I’ve had a very enjoyable week, and I’m looking forward to seeing ma famille in just over a week’s time tremendously. But in the mean time I just wanted to excrete this little brain-fart about Lord Justice Leveson’s press regulation recommendations, partially in response to the shocking revelation that my dearest mother agrees with the PM on this one (OUTRAGE!).
Let me be plain: with the exception of the woeful failure to address New Media and ownership issues, I fully support the proposals. If anything they don’t go far enough. I also congratulate Ed Miliband for being so courageous as to back them in the face of intense pressure from the press (though I suspect any hope of endorsements outside of The Mirror, The Guardian and possibly The Indy was lost a long time ago!).
The shrill chorus of high-minded opposition to any statutory regulation led by the (clearly principled and in no way commercially interested) newspaper editors is so transparently self-regarding that the only reason I can see that it is being taken seriously at all is the sheer volume of it floating around. The basic problem in the anti-regulation argument is the idea that ‘the state is here, civil society is there, and never the twain shall meet, except on election day or on those unfortunate occasions when an officer of the law might visit’. And should anyone ever overstep the bounds of what is considered reasonable interference then the inevitable conclusion is North Korea, or Ingsoc.
But the state and civil society already have met. They’ve met, got married, bought a Volvo and had the most gruesome of phone-hack-tastic offspring imaginable. They’re now considering getting an ISA for their old age. Leveson may have been triggered by phone-hacking, but it was not solely about that one aspect of the press’ behaviour. The scope of ‘press standards, practices and ethics’ is rightfully considered by Leveson to be much broader. One only has to watch a couple of episodes of The Thick of It to understand how politicians (and hence the state) are already hopelessly and sinfully entwined.
The scandalous corruption of the Murdochs, the bribery of the police and their subsequent timidity, the press’ patronage of certain Tories and leading Blairites and the influence of various other powerful businessmen and women were, to draw a parallel with phone-hacking itself, not down to ‘a few bad apples’, but institutional. Not only are there limits to what may be published, or broadcast set by the state, but there is also active involvement in the production of media. Thus opposition to regulation on principle is a sophisticated slight of rhetorical hand, and nothing more. We must, as per usual, consider the circumstances.
And in the circumstances I see no reason to oppose Leveson. A regulatory body, independent of both the press and politicians can, especially when underpinned by law, enforce aggressively the rules already on the books, dispense meaningful fines and penalties should they be broken, and provide a low cost route for tabloid victims to seek justice. There is no avenue in the apparatus being discussed for editorial control or interference by ministers, and therefore no possibility in my mind of the kind of Stalinist censorship predicted in the nation’s newsrooms. Regardless, whilst we must remain vigilant for any signs of mission-creep which may open the door to editorial control, there is much to be welcomed in Leveson’s proposals.