The International Forum for Responsible Media Blog

Leveson: Papers that hate human rights – except when it’s their rights

image1One of the more remarkable features of the “war on Leveson” waged by leading British papers has been their willingness to appeal to the European Convention on Human Rights. In the cases of several newspaper groups this is the most flagrant hypocrisy. They have consistently accused the Court of Human Rights of ignoring the will of a democratically elected parliament, but this is precisely what they want the court to do now in relation to the Leveson recommendations.

Newspapers have, on many occasions, argued that the judge’s proposals are in breach of their human rights. At least four legal opinions on this have been commissioned and though none has been published some have leaked. One, obtained from three QCs, concerned the compatibility of exemplary damages with Article 10. Then there was an opinion on “apologies” and related matters. Most recently, there was an opinion from Antony White QC which, according to the Times, said that the costs incentives for joining a new self-regulator were “arguably incompatible” with Articles 6 and 10 of the Convention on Human Rights.

It is difficult to assess the merits of these arguments without seeing the full opinions. In general, however, the notion that statutory involvement in the regulation of the press is incompatible with the European Convention is a bizarre one. Many convention member states (with better records on press freedom than the UK) have some form of statutory underpinning or regulation. But what is most surprising is that Europhobic papers, usually implacably opposed to human rights and demanding the renunciation of the convention, are relying on these arguments at all.When the Leveson proposals were debated in the House of Lords on 25 March 2013, Lord Black of Brentwood argued that the proposals on exemplary damages were “almost certainly contrary to European law” and so would “collapse or be struck down”. Lord Black is executive director of the Telegraph Media Group. Telegraph newspapers have a very low opinion of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Daily Mail was another of the newspapers which commissioned the “human rights opinions”. It does not approve of the Convention. For example, it said it was “great day for British justice” when Theresa May said she wanted to withdraw Britain from the convention. Another commissioning group was News International. The hatred of its newspapers for the convention is too well known to need illustration.

The reasons for the antipathy of these newspapers towards human rights are no doubt complex. Some associate the Council of Europe with the hated EU.  Some blame the Convention for the development of a law of privacy in England. Some blame the Convention for the inability of the government to deport suspected terrorists to countries where they may face torture. But the rationale which is usually given, sincerely or otherwise, is a democratic one: human rights arguments allow judges to overcome the will of Parliament.

For example, in an editorial last year, the Daily Telegraph told its readers that “The human rights act … does not pass the test of popular legitimacy” and complained that Britain was “unable to maintain a ban on prisoner voting despite the will of Parliament”.  A few days ago, the Daily Mail published, and commented favourably on, an article by justice secretary, Christopher Grayling in which he complained that the Court of Human Rights “is demanding that countries including Britain override the will of their Parliaments, and make changes like giving votes to prisoners”.

If you endorse this line of argument there can be no doubt where you must stand in the Leveson debate. The will of Parliament in relation to regulation of the press is crystal clear. The amendments to the Crime and Courts Bill bringing in exemplary damages and costs incentives for joining a self-regulator were passed by the House of Commons by a majority of 530 to 13 on 18 March.

Yet it appears that, in this case, the Mail, the Telegraph, the Sun and all the other principled opponents of the tyranny of human rights are prepared to make an exception. So far as Leveson is concerned, they want the European Convention on Human Rights to trump the will of the UK Parliament. These papers can’t have it both ways: if they have human rights which can override the will of Parliament then so do prisoners and foreign criminals.

This post originally appeared on the Hacked Off blog and is reproduced with permission and thanks


  1. TimGopsill

    Why is this considered remarkable? National newspapers are hypocritical by definition. They carry extravagantly expressed opinion in editorial columns and and comment articles but the outrage is entirely contrived. Nobody gives them any credence except those who hold the opinion anyway. They’re not priests, for god’s sake, they’re journalists.

  2. frednach

    It was Justice Holmes who once proclaimed that, freedom of speech cannot protect a man who shouts fire across a crowded theatre. It is fundamental principal and tenent of all civilised society that, we the people are endowed by our creator with this alienable right which cannot be compromised or breached through one’s thoughts, intentions, or omissions unless it crosses the Rubicon of common decency or affects another fellow citizen causing nuance for there is no fire without smoke.
    In this country we are rightly proud of our freedoms and liberty to express and articulate ideas, thoughts and prayers through the medium of speech in all forms in an ever increasingly demanding society in need of instant and constant information of news worthy. It has brought of the best coverage’s in our nation and history from reporting the first man in the moon to the tragic assassination of JFK in Dallas. Equally, to achieve that end we need journalists of character, integrity and moral purpose guided by a set of ethics that has regards to individual merit and freedoms as they are also so entitled bringing home issues of highest public interest and struggles from reporting of the War in Iraq to the tragic and mysterious death of Dr David Kelly, even today we do not know the full facts and may never know this.

