Hacked Off are Hitler’s Nazis fighting The Sun’s Winston Churchill: the Press freedom vote
THE SUN says it’s ‘D-Day’ for Press freedom. Anorak agrees that press freedom carries no “buts…” No caveats. It’s either free or it isn’t.
The Sun says statutory regulation of the Press is wrong. It is. Says the Sun:
MPS were yesterday urged not to vote for new laws to shackle the Press tonight — as eleventh-hour talks to find an all-party solution went to the wire. David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg yesterday held a series of afternoon phone calls that re-started negotiations for a deal on the Leveson report. As they bargained, newspaper industry experts appealed to MPs not to shame Britain by throwing away 318 years of Press freedom.
The Sun then adds:
Senior Tories last week claimed Labour and the Lib Dems were on the verge of a deal — but shied away after threats from militant pro-legislation group Hacked Off. Actor Hugh Grant, Hacked Off’s main funder, yesterday admitted personally calling Mr Miliband and Shadow Cabinet members to insist they bring in legislation.
Over in the Guardian, the world is very different place:
To read some accounts of Monday night’s Leveson vote a casual reader could be forgiven for thinking that Britain’s press stands at a historic crossroads. One arrow points to freedom, the other to the end of all that Milton, Wilkes and Mill lived and died for.
The truth is rather more mundane. MPs are being asked to choose between two versions of a royal charter – a medieval piece of constitutional nonsense that fudges the issue of statutory regulation. There are good and bad things in both charters, not a straight choice between virtue and evil – and nothing in either to signal the death of press freedom…
There are two main issues around which there has been less consensus – whether the charter needs any reinforcement to prevent it being unpicked by ministers without parliamentary debate and whether the press should be able to veto appointments to the regulator. The argument for parliamentary underpinning lies in the curious and unsatisfactory nature of the royal prerogative – a profoundly undemocratic device which allows ministers of the day to interfere with, or even abolish, a charter without any kind of open debate. So we prefer the Liberal Democrat/Labour proposal (the so-called “royal charter plus”) which would require a two-thirds majority of MPs before anything decided on Monday night could be amended. Some fear that this will cement arrangements which are yet tried and tested. But the royal charter plus gives the regulator and recognition body reasonable discretion to judge whether the scheme is sustainable.
The Daily Mirror:
A majority of MPs were expected to vote with Labour, Lib Dems and up to 60 Tory rebels who want the new press regulator backed up with a tough press law. Both sides propose using a royal charter to create a new watchdog body in response to the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry, set up to look into press ethics.
However, the Lib/Lab version involves underpinning the system in legislation, something the PM says is a risk to press freedom.
The Lib/Lab royal charter — a vehicle used to set up institutions such as the BBC, universities and professional bodies — is very similar in most respects to that put forward by the Conservatives. It features tougher powers for the new watchdog to force newspapers to print prominent apologies and also rules out an effective industry veto over the membership of the regulatory body. The main sticking point had been the insistence by Mr Miliband and Mr Clegg that legislation was required to underpin the system — attacked by critics as opening the door to future political interference. Mr Cameron shut down the previous round of talks last Thursday, declaring that the differences between the two sides were too great and saying he would put the matter in the hands of MPs. Tory sources blamed Labour for the collapse, claiming the Opposition put new demands on the table under pressure from the Hacked Off campaign group not to agree a deal — something denied by the Opposition.
There’s no denying that for some it’s personal. They have had bruising experiences with the press that fill them with a desire for revenge. Nothing wrong with that, you might say: politics is often about retribution. But any Conservative who is wavering really should consider the brutal politics that have overshadowed this exercise since well before Lord Justice Leveson opened his inquiry. They have only to study the work and words of Hacked Off to realise that, while it is many things, a friend of the right it ain’t. As a lobby group it has given voice to the frustrations and sufferings of those whose lives were made more miserable by the conduct of some sections of the press. But it is led by political operators who, above all things, long to stuff the right. I won’t go as far as to say they are indifferent to the victims of hacking, but we should be in no doubt: they are using the victims as human shields for a calculated political project. In the Hacked Off campaign, and its Labour and Lib Dem supporters, you see what amounts to political revenge for years of exposure and polemical abuse at the hands of the centre-right press.
