And then there were three. Far from being the work of ‘the newspaper industry’, the latest attempt to prevent effective, independent press regulation on Leveson lines is being led by just three organisations.
The Mail, the Telegraph and the Murdoch papers – all of them, incidentally, rich and profitable – have learned nothing from the experience of the past two years and they still believe they should have the right to trample over the rights of ordinary people and face no consequences for it.When, years ago, public opinion turned against them, they refused to print the opinion polls that proved it. When the industry’s misdeeds were exposed before and during the Leveson Inquiry they failed to report the evidence or distorted it beyond recognition. And when Leveson made sensible and cautious recommendations they grossly misrepresented them in print and then tried to engineer a private ‘fix’ with the Conservatives.
Now, after every single party in Parliament has backed a Royal Charter delivering the Leveson recommendations, they have come up with an alternative charter that would take us straight back to the world of the old Press Complaints Commission, where sham regulation provided a cover for editors to abuse the public at will.
Their rhetoric is shallow and hypocritical. They say, for example, that Parliament’s charter represents political interference in the press, where in fact that charter introduces a whole range of measures to ensure that politicians have no influence whatever over any aspect of regulation.
Their own proposal, by contrast, opens the way for Lord Hunt, a former Conservative Cabinet minister and an active, working Conservative peer, to run their new regulator as he currently runs the discredited PCC. It would also allow a working Conservative peer and Telegraph boss, Lord Guy Black, to run a funding body that would have a stranglehold on every aspect of the new regulation scheme.
The truth is that, for all their hysterical warnings about state regulation and the spectre of Zimbabwe and North Korea, these three organisations actively want political control of the press – because they are used to controlling the politicians who matter and they think they can go on doing so.
This is about power, but it is not really about the power of the press because for most of us that should be something precious, something that holds authority to account and shines a light on wrongdoing and falsehood. No, this is about the power of a few people at the Mail, the Telegraph and the Murdoch papers who have had things their own way for a very long time and who refuse to see why anything should change. The last thing they want is accountability, and they would never allow their own actions to be reported upon critically in their own papers – or each others’.
Their charter is a challenge to free speech and an act of defiance against both a collective, democratic decision of Parliament and the considered recommendations of a year-long, judge-led public inquiry. It is also an insult to the public and to all of those who have suffered abuse at the hands of newspapers in the past few decades and who are desperate to see meaningful change.
Brian Cathcart is director of Hacked Off. He tweets at @BrianCathcart.