The subject in his day of much stick from Private Eye magazine at the time when Richard Ingrams was in charge, Harry Evans, still around and back in town this week, has certainly been there, seen it, and has more T-shirts than the rest of the Fourth Estate put together. So when he spoke to James Naughtie yesterday on the Today programme, there was good reason to listen.
Naughtie pitched the obvious question on Leveson, and press regulation: “Well, do you take the view that some editors in Fleet Street take, that what is proposed by the three major parties is in effect government regulation by the back door?” to which Evans showed he is not at all impressed with many of today’s editors.
“No, I do not. One of the things which has been disturbing to me ever since the Leveson report was started and came out was the degree of misreporting of it and I think that was the press, those people taking that position did a real disservice to themselves, because if they can’t be trusted to report on something fairly straightforward, but actually make an issue of it when it isn’t an issue, like state intervention and all this, it’s a bogey man”.
And it did not take long for Evans’ summary to be proved true, as the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre at the Daily Mail has once again gone off on an attempt to get his readers’ attention and frighten them about something that isn’t going to happen. “Don't sign this toxic charter to gag the Press, Queen urged: Urgent warning from free speech groups around the world” demonstrates the panic level.
At first, the array of organisations lined up pleading with Her Maj not to do the deed that she is going to do next Wednesday looks quite impressive, despite the heated language: “repressive statutory controls being imposed on the Press ... this toxic charter brings Parliament ... to the heart of the newsroom ... it lays the foundation for fully fledged statutory controls”. And, as the man said, there’s more.
“That will have a chilling impact on journalism throughout the United Kingdom – from the biggest national newspapers to the smallest local and regional papers and magazines – weakening democracy”. And then the bullshit detector went off: we all know who uses the “democracy” excuse to oppose a democratically agreed measure. Step forward Tim Luckhurst.
And sure enough, behind this “powerful group of the world’s leading Press freedom organisations” is the Free Speech Network, backed by the newspaper industry and with Luckhurst one of its leading lights. So this is just another effort by the press, under the camouflage of more credible looking cover, to indulge in the kind of overreaction and misinformation that Evans outlined on Today.
He may live in New York, but Harry Evans clearly has his old manor well sussed.