Labour’s shadow Culture Secretary Maria Eagle has said that Culture Secretary John Whittingdale should stop making press regulation decisions following the revelation that he had a relationship with a prostitute.
Eagle thinks that the relationship makes him “vulnerable” to pressure from the press.
Whittingdale put out a statement last night clarifying the details of the relationship in question. He says that he met a woman on Match.com in 2013.
He had a relationship with her for around five months — it ended when he found out about her “real occupation.” Here is the full statement, the added emphasis is ours.
Between August 2013 and February 2014, I had a relationship with someone who I first met through Match.com. She was a similar age and lived close to me. At no time did she give me any indication of her real occupation and I only discovered this when I was made aware that someone was trying to sell a story about me to tabloid newspapers. As soon as I discovered, I ended the relationship.
This is an old story which was a bit embarrassing at the time. The events occurred long before I took up my present position and it has never had any influence on the decisions I have made as Culture Secretary.
BBC’s Newsnight reported on Tuesday night that four newspapers knew about the relationship, but decided not to publish a story about it. They decided it wasn’t in the public interest to reveal that Whittingdale once had a relationship with a woman who happened to be a sex worker.
The 2011 Leveson Inquiry into press ethics and practices, was launched after the News International phone hacking scandal. It recommended a new, independent, body to replace the existing Press Complaints Commission, which would have to be recognised by the state through new laws. UK Prime Minister David Cameron, however declined to enact the legislation.
The second part of the inquiry, which was supposed to examine alleged collusion between journalists, politicians and the police, has been delayed until after criminal prosecutions regarding the phone hacking scandal. In February, Eagle wrote that Whittingdale now seemed to be “colluding in its abandonment” after initially pressing the prime minister to go ahead with it.
It’s this decision not to publish the story that is at the heart of Labour saying that Whittingdale needs to stop have anything to do with press ethics. The BBC reported that Eagle is today calling for Whittingdale to “recuse” himself from any further involvement in decisions over the Leveson Inquiry.
The accusation seems to be that Whittingdale might not have wanted to push ahead with further press regulation because some newspapers had leverage over him. Labour MP Chris Bryant told Newsnight last night that the “press were holding a sword of Damocles over Whittingdale.”
The story about Whittingdale’s relationship was broken by the website Byline on April 1. The story names the sex worker and describes her as a “well known escort who specialises in domination and sado-masochistic practices.”
The story also claims that in October, Independent Editor Amol Rajan decided to run the story the day after meeting Whittingdale at the Society of Editors Conference where Whittingdale said he didn’t think he was going to implement one of the Leveson Inquiry’s recommendations.
According to the BBC, Downing street have said that Whittingdale had the full confidence of the prime minister and that he was “a single man entitled to a private life.”