It was around this time last year that the cross-party Royal Charter on press self-regulation was concluded, along with all the accusations of campaigning group Hacked Off “being in the room” when key wordings were agreed, and of course the clincher: that takeaway pizza was involved. The press had been shut out and the rotten lot didn’t even invite them in for pizza!
There was, as Captain Blackadder might have said, only one thing wrong with this story: it was bollocks. The press had been given extensive access not only to the ministers dealing with drafting the Charter, but also to 10 Downing Street, and one press man in particular had been uniquely given one-on-ones with all of them, including Young Dave: that man was Paul Dacre.
So it is no surprise at all to see the Daily Mail, under the by-line of Michael Seamark, trotting out the same old pack of lies today: “Royal Charter 'a major error that will curb press freedom'” thunders the headline (note use of quotation marks). Readers are then told “the Press is establishing a fully independent body to police its activities, the Independent Press Standards Organisation. It will be able to impose fines of up to £1million for serious and systemic wrongdoing”.
That would be the body that failed 20 of the 38 Leveson recommendations, and met only 12 of them. This sham has not impressed those away from Northcliffe House, as witness the declaration published today, whose signatories include several journalists, such as Nick Davies of phone hacking fame.
So what is the declaration to which so many have appended their names? “We believe that a free press is a cornerstone of democracy. It should be fearless in exposing corruption, holding the powerful to account and championing the powerless. It has nothing to lose, and can only be enhanced, by acknowledging unethical practice in its midst and acting firmly to ensure it is not repeated”.
There’s more: “We also believe that editors and journalists will rise in public esteem when they accept a form of self-regulation that is independently audited on the lines recommended by Lord Justice Leveson and laid down in the Royal Charter of 30 October 2013. It is our view that this Charter safeguards the press from political interference while also giving vital protection to the vulnerable. That is why we support it and that is why we urge newspaper publishers to embrace it.”
That date was when the Royal Charter secured its final approval. And forget the protestations of the Mail about “political interference”: the head of the body overseeing that supposedly independent new regulator is a working Tory peer. Who, for good measure, sits on the board of the Telegraph group.
The Mail wants to carry on marking its own homework. That’s not good enough.