Today marks the last week of the Government’s “consultation” on whether to commence Section 40 of the Crime And Courts Act, and put in train Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry. As a result, that part of the Fourth Estate that wants to keep marking its own homework and sticking its fingers up at those it routinely smears and defames, has wheeled out a more and more desperate succession of talking heads to protest.
Arbitration, Guv? Too many letters for me, innit?!?
And at the Daily Mail, the latest of those who talk well, but lie badly, is talentless and unfunny churnalist Richard Littlejohn, who has dutifully taken out his Transatlantic onion - Dicky Windbag lives in North Vero Beach, Florida, and not the North London he would have you believe is his home - to spin a pack of whoppers which have twisted the facts beyond the limits of elasticity. Here on Zelo Street, another fisk is in order.
Dick goes wrong before he’s done with the headline: “Putting this rabble in charge of the Press would be like putting the Kray Twins in charge of the Police Complaints Commission: RICHARD LITTLEJOHN on why we don't want Left-wing bigots deciding what you can read in your paper”. A rabble you couldn’t bother identifying, whose politics you therefore don’t know, who don’t want to decide what goes into the Mail.
We are then told of “the self-regarding, self-perpetuating political class”. As opposed to the self-regarding, self-perpetuating media class of which Littlejohn is a prime example.
“MPs who favour unfettered Press freedom probably amount to little more than a dozen”. Smears and conjecture. You couldn’t bother to find out.
“Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act has the potential to bankrupt newspapers who refuse to sign up to a State-controlled regulator”. There is no State-controlled regulator for anyone to sign up to. And wrong on the first point.
“Under its provisions, papers who fail to register with an outfit called Impress will be liable to pay the legal costs of anyone who brings a libel action against them - win or lose”. Totally untrue. Nobody has to sign up to IMPRESS. Any other press regulator could offer the same services IMPRESS does - and wouldn’t be State-controlled either.
“Not only is this an outrageous inversion of justice, it is an open invitation to malevolents, malcontents and assorted chancers to sue the Press at no risk to themselves. Have no doubt that an avalanche of vexatious and unwarranted lawsuits will be launched immediately the clause passes into law”. Another Littlejohn lie.
Campaigning group Hacked Off - whose copy is likely to have been put before a leading QC, rather than Littlejohn’s rant, which is whatever he dreamed up at the time, puts it directly: “Section 40 only relates to legal claims - such claims cannot be based on the ‘smallest of disagreements’ which can be resolved by letters to the editor or editor corrections. Trivial, baseless or vexatious claims will be struck out by the Courts. Section 40 costs rules will not apply … There is no evidence that section 40 will increase the number of legal claims”
Then it is on to smearing IMPRESS. “You might think Impress is a bit like other regulatory bodies, stuffed with career civil servants and the usual suspects from the ranks of the Great and Good … Not so. Impress is funded by the Formula One tycoon Max Mosley … In a bizarre case … Mosley landed a sympathetic judge who ruled against the paper and awarded him £60,000 for invasion of privacy”. Neither Max Mosley, nor anyone else, is in a position to choose the judge who presides over any case in which he may be involved.
“The members of the Impress panel include a deeply unimpressive collection of embittered failed journalists, Left-wing lecturers, law professors and full-time anti-Press activists … Their names would mean nothing to any of you”. YOU COULDN’T BE ARSED FINDING OUT, COULD YOU?
It gets worse: “you can judge the character and motivation of those who use social media by some of their splenetic, foul-mouthed outbursts”. HELLO RICHARD! What is the name of the editor of your newspaper?
“At least one of them has stated openly that he wants the Daily Mail banned”. Totally untrue.
“Their posts on Twitter and elsewhere border in some cases on mental illness”. Mental health smear: CHECK!
“They are foaming with hatred and littered with insane allegations linking the popular Press - and the Mail in particular - to 'fascism' and 'Nazi Germany’”. HELLO AGAIN RICHARD! No-one needs to link the Mail to fascism and Nazi Germany - the link has already been made, it is well documented, and it is so well known that I don’t need to use quote marks. Oh, and Mental Health smear: CHECK!
