Skip to main content

Media Intrusion

Volume 664: debated on Thursday 3 October 2019

6. What recent steps she has taken to tackle incidences of media (a) intrusion and (b) violations of privacy. (912541)

The Government firmly believe in press freedom. Clearly, that freedom comes with a responsibility to ensure that it is not abused. It is not unreasonable to expect the press to act with understanding in relation to sensitive personal stories. It is not for Government to arbitrate, but it is important that we have systems in place so that individuals can take complaints to independent bodies to be assessed.

Last month saw yet another example of a high-profile sports figure having to deal with tabloid newspapers publishing deeply personal and distressing information about his family’s private lifer. Leveson was supposed to change the way such publications operated. Does the Secretary of State agree that incidents such as that seem to suggest that it is just business as usual, with sales and profit being put before individuals’ rights to privacy?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. All of us have complete empathy with the strong feelings of both Ben Stokes—I believe that is the story the hon. Gentleman is referring to—and Gareth Thomas, who experienced a similar invasion of privacy in the same week. Decisions on whether the press’s actions in those cases were in breach of its agreed standards should be made by the independent regulatory bodies. The press said it wanted to be self-regulated. I wait to see in these particular examples, if complaints are made, how that self-regulation works.

In March last year, the current Secretary of State for Health and Social Care stood at that Dispatch Box and axed the second part of the Leveson inquiry because he said that the culture in the media had changed. When we look at what has happened to the Duchess of Sussex, Gareth Thomas and Ben Stokes, we see that the culture of invasion of privacy has not changed. The Secretary of State says it is not for the Government to arbitrate such matters, so will she now resurrect the independent inquiry and let us properly move this forward?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, but I do not agree. The media landscape has changed significantly in the six years since the Leveson inquiry report was published. We believe that the steps we have taken mean that to continue with part 2 of Leveson is no longer appropriate, proportionate or in the public interest.

The family of my Livingston constituent Kirsty Maxwell have faced the unimaginable tragedy of losing her in suspicious circumstances in Benidorm in 2017, when she fell to her death from a balcony. To compound that horror, they have since had to face repeated violations of their privacy and intrusion from some journalists and media outlets. Does the Secretary of State agree that we have a duty of care to our citizens, especially those who have been traumatised and faced a loss of such magnitude, to protect their privacy and the memory of their loved ones? Will she meet me to discuss this and the recommendations that will be in my upcoming report on deaths abroad and support for families when they face media intrusion?

I would of course be happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss this issue. I am very sorry for everything that has happened to Kirsty’s family and friends after that unimaginable tragedy. I hope that at our meeting we can discuss whether in fact complaints have been made and how the system of self-regulation has worked in that case.