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Sunday 25 November 2012

Press Reform – No More Last Chances

[Update at end of post]

As the Fourth Estate maintains its attempts to strong-arm politicians into doing their bidding after Lord Justice Leveson presents his report on Thursday next, the Mail On Sunday has presented what looks at first like the voice of sweet reason, admitting that there has been inexcusable behaviour, and that the Hunt and Black plan will make things better. But in reality it is just another excuse note.

This may have been authored by Geordie Greig, now editor of the Sunday title, but will have been drafted with the approval of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, without whose approval no-one in Mail land keeps well. The style of the editorial piece looks to show contrition, but the underlying tone on phone hacking and contempt of court is that “they should have prosecuted so it’s not our fault”.

There is no doubt that the British newspaper industry will in future be more restrained” it opines, but they said that last time, and the time before that, and the time before that, and the time before that, going back to 1953, as the Hacked Off campaign has summarised today. The same paper suggests that Young Dave will let the press off with another last chance. This is not credible any more.

It goes on “The press treatment of Christopher Jefferies, the blameless Bristol teacher groundlessly suspected of involvement in the murder of Joanna Yeates, was unequivocally wrong and should never be repeated”. Two things there: Jefferies is retired, and is no longer a teacher. And he is in no doubt that the Hunt/Black plan will not improve matters – and that the misbehaviour will be repeated.

Fleet Street understands very clearly that it bears a heavy responsibility for maintaining, preserving and strengthening the great treasure of British press freedom” comes the protest, but whoever wrote this just does not get it: nobody, but nobody, wants to harm press freedom. The problem is that the mantra of “press freedom” has been used to justify some quite unacceptable behaviour.

Without such a confident press, who would have dared name the culprits in the Stephen Lawrence murder, as our sister paper did?” it continues, managing not to understand that Paul Dacre and the Mail’s lawyers went ahead because they were confident that the potential sales boost well exceeded the vanishingly small possibility of any of those named being able (or prepared) to sue.

Other countries, such as Ireland and Denmark, have far more rigorous press regulation and still retain press freedom – and free speech. As for an underpinning statute, as David Allen Green has told, “What ‘statutory’ does not necessarily mean is that either government or parliament will have any control or influence over the activities of a statutory body”. The Mail On Sunday editorial is mere empty talk.

And we have had quite enough of that. Now let’s hear what Leveson recommends.

[UPDATE 26 November 1435 hours: the Sun's Trevor Kavanagh may not have read the MoS editorial, but his latest press excuse note is remarkably similar in both content and ground covered.

The sentiments are utterly predictable: "special new laws ... legal shackles ... nobody thinks it is a priority", and then he goes totally gaga. "Health and safety regulation seemed a good idea at the time ..." he whines. Dead bloody right it did, and for one very good reason - in the days before H&S, workplace injuries and deaths were a regular occurrence. Would the Sun's man like to return to those times? If so, he should stop using his mealy-mouthed whining as a smokescreen and say so.

Then he concludes "The world will be watching our reaction to the Leveson Report". Very good, Trev - you just said nobody thought it was a priority, remember? Try scribbling with the Autopilot disengaged for once]

1 comment:

Richard T said...

I think it exposes the utter hypocrisy of the gutter press that not a word of apology has been offered to Christopher Jefferies and this in itself shows the real quality of the contrition felt by the Mail and their ilk. On press restraint there's the old saying fool me once, shame on me; well they're on, what, the dozenth time of fooling us... Still if the self serving reports in the Mail about Cameron watering Leveson down are true, he'll be OK to go back for his country supppers with Rebekah at least.