Thursday, 9 February 2012

Will Leveson Work?

There is a lot wrong in print media land.

There are currently 5 police inquiries into the behaviour of the print media - Op Weeting for phone hacking, Op Elveden for police bribery, Op Tueleta for computer hacking, Op Kalmyk for accessing computers and Op Rubicon for accessing computers in Scotland.

The Culture Select Committee is also carrying out its own investigation - remember ‘foam pie-gate’.

And all this follows on from the 2003 Information Commissioner’s Office inquiry - Op Motorman - which looked at similar issues and produced a report called What Price Privacy? It pointed out that all the print media were at it and that News International was not the worst offender.

As each day of the Leveson Inquiry unfolds (and this humble blogger has been following it very closely) the facts are now clear:
  1. The print media, and principally but not exclusively the tabloids, has hacked, blagged, bugged, burgled and thieved its way through our society for some years. The swaggering arrogance of the editors and journos appearing before it has been breath taking.
  2. Amazingly, no editors or journos can remember anything - emails they may/may not have written or calls they may/may not have made - and specifically they didn't see any hacking ever. None. Not once. Nothing to see here. Move along please.
  3. Self-regulation has manifestly failed. One tabloid newspaper group - The Express - can’t even be assed to submit itself to the PCC in any case.
  4. As with any organisation threatened with statutory regulation, the print media are desperately throwing up every reason they can, especially the ‘freedom of the press’ card, to pretend that regulation would be the end of the world as we know it.

The coverage in the media has been painted as a ‘News International are evil’ story by…guess who…all those who hate the Murdoch media, led initially by The Guardian which as ever wrapped itself in a cloak of self-righteousness rather forgetting that (a) its initial claims that New International journos hacked Milly Dowler’s phone have now been shown to be complete bullshit and (b) that it was identified as one of the main offenders of phone hacking in the ICO’s What Price Privacy? report.

So what should be done?

We have the best broadcast media in the world. Really, we do. Travel abroad and watch/listen to foreign broadcast news and compare. Ours is without doubt the best in class. By a country mile. Authoritative, accurate, fair and professional.

And it’s fully regulated.

QED. End of argument.

I am anything but a big government guy. I am instinctively against regulation. But print journalism has inhabited a nether world, often in league with politicians too craven to hold them to account and whose backs they scratch, along with a police community who illegally trade information with them and have until now refused to impartially enforce the rule of law.

Time to clear out the stable. These total tossers, who have cheapened so much of our society, should be regulated and Leveson should recommend that clearly.

There is only an upside. All the scaremongering by the print media and its acolytes about any negative effects of regulation is just lobbying by interested parties. Is our fully regulated broadcast media toothless and weak?

Demonstrably not.

I remember in 1992 when David Mellor as Secretary of State for National Heritage told the press it was “drinking in the last chance saloon” when the PCC was established. Nothing has changed since then. In fact things have become worse with more and more stinking evidence piling up of the print media’s misdeeds.

But I fear that the cautious Lord Leveson and the craven political class will once again blink and not do what is right.

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