Boris Johnson (London Mayor):
Everyone accepts that the papers have behaved with vileness and stupidity towards the McCann family, and the bereaved relatives of Milly Dowler. Everyone wants to protect innocent members of the public from such bullying and abuse, and all would now accept that the old Press Complaints Commission was about as much use as a chocolate teapot. Yes, as some of us have been saying since long before Leveson was even a twinkle in the PM’s eye, it would be a good thing if there was a beefed-up regulatory body that had the power to impose rapid and draconian fines and to demand apologies for the falsehoods and intrusions perpetrated by all contracting papers. But if Parliament agrees to anything remotely approaching legislation, it will be handing politicians the tools they need to begin the job of cowing and even silencing the press; and what began by seeming in the public interest will end up eroding the freedoms of everyone in this country. It is a completely retrograde step, and will be viewed with bemusement by human rights organisations around the world.
J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, also called on MPs to oppose the government. “I believed David Cameron when he said that he would implement Leveson’s recommendations ‘unless they were bonkers’,” she said.
“I did not see how he could back away, with honour, from words so bold and unequivocal. Well, he has backed away, and I am one among many who feel they have been hung out to dry. I am merely one among many turning their eyes towards Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg and hoping that they have the courage to do what Cameron promised, but which he failed to deliver.
Retired teacher Christopher Jefferies was vilified by the press after his wrongful arrest for the murder of Joanna Yeates in 2010. He successfully sued eight newspapers.
I welcome tomorrow’s open and democratic parliamentary debate, which I hope will allow many misconceptions about Lord Leveson’s recommendations to be clarified, and lead to the establishment of an independent regulator, underpinned by statute, to monitor press self-regulation. Such legislation is no threat to free speech, as some have suggested; rather it will protect members of the public from the more scurrilous journalistic abuses, which, in my case, were responsible for the printing of lies and unfounded allegations.
With tough legislation governing press standards I believe the situation in which I found myself would be less likely to occur. A Royal Charter, such as David Cameron proposes, is far from being the most desirable way of implementing Lord Justice Leveson’s proposals, since it is undemocratic. It can be altered at any time without democratic debate, by the Privy Council, which largely comprises the need to stop politicians interfering with the press, for the press to remain free. Government ministers who have shown themselves to be all too susceptible to pressure from editors and proprietors. If a Royal Charter, backed by statute to prevent future changes without parliamentary agreement and fully compliant with Leveson’s proposals, can attract cross-party support, it must be welcomed as a way out of the impasse. What is being recommended is a system of self-regulation that is transparent and accountable; where journalism is seen to be oveturned by a code of ethics of which it can be proud.
Much of the evidence to the Leveson Inquiry dripped with fear and loathing of the popular press, and that prejudice is clear between the lines of the report. It is not hard to imagine what view the new regulators might take of ‘good’ journalism. Their kitemark would be a form of ‘ethical’ licensing, a badge of conformism. After all, what such marks usually tell us is ‘this product is safe and child-friendly’. We might note that none of the rule-breaking convention-busting heroes of the historic struggle for a free press in Britain, such as John Wilkes in the eighteenth century or WT Stead in the nineteenth, would have qualified for any such kitemark, and were all the better for it.
Investigative journalism always involves the use of underhand and sometimes ‘unethical’ methods, since it is a struggle to reveal what somebody else – usually somebody with power – wants to keep hidden from public view. It is a basically a dirty business in which all kinds of tricks might be justified. Even a top Guardian reporter told Leveson that he had hacked a target’s phone. Whether a particular reporting tactic is legitimate in relation to a story is a judgement call that journalists and editors have to make in the specific circumstances of the moment, and then justify to their readers – and, if necessary on occasion, to a jury of their peers. But decisions about the rights and wrongs of underhand reporting are not ones that should be taken by judges or coppers in any healthy democracy. Leave that to the police states.
What price freedom?