“And these are the lunatics that politicians see as fit and proper people to regulate the Press”. Mental health smear: CHECK!
“To conjure up another analogy, how would Max Mosley like it if one of his call girls decided to sue him for spanking her too hard and - win, lose or draw - he was forced to pay all her legal costs?” We’re talking publishing, Dicky, not spanking. Do try and pay attention.
“All this comes at a time when some supporters of Impress are also involved in a campaign called Stop Funding Hate”. No citation, and none will be provided. Anyway, what about Stop Funding Hate? “Which attempts to put pressure on companies to withdraw their advertising from newspapers of which they disapprove. The primary purpose is to stop papers like the Mail telling the truth about immigration”. Bullshit. Its primary purpose is to stop the use of hate speech.
“These zealots speak for no one but themselves”. Er, how shall I put this? Speak for yourself, Dicky boy.
“The other difference is that most journalists - with the exception of those pompous prigs who regard themselves as part of the 'liberal elite' - don't want to silence those who express different opinions”. Two things here. One, Richard Littlejohn trousers around £800,000 a year. He is a millionaire several times over. So give over with calling “elite” on others. And two, silencing others is exactly what the Mail seeks to do, by bullying, smearing and otherwise monstering its targets.
And then , after claiming maliciously and wrongly that IMPRESS seeks “to regulate and censor free speech”, we get to the nub of Littlejohn’s argument, and the implicit admission that he does not want the little people to have redress for his newspaper’s bad behaviour.
“Newspapers and their contributors are already subject to the criminal law, as the phone-hacking trials demonstrated, and the laws of libel”. In other words, unless you can interest the cops in helping you out - not possible in defamation cases - you have to be prepared to bet the house, and probably more, in order to get redress. Or, as Dicky Windbag doesn’t want to put it, but I will, COME AND SUE US IF YOU THINK YOU’RE HARD ENOUGH.
And then he’s on to defending sham press regulator IPSO: “Most mainstream papers submit voluntarily to an independent regulatory body called IPSO, chaired by a distinguished and scrupulously impartial former Appeal Court judge, who has the power to order front page corrections and impose fines of up to £1 million”. IPSO is not independent - it is under the direct control of the press establishment. The presence of Alan Moses is irrelevant - he does not deal with day to day complaints.
As to those “front page corrections”, we’ve seen the trivial and discreet nature of those already agreed, and that “£1 million fine” is rather like the Maxwell-era £1 million Mirror bingo prize - it’s mere window dressing, it’s never going to be imposed, and those in charge are going to make damn sure it never gets imposed.
There then follows a fog of verbiage, through which one can glimpse further whoppers, like “If Section 40 goes through, someone like [Alan] Sugar could bring an action secure in the knowledge that it wouldn't cost him a penny, even if his claim was laughed out of court”. No he couldn’t - see above.
There is then time for yet another invention, the old and dependable “This whole punitive plan was carved up over late-night pizza at a meeting in then Labour leader Ed Miliband's office on a Sunday night”. Wrong several times over. And as he drones towards the end of his rant, there is also “Britain has the most vibrant and diverse Press in the world”. Yeah, right. Most of it in the grip of five billionaires, most of whom don’t pay a penny in tax in this country. A BIT LIKE RICHARD LITTLEJOHN.
Section 40 and Leveson Part 2 have nothing to do with “left-wingers”, the curtailment of free speech, and certainly not the ability of the press to publish without any restraint. But Section 40 does have a lot to do with giving those without the deep pockets of the Littlejohns of this world the means to clear their names, by providing access to an inexpensive system of arbitration to deal with complaints.
You will notice that Littlejohn says nothing about the victims of press misbehaviour, nor of either the arbitration system provided by regulators like IMPRESS, nor of the protections for journalists that Section 40 also gives. That’s because he’s an uncaring, rich SOB who’s made his pile and doesn’t give a stuff about the little people, and he’s churning out his guff to the order of his legendarily foul mouthed editor.
Back Section 40 and Leveson 2. Ignore rich creeps like Richard Littlejohn.