Beneath the pious headline, “OUR PRESS MUST REMAIN FREE”, Tim Luckhurst receives a generous puff for his new Leveson pamphlet in the Daily Telegraph’s Comment pages. Citing Winston Churchill and the US Constitution and illustrated by a spooky silhouette of a journalist being spied on by CCTV, Luckhurst starts promisingly enough, describing Hacked Off as having “the attributes of a winning cause”, a piece of flattery which is tempting to take out of context, though he swiftly moves on to damn us as “offensive to the principle of free speech”.
In fact, much of the 3000-word piece is dedicated to misrepresenting and attacking the objectives of Hacked Off, rather than spelling out his own alternative. Such an in-depth critique of this organisation will probably come as a surprise to Telegraph readers, who have scarcely seen a mention of the campaign in the paper until today.
Instead of outlining Hacked Off’s arguments in favour of an independent regulator for the press – a concept which enjoys the support of 77% of the public according to two opinion polls last week – Luckhurst chooses the lazy option of misleading the public about our position. He claims that Hacked Off are calling for Government regulation of the press – which is an anathema to every single member of this campaign.
He asks how newspapers can be independent if they are regulated by statute; declining to provide the straightforward answer that all companies, charities, judges, lawyers, doctors, accountants and numerous professional bodies are regulated by statute – without any of them having their independence questioned, or being portrayed as puppets of the state.
After recounting how we got here: in his words, via a “culture devoid of ethics that regarded law-breaking as a tremendous way to pursue stories”, Luckhurst accepts that the status quo is not an option. Oddly, he then goes on to defend it. The answer, says Luckhurst, is more self-regulation, a new body (presumably controlled by editors and proprietors) with the ability to mediate and demand apologies from newspapers. Which sounds curiously similar to what we have now in the shape of an utterly discredited PCC. True, he says that the new body should be able to levy fines, but without a compulsion to join the body, nor any legal sanction if a newspaper declines to cooperate with its rulings, what teeth would such a new-and-improved PCC really have? To all intents and purposes, this is the Hunt/Black plan, aka the Murdoch/Dacre plan to keep things just as they are, thank you.
It’s refreshing to note that the vast majority of online responses take a rather sceptical view of his arguments, summed up by the contributor who commented, “The British Press is not free, it is regulated by its owners”. Well put. Sniping aside, Hacked Off welcomes the fact that the Telegraph has at last opened its columns to a vital public debate, which we hope will continue to be aired fully in its pages in the coming days and weeks.
This post originally appeared on the Hacked Off website and is reproduced with permission and thanks