The Drum Awards Festival - Official Deadline

-d -h -min -sec

Pro-privacy advocates Hacked Off blasts press 'cover-up' of John Whittingdale’s sex worker claims

Author

By Seb Joseph, News editor

April 13, 2016 | 5 min read

Hacked Off, the pro-privacy group, has slammed news editors for a perceived attempt to suppress reports that Culture Secretary John Whittingdale (see above) had a relationship with a sex worker because they were blackmailing him.

The group, which was formed in the wake of the Leveson inquiry, issued a response to allegations that a number of publishers sat on the story about the senior politician's private life at the same time as he blocked key press regulation reforms that had been agreed by all parties in Parliament.

The politician admitted last night (12 April) that he had been in a relationship with a woman he met on dating site, but then broke it off when he discovered she was a sex worker. According to reports, newspapers were aware of the scandal, though chose not to report it. Some politicians such as Liam Fox, the Conservative former defense secretary, have said the fact that the story was suppressed for a time shows that press regulation is working Others like Hacked Off have claimed it was tied to upcoming reforms despite arguments from media experts that the story could not have been run because it was not in the public’s interest.

Hacked Off accused Whittingdale of back-tracking on agreed Government policy and breaking these “solemn promises”. The thinly-veiled suggestion being that the MP’s decision was made because he was being blackmailed by the press.

"Either the Prime Minister routinely breaks his promises to victims of press abuse or the Culture Secretary is caving in to the press industry agenda - or both,” said Hacked Off joint executive director Dr Evan Harris.

"John Whittingdale now needs to be clear about whether he knew that newspapers had this story and were not running it, and if so why he did not tell the Prime Minister on his appointment to the cabinet that this potential and glaring personal conflict of interest existed.”

However, these claims have not been widely accepted, with politicians and media observers hitting back at what they brand as an act of hypocrisy. Labour MP Kate Hoey tweeted: “I thought Hacked Off wanted less press intrusion or is that only for celebrity actors.”

Hacked Off was formed by celebrities including Hugh Grant, Steve Coogan and John Cleese, whose own affairs, drug use and divorce respectively have been widely reported in the press.

A full version of Hacked Off’s response is shown below

Commenting on the ongoing revelations, Hacked Off Joint Executive Director Dr Evan Harris said:

"The plain facts are that since John Whittingdale’s appointment as Culture Secretary, he has back-tracked on agreed Government policy and a cross-party agreement by blocking critical access to justice legislation for future victims of libel and press intrusion, and by saying that the question around Leveson Part 2 which will examine press and police cover-ups, is whether – not when – it will take place. Victims of press abuse wrote to the Prime Minister last week asking why he and his Culture Secretary were breaking these “solemn promises” and they are still waiting for answers.

"Either the Prime Minister routinely breaks his promises to victims of press abuse or the Culture Secretary is caving in to the press industry agenda - or both.

"John Whittingdale now needs to be clear about whether he knew that newspapers had this story and were not running it, and if so why he did not tell the Prime Minister on his appointment to the cabinet that this potential and glaring personal conflict of interest existed.

"The Culture Secretary has taken to himself powers of discretion over whether a judge should inquire into the press, and over whether a law already passed by Parliament should have any effect on the press. He should not have these powers as all parties at the Leveson Inquiry agreed. He now should retire from any role in press regulation by giving his firm commitment that Leveson Part 2 will definitely go ahead once criminal trials have been completed and by bring into effect the critical access to justice legislation already passed by Parliament.

"Individuals are entitled to a private life free from intrusion and stories about private matters must be justified by genuine public interest (several of which have been cited in this case), but tabloid newspapers have not hesitated from publishing stories like this in other cases and the question arises whether by not publishing, the Culture Secretary was being held to ransom or believed he was.”

Trending

Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +