Fifteen days to go before the cross-party Royal Charter on press regulation is sealed, and there is no let-up in what has become a veritable tsunami of scare stories and phony assertions. And one look at the Maily Telegraph and Daily Mail gives the impression that the titles are locked in some form of arms race to spin the most fanciful yarn about the whole affair.
Paradoxically, it is the Telegraph that has brought forth the most straightforward slice of crude hokum: Tim Walker, who modestly describes himself as “Award winning Telegraph diarist, theatre critic, author and broadcaster”, has taken one item from Tom Parker Bowles’ Facebook page and extrapolated from it to produce the false assumption that this reflects the opinion of the Queen.
Parker Bowles had spoken approvingly of Fraser Nelson’s flagrantly dishonest piece for the Mail On Sunday (duly filleted here on Zelo Street yesterday), something which he is freely entitled to do. But the idea that his opinion of one article equals Brenda’s view of the press regulation debate is just coming it. And talk of her being able to summon editors is meaningless.
But it’s a prime example of how investigative journalism for all too many who scrabble around the dunghill that is Grubstreet has mutated into trawling social media as a substitute for actually, well, investigating. Meanwhile, over at the Mail, another well-known device has been deployed today, that of the appeal to authority by engaging the services of A Very Important Historian.
Robert Harris is the name in the frame for the latest assault by the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, comparing independent press regulation to the Dreyfus affair in 1890s France. This is magnificent, but it is not credible: the idea that the Government of the day would manipulate a press regulator that has been designed from the start to be independent of it is plainly ridiculous.
And Harris, like Dacre, appears not to have bothered reading up on the Charter proposals: there is no prior restraint provision, nor should there be in a free press. So his idea that a regulator would step in and stop, or censor, publication is blatantly dishonest. And it is interesting that the Mail once again obsesses over episodes from history that involve rabid anti-Semitism.
But the real gem from Harris is where he tells “how vital it is to have newspapers willing to defy not only the conventional opinions of the great and the good, but even — if necessary — the law”. Did someone tell him that the paper his article appears in has spent the past week obsessing over the deeply subversive Guardian, and suggesting that its NSA revelations are treasonable, and therefore actionable?
If this is today’s level of desperation, things can only get worse, and very soon.