is not working.
Let's be honest: the Press Complaints Commission has failed.
In this case - in the hacking case - it was, frankly, completely absent.
Therefore we have to conclude that it is ineffective and lacking in rigour.
There is a strong case for saying it is institutionally conflicted, because competing newspapers judge each other.
As a result, it lacks public confidence.
So I believe we need a new system entirely.
It will be for the inquiry to recommend what that system should look like.
But my starting presumption is that it should be truly independent...
...independent of the press, so the public will know that newspapers will never again be solely responsible for policing themselves.

But vitally, independent of government, so the public will know that politicians are not trying to control or muzzle a press that must be free to hold politicians to account.

This new system of regulation must strike the balance between an individual's right to privacy and what is in the public interest.

And above all, it should uphold the proper, decent standards that we expect.
I have already spoken to the Deputy Prime Minister about all this...
...and in the days ahead we will meet with the Leader of the Opposition to discuss exactly what both these inquiries should cover, and exactly how they should be run.

If we're going to discuss the way the press is regulated in future, it would be much better if we could do this on a cross-party basis.

People are also asking about the prospective BSkyB bid.
As I have repeatedly said, governments must follow the proper legal processes and procedures.
That is exactly what Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, is doing.
His role is to take the advice of independent regulators...
...and, as his Department have made clear this morning - given the events of recent days - this will take some time.

POLITICS AND THE PRESS
But there is, as I said at the outset, a third question that this scandal asks of us, and it is not an easy one for me to answer.

But it is my responsibility to try.
How did we get here?
Because as we're considering the devastating revelations of the past few days, it is no good just pointing the finger at this individual journalist, or that individual newspaper.

It's no good, actually, just criticising the police.
The truth is, we have all been in this together - the press, politicians and leaders of all parties - and yes, that includes me.

We have not gripped this issue.
During the last government, a police investigation was undertaken, it was inadequate and not enough was done.
There were reports from the Information Commissioner and they went unheeded.
There were Select Committee reports on phone hacking and there was no follow-up.
Throughout all this, all the warnings, all the concern, the government at the time did nothing.
And frankly, neither did the Opposition.
To be fair, it is difficult for politicians to call for more regulation of the media, because if we do so, we're accused of wanting to stifle a free press or even free speech.

But the deeper truth is this: there is a less noble reason.
Because party leaders were so keen to win the support of newspapers...
...we turned a blind eye to the need to sort this issue, get on top of the bad practices, to change the way our newspapers are regulated.

It's a bit like MPs' expenses.
The people in power knew things weren't right.
But they didn't do enough quickly enough - until the full mess of the situation was revealed.
Now, when the scandal hits and the truth is plain for everyone to see...
...there are two choices.
You can down-play it and deny the problem is deep - or you can accept the seriousness of the situation and deal with it.

I want to deal with it.
These inquiries give us a chance for a fresh start and I want us to take it.
Look, it's healthy that politicians and journalists speak to each other; know each other.
Democracy is government by explanation and we need the media to explain what we're trying to do.
But this is a wake-up call.
Over the decades, on the watch of both Labour leaders and Conservative leaders, politicians and the press have spent time courting support, not confronting the problems.

Well: it's on my watch that the music has stopped.
And I'm saying, loud and clear - things have got to change.
The relationship needs to be different in the future.
I'm not going to pretend that there's some nirvana of two separate worlds, relating to each other on the basis of total transparency and ethical perfection.

That's not real life.
But we can do a hell of a lot better than we've done so far.
Because as this scandal shows, while it's vital that a free press can tell truth to power...
...it is equally important that those in power can tell truth to the press.

THOSE INVOLVED
Now let me just say this about a couple of the individuals concerned.
First, Andy Coulson, who worked for four years as my Communications Director.
He resigned from the News of the World because of the things that happened on his watch.
I decided to give him a second chance - and no one has ever raised serious concerns about how he did his job for me.
But the second chance didn't work out and he had to resign all over again.
The decision to hire him was mine - and mine alone - and I take full responsibility for it.
On the case of Rebekah Brooks...
...as I have said, it's not right for a Prime Minister to start picking and choosing who should and shouldn't run media organisations.

But it has been reported that she offered her resignation over this...
...and in this situation, I would have taken it.

CONCLUSION
Before I take your questions, let me say this.
For people watching this scandal unfold, there is something disturbing about what they see.
Just think of who they put their trust in.
The police to protect them.
The politicians to represent them.
The press to inform them.
All of them have been let them down.
So when the inquiries are over, the questions have been asked, and the truth found out...
...I want a police that has proved itself beyond reproach...
...a political system that people feel is on their side...
...and a press that is yes, free and rigorous; that investigates and entertains;
...that holds those in power to account and occasionally - yes, even regularly - drives them mad.
But, in the end, is a free press that is also clean and trustworthy.
That is what people want.
That is what I want.
And I will not rest until we get it.

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