Evening News Editor on why you mustn’t shackle our Press
- Credit: PA
Until The Norwich Evening News started investigating serious failings at this region's ambulance service, little was known about a crisis that, ultimately, poses a threat to lives.
No press releases had been forthcoming, no special briefings given. Our MPs were largely unaware of the scale of difficulties – that 999 vehicles have not been reaching stricken patients in the time they should. This issue is a major one in a largely rural area – time to scene is vital in accidents, in stroke and heart cases and in many other medical emergencies. Doggedly, we have uncovered a dreadful situation and we have attended one harrowing inquest when the ambulance service's response and actions at roadside were called in to question. Today, in London, MPs will vote to underpin proposals made by Lord Leveson in his inquiry into Press standards by imposing statute.
A law which, many editors and commentators believe, is the first link of chain aimed at shackling and suffocating both Britain's national and regional Press.
Today, editors and media commentators up and down the country will urge rejection of this draconian move – whilst welcoming and supporting all the good in these Press reform proposals.
Never again phone hacking by sections of the tabloid press and other despicable actions which, in any case, are covered by civil and criminal law.
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But never, ever, a day when honourable journalists can't investigate on behalf of ordinary folk – often against the mighty – in cases which affect villages, towns and cities up and down Britain.
Just imagine a day when another government, at another time, decided that NHS reforms shouldn't be scrutinised at all.
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Or that papers like the Evening News shouldn't be able to investigate our 999 service. Or hugely controversial proposals affecting mental health services here.
Or that investigations into MPs expenses were out of bounds?
Today we're hoping all the good of Leveson will be enshrined in a proposed Royal Charter – and that our country's newly-reformed Press should be given the chance to show it has changed course for good.
Today's events will be played out at Westminster but the ramifications of them could well be felt from Yarmouth to Wisbech, Blakeney to Buckenham, and Norwich to Lowestoft.
We'll tell you how our MPs voted –we're so glad we can.
Culture secretary Maria Miller was last night hoping a cross-party deal on press regulation could still be struck ahead of a crunch Commons vote.
MPs are due to decide today on the shape of a new watchdog system to meet the demands of the Leveson Report into phone-hacking and other abuses.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats have joined forces to propose a regulator set up by royal charter and underpinned by legislation. The Conservatives also propose a royal charter but Mrs Miller said any move to back it in statute could have a 'chilling effect' on free speech.
But with prime minister David Cameron facing likely defeat in the Commons after pulling the plug on cross-party talks, there were signs there could yet be compromise.
'I hope that the discussions that we have over the next 24 hours can really make sure that we can come together and have a real solution here,' Mrs Miller said.
'We can have tough self-regulation of the press with million pound fines, prominent apologies, without having the potentially chilling effect that statutory underpinning would bring.'
She spoke after chancellor George Osborne, pictured, also indicated a desire for agreement, saying: 'There is still an opportunity for us to get together and get a press law that works.'
Political disagreement over the solution was a recipe for regulation that would not last or become 'deeply-rooted in our culture', he said.
Mr Cameron – who has said he will stand by the vote – said on Saturday he did not consider the Lib/Lab proposed statutory underpinning 'a big issue of principle'. Labour said it had not had any approach for fresh talks, however, and would remain 'resolute' in pushing for tough controls tomorrow to protect victims of press intrusion.
Shadow culture secretary Harriet Harman said the party had 'always said we would like to reach agreement' which could be brought to the Commons as a united position. 'There are just a few issues that remain between us, but they are quite important ones,' she added.
With up to 20 Tories reportedly ready to back the Lib/Lab pact, allies of Mr Cameron accept he will be hard-pressed to win the Commons vote despite intense efforts to shore up support.
Former Tory minister Lord Fowler encouraged the party's MPs to rebel as the Lib/Lab plan 'comes closest to implementing Lord Justice Leveson's careful and objective report'.
Mr Cameron insists he is acting as 'a friend of the victims' of phone hacking, but one of them, author JK Rowling, said they had been 'hung out to dry' by the prime minister.
'I am merely one among many turning their eyes towards Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg and hoping they have the courage to do what Cameron promised, but which he failed to deliver,' she said.
Mr Miliband urged MPs to do their 'duty' by her and others such as the parents of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler and disappeared Madeleine McCann.
'We are at this moment which is a sort of crossroads: do we change or is it more of the same? We need to choose the right course, and I think it is a test of politics,' he said.
Actor Hugh Grant, who fronts the Hacked Off campaign, said the royal charter plan was not 'ideal' but said victims supported it and urged Tory MPs to defy Mr Cameron. 'MPs promised to do right by them and they have that chance on Monday,' he added.