    We have witnessed the downfall of an empire and institution in the News of the world brought down by a single lack of regulation by the State with no control of vast media who are pretty much left to self govern through them. This mutuality of interest has lead to all sorts of accusations of self- interest, bias and calling favours from the Prime Minister down to our great institutions as well as the great and the good. It is apparent with the very expose that we have come to question the very nature of privacy, there are some who say there is no such thing as privacy, and those who say we all have a right to a private life when revelations of extra marital or relationship is found wanting be it at a later date with journalists every increasingly being called for sensationalism as opposed to ethics which they would expect to be employed when it comes to their own conducts a la Brooks and Coulson alleged affair reported this week when facing charges over alleged hacking at the Old Bailey.
    Not surprisingly, this epidemic of bad taste and violation of decency and standards of reporting lead to a call for a public enquiry lead by Lord Justice Leveson who was given the huge task to the Inquiry to examine the culture, practices and ethics of the press and, in particular, the relationship of the press with the public, police and politicians (hey presto!). Lord Justice Leveson was assisted by a panel of six independent assessors with expertise in the key issues that were considered. The press provides an essential check on all aspects of public life. That is why any failure within the media affects all of us. At the heart of this Inquiry, therefore, may be one simple question: who guards the guardians?”, that is the question or the question that is the question in true form.
    Yet, look a little closer and see the flaw of this juxtaposition, when have the press been given the moral code and authority to guard all our very liberties they take for granted leading to tragedies such as the fatality of Lady Diana being take from us for no reason or purpose other than to harass to the point of death, was she not entitled to a private and family life free from outside interference to lead her life as she deems fit after a selfless devotion to public life of the highest standards? And if so, do we not expect and trust our so called guardians to do what is best for us, that includes keeping matters under wraps, being a shelter and haven at times of struggle and vulnerability providing us with an umbrella of protection that any decent minded guardian naturally upholds and entrusts in heart and spirit which was sadly lacking that day by the very protectors in pursuit and hunt whatever it took for an exposure and picture; the worst of the worst form of befriending if ever there existed a ‘kinship’ culling with a fallen innocent, angelic heroine in the modern age.
    Lord Leveson asks who guards the guardians, if we ever believe in guardianship by the press bit like the fox given custody of chicken. In order to address this issue, we have come to realize that there is no such thing as privacy as we known it through the press reporting’s. yet look a little closer we find in the very fabric scattered regulations and legislation giving prudence to privacy, not least given credence in this latest hacking case where the guardian’s of the guardians were all found wanting of the lowest form of breach of privacy by intercepting mail, phones, records even on missing children to the abject disgrace of concerned parents, it appears freedom of press and freedom to breach knows no bounds or breach, everything and anything goes but as long as they expect the same they have absolute impunity. Hard cases make bad law but hysterical coverage subverts the rule of law. But where you might well ask is the so called rule of law when the very essence of privacy, decency, morality, ethics has been left derelict and in hands of the protectors only to be abused, desecrated and violated time and time again creating a vacuum of not so much moral panic but moral nightmare of the Freddy Kruger proportion.
    How do we right this emphatic wrong? The answer to me seems plain and simple, if we approach this from a consensual approach in that, we as civil society hold dear and values our very freedom and privacy as a new born, and then it follows as night follows day we are entitled to the same privileges and protection without question as adults with greater responsibility and trust, for power without responsibility is the prerogative order of the harlot running throughout the ages (Stan Baldwin, PM).
    I believe such human wrongs calls for an instrumental and a living embodiment of rules and duties observed by all press, public alike in the form of our obligations as enshrined under the Human Rights Act, incorporating the ECHR. Article 8: The Right to Respect for Private and Family Life (enduring and endurement) stipulates that;
    1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
    2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of the right to respect for his private and family life
    2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

    Of particular note and prominence of late, I draw attention to private life in the form of personal information, correspondence protecting the right to communicate with others, including phone calls, and letters, as well as emails (bugging of phones by police or secret service see Alison Halford case). theholding, use or disclosure of personal information about s
    This observation is I believe best suited in the form of guidance in the form of a code of practice and ethics as called for by the Leveson report, with rights deriving to Hohfeld correlative duty to uphold and made accountable through the existing, transparent IPC (public authority being so incorporated) where matters would be adjudicated stemming from a complaint lodged by a person so aggrieved with a panel of independent judges composing from one member of the public, press, police or judiciary like authority. The repercussions would fall into their hands with suitable and proportionate penalty for any breach of the above code from debarring from public office, press for a term of years to financial penalty, supervision, public service unpaid work for those deemed minor. This authority or body cannot be the single source of complaint though a referral process for the most serious of violations must always be reserved to the authority of the state, the police conducting investigations, allegations of criminality in existing laws such as DPA, Computer Misuse Act, POA and so on (which by itself proves that privacy exits and is expected or entitled), damages also being pursued independently through our defamation laws.
    In short, to answer the question, who guards the guardians the above proves to be the wrong way round, the answer to the question must always be, we the people, the governed must be by virtue the guardians of our guards and not the guards of our guardians.

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