Ed Balls interview with Sky News on News of the World and Cameron & Osborne’s judgement

Reporter: First of all, the main story of the week, as it were, the News of the World situation, what is your reaction to today’s latest developments – David Cameron’s statements and of course the arrest of Andy Coulson?

Ed Balls: Well, I think now that Andy Coulson has been arrested I don’t think David Cameron can continue to brush the questions under the carpet and hope this will go away. The fact is these were despicable events that we have learned about at News International. I think Ed Miliband has spoken for the nation in recent days in expressing that outrage, the call for action. It is right that there will now be an independent judicially-led inquiry. There is a real challenge to the media and the police now to act quickly. But it also raises real questions about both David Cameron and George Osborne too. After all, Mr Coulson was hired on George Osborne’s direct advice. The questions are.. it was known that there were problems in the News of the World, that was why Andy Coulson had already resigned. Did David Cameron and George Osborne know what had happened? Did they ask the right questions? Did they ignore advice? Were they lied to or did they just not want to face up to the kind of person who they were hiring? These are real questions of judgement for David Cameron and George Osborne. They can’t just brush this under the carpet.

Reporter: He has announced that there will be these inquires – you support those?

EB: Well, Ed Miliband has been calling for a judiciary led inquiry for 48 hours. It’s good that David Cameron is going to allow that and also the wider inquiry into the media. I think it’s very important the media itself now leads the debate about the future of regulation. There’s clear challenges for the police here as well because clearly the investigations into these allegations in the early period were woefully inadequate. But the public want action. They want this cleared up. But, as I said, it’s going to take this back to David Cameron’s own judgement as well. How did he ever get into a position where he hired and defended the former editor of the News of the World? Did he brush this under the carpet? Did George Osborne just say to him, as he recommended Coulson being hired, “it will all be ok”? Or did they just fail to ask the questions which were necessary? It just seems to me a gross lack of judgement and they’ve been found out.

Reporter: It’s also bought into question a lot of quarters, the role of the Press Complaints Commission. What would you like to see happen there?

EB: Ed Miliband said this morning that we need change. He rightly said, I think, that the future should be a future based on self regulation. I don’t think we want to have government regulation of the press, but I don’t think anybody doubts that the Press Complaints commission has not had the teeth or the drive to sort this out. Fundamentally though it was News International failing to face up to what happened in their own organisation and police investigations which were grossly inadequate. The independent judicial inquiry will look at the issues around the investigation. But there is a wider need to rebuild public trust in the media. That will partly include reform of the PCC. Ed Miliband was right to put that on the agenda today.

Reporter: News International have certainly acted now haven’t they, closing down the News of the World. What was your reaction to that?

EB: I think, like many people, I was very surprised to see that happen. Look, of course, the reputation of the News of the World was deeply tarnished in recent days by what it was revealed had happened some years ago. But, as we also heard, many, many of the staff from the Editor down, in the News of the World today, were not part of that corruption, that illegality, as far as we know. And I, for example, have known Colin Myler and Dave Wooding for many years. I always thought of them as people of real integrity. So I was sorry to see people pay the price for that with their jobs although I think most people will say that the News of the World had taken such a blow… What it doesn’t do is solve the problem. It doesn’t solve the problem about leadership in government and David Cameron’s complicity in these events in recent weeks. It doesn’t solve the problem of why the police failed to investigate. It doesn’t get to the heart of why News International was so slow to face up to these problems. It was more than a publicity stunt, it has taken away the jobs of hundreds of people, but it is not an answer. There are still real questions which need to be addressed.

Reporter: Are you glad to see an end to the News of the World, because in the past there haven’t been overly favourable to you? I’ve been looking at one of the recent articles saying that you are a trained political killer, always on the lookout for a new victim. You won’t be sad to see these people go, people who are writing that sort of thing about you?

EB: I think I have taken many lectures from journalists from time to time in News International about myself, but I think that obviously those reflect back a little bit now. The fact is I actually thought that the News of the World as a newspaper – I didn’t always agree with its editorials and I didn’t always agree with some of its stories and some of the ways in which it presented things, but also it was a paper which would campaign on development aid, on corruption in sport. I think it has had some good campaigns. I worked with the News of the World on trying to raise, in schools, awareness of green issues when I was in government, so I think it is a loss to lose a newspaper with such a tradition and such a history. But it was also the case that, as a paper, in the early part of the decade, it lost its way under the leadership of Rebekah Wade and Andy Coulson. The big question now, today, is however did David Cameron on George Osborne’s advice think bringing in, and defending, up to end, Andy Coulson as head of government communications was the right and proper thing to do? There has been a press conference where David Cameron has spent an hour trying to brush that question under the carpet, but it won’t go away.

Reporter: One last one on this. You mentioned there Rebekah Wade, Rebekah Brooks, do you think it is right that she should still be in her position? David Cameron said this morning that he would have accepted her resignation if it was his decision. Would you have?

EB: Well David Cameron and Ed Miliband have both made that point now but I don’t think this issue is going to be solved by the end of one title, the removal of one person. It’s a wider and systemic question. That is why it is right to have the judicial inquiry and the wider review and I hope that we can get back to a better, more transparent, stronger place for all parts of the press in the future. That is the challenge. I think, I have to say, that there is a real question though as to whether David Cameron can lead this process. Can you really have David Cameron, who is so parti pris in these events with his relationship with News International and with Andy Coulson in particular, can we really think that he should be choosing the judge for this inquiry? In other periods in government, with this kind of issue, then somebody with a vested interest would absent themselves because they couldn’t be impartial and objective. I’m not sure why David Cameron hasn’t done the same thing and absented himself from these matters.

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Posted July 8th, 2011 by Ed's team

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