David Cameron, under siege for his shifting account of the Panama Papers, is facing an imminent second front of attacks as a consequence of his decision to bring John Whittingdale into the cabinet last year.
Along with other journalists at the Independent newspaper, political correspondent James Cusick spent five months investigating why other newspapers had shut down a story about the culture minister, only to see his editor shut the investigation down too.
The promotion of the former chair of the DCMS select committee to Culture Secretary last year means that John Whittingdale’s lengthy relationship with a professional dominatrix and fetish escort – known to leading national newspaper groups who held back from publishing any detail – left him increasingly open to potential blackmail.
Although there is no suggestion that Whittingdale was explicitly coerced by any of Britain’s newspaper bosses, questions inevitably arise as to whether concerns about publication of aspects of his private life about influenced his policy decisions inside the Culture department.
As culture secretary, with a brief that includes media policy, Whittingdale has a powerful influence over press regulation, the mooted privatisation of Channel 4 and above all the future finances of the BBC.
So far his key policy decisions have included:
Serial attacks on the BBC’s independence and influence
Backing for the Treasury’s assault on the public service broadcaster’s finances
Unilaterally blocking legislation recommended by the Leveson Inquiry into the press, passed by all three major political parties in Parliament in 2013
Personal support for the press industry’s new non-Leveson compliant regulator, the Independent Press Standards Organisation, IPSO.
Whittingdale, according to one Whitehall source, became “The culture secretary Rupert Murdoch dreamt of, and the cabinet insider those who fought Brian Leveson’s recommendations prayed they would get.”
Keeping Whittingdale right where he is, rather than ousting him, perfectly suits those in Fleet Street who view Leveson as a commercial threat to business-as-usual.
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