HAROLD EVANS SPELLS IT OUT
While most of the Fourth Estate – including the deeply subversive Guardian – has steered clear of the proposal by Lord Justice Leveson that there should be statutory underpinning to ensure the independence of any new press regulator, and thereby guarantee freedom of the press, former Sunday Times editor Harold Evans used the annual Cudlipp Lecture to give the idea his unequivocal support.
Evans asserted that some in the industry had grossly distorted the statutory underpinning proposal, and that he was “staggered” by this misrepresentation. He declared that he was in favour of the idea, and dismissed the well-worn argument that Governments could still interfere with press freedom. “In the draft bill, there isn’t a ‘but’ in there”, he noted.
Looking back on his own encounters with the law, he observed “When I sat in those law courts I had nothing to fall back on...most of the confidence cases, the reporting of Parliament, Cabinet, Thalidomide. I really do feel that if I were back in the courtroom I would be glad to have an unequivocal statement that the freedom of the press should not be breached”.
Evans then looked at the behaviour of today’s press in the wake of Phonehackgate and Leveson: “As depressing as exposure of the dark arts has been, it is deepened by the cynicism and arrogance of much of the reaction to Leveson, coming from figures in the press who did nothing to penetrate – indeed whose inertia assisted – the cover-up conducted into oblivion by News International”.
What Evans must know, of course, is that there has been an informal culture of Omerta among those who scrabble around the dunghill that is Grubstreet: what went on at the Screws was not for other hacks to report on, but to keep schtum. He praised the actions of Nick Davies and the support of Alan Rusbridger, but must know that many other editors have a visceral loathing of the Guardian as a result.
He then put the question that will not be answered any time soon: “I regard the proposals on statutory underpinning – as an opportunity, not as a threat. What further might the British press do if it were free of internal and external restraints inimical to excellence?”. The sad reality is, as I’ve noted previously, that even the best resourced papers are no longer capable of that excellence.
As Plebgate showed once more, it was the broadcast media which did the investigative journalism which blew apart the Police attack on Andrew Mitchell. And many figures from that industry have lined up today to support the Leveson proposal for statutory underpinning. Such regulation would act “as a buttress to and a shield for journalism that takes on vested interests and asks awkward questions”. Quite.