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Tuesday 30 October 2012

Leveson Is Served (23)


[Update at end of post]

Another day, another barrage of howling dissent from the recommendations of Lord Justice Leveson which most of the Fourth Estate know about, even though they don’t. And the latest broadside against a regulation regime that presently exists only in strawman form has come once again from those who labour in the obedient service of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre at the Daily Mail.

Greece, guv? It's all Greek, innit?!?

The event put forward as the latest false equivalence by Dacre’s unfunny and tedious churnalist Richard Littlejohn is the arrest of journalist Kostas Vaxevanis in Athens recently. This is held by Dick – and his editor, with the occasion meriting a mention in Daily Mail Comment, the authentic voice of the Vagina Monologue – to be a warning of what will happen after Leveson reports.

Sadly, though, what Dick and his editor have not bothered to do is to research press regulation in Greece, which one might have expected them to do before shooting from the hip. And this is a singularly interesting field: the country has a free press, with no sanction allowed prior to publication (those in the UK please note). There is also a statutory right to reply to inaccurate or misleading stories.

That last point might be what has ticked off Littlejohn: there are plenty of less than totally accurate statements in his latest rant, such as “Brussels imposed a Government on Athens”, which is blatantly untrue, and “demands for statutory regulation of free speech” is the lamest of projection. And what got Vaxevanis arrested is not difficult to figure – and has nothing to do with press freedom.

Why so? Well, he was nicked, as Littlejohn admits, “during a live radio interview”. Greece has rather different regulations governing its broadcasters. Article 15 Paragraph 1 of the Constitution states “the protective provisions for the press are not applicable to films, sound recordings, radio, [and] television ... Radio and television shall be under the direct control of the State”.

In other words, the protections that Vaxevanis enjoyed as a print journalist do not extend to his going on air and sounding off about tax evasion. Now, that sounds authoritarian compared to how broadcast media operates in the UK, but whatever your stance on that narrow issue, it’s clear that the press in Greece is not so constrained. So Littlejohn and his editor are putting up another false equivalence.

Vaxevanis is not “guilty of naming 2,000 members of his country’s political and business elite believed to be squirrelling away money in Swiss bank accounts” as Dick asserts. And the attempt to conflate press regulation with the libel law, after the Mail has happily libelled so many of the rich and famous recently, is another sign of desperation. Leveson will make recommendations, press people. Get over it.

[UPDATE 31 October 1630 hours: so desperate is the Sun's Trevor Kavanagh that he has recycled the Littlejohn column to make essentially the same point. He fails to give any background on the difference between press and broadcast freedom in Greece, and bangs on incessantly about a "privacy law" coming as part of the Leveson proposals. But independent regulation with a statutory underpinning is not a "privacy law".

He then warns "where you have laws, you have lawyers". Yes Trev, like all those lawyers that your paper and all the others would have used to bully the Information Commissioner off the Motorman ball. What this country's broadcasters have - independent regulation with statutory underpinning - is not some kind of descent into dictatorship, and anyone can see that Kavanagh and the rest are scaremongering if they are trying to suggest otherwise.

Then he sells the pass by saying "Spain and Portugal are famously crooked". Bullshit. If there was one good thing that the Franco and Salazar regimes did for their countries, it was to remove any tendency to graft and corruption on pain of the severest penalty. Not that historical fact has any place at the Super Soaraway Currant Bun, of course]

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