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Wednesday 28 November 2012

Spectator – Cut Off Nose, Spite Face

And yet still nobody outside Parliament knows what Lord Justice Leveson will propose in his report, to be released to the general public tomorrow. But this has not stopped Fraser Nelson, editor of the Spectator, from assuming that whatever is recommended will not be to his satisfaction, and he has therefore declared that his mag “will take no part in state-sponsored press regulation”.

Fraser Nelson

He goes on “That is to say: we would not attend its meetings, pay its fines nor heed its menaces”. This is a supremely wrong-headed approach, and for several reasons, which I will outline (not least that nobody in his position should jump before knowing how the land lies, and that the report may bring news that will benefit him). But let’s start at the very beginning, which as we know is a very good place to start.

It’s Not His Decision: unless Nelson has already agreed this stance with his publisher and owner – that would be Andrew “Brillo Pad” Neil – then his bluster is immaterial. Neil has not survived in the media business by digging in his heels and refusing to take a pragmatic and practical line along the way. The Spectator’s stance has to make sense for him.

There Will Be Immediate Reputational Damage: if the Speccy refused to join what every newspaper was joining, the conclusion could readily be drawn that the magazine was not sure that its journalism would pass muster on fundamental tests such as accuracy and honesty. Not for nothing does Nelson’s perpetually thirsty pal Paul Staines get himself a 4% trust rating for the Guido Fawkes blog.

It Could Prove To Be Economically Suicidal: were the new regulator to have a complaints procedure that had to be followed and exhausted before going to law, this would work in favour of smaller scale publications. It would have helped the Speccy in the recent case where Melanie “not just Barking but halfway to Upminster” Phillips left the mag with a large legal and damages bill.

One Big Legal Bill Could Finish Them: given the tendency of some Spectator regulars to be of forthright view – no names, no packdrill – a Speccy out on its own and hit with a libel action by someone rich and determined could spell the end. So Nelson and his pals will have to err on the side of caution – after all, they’ll have few friends if they refuse an option that would have headed off such an action.

Ultimately, Nobody Will Care: if the Spectator folded, Nelson and his fellow contributors would be able to claim martyrdom, but after the passage of time, they would all be forgotten, especially if any new regulatory regime is seen to work for press and public alike, and moreso if it maintains freedom of speech while avoiding political interference.

Fraser Nelson’s defiance is a pointless sham – and it will get him nowhere.

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