The uber-smug Daily Mail “diarist” Sebastian Shakespeare is beside himself with glee today as he reports that Private Eye editor Ian Hislop has resigned as a patron of Index on Censorship, along with his deputy Francis Wheen, in protest at the arrival as a fellow patron of Steve Coogan. This is because Coogan is connected to campaign group Hacked Off.
When the Eye got it very much right
Hislop has wisely declined to comment, but Wheen has had no such reservation: “His appointment is a slap in the face. Some of the other patrons want Leveson’s recommendations to be implemented (i.e. Tom Stoppard) but the point about Stoppard is that at least he does have a long and honourable record of defending freedom of expression elsewhere, even if perhaps he’s not so sound on Leveson”.
Someone is making a false assumption here. But do go on: “Whereas Coogan by his own admission, as far as I can see, has never been involved in any such defence of free expression or anything even remotely connected with freedom of speech or the Press except for being involved in Hacked Off, which most journalists regard as an enemy of the free Press”. Didn’t he bother to find out the facts?
Speaking as a longtime subscriber to Private Eye, Wheen’s inability to do the most basic fact check on Hacked Off (clue: its strapline is “Campaign for a free and accountable press”) is worrying. And one has to assume Hislop takes a similarly blinkered view, which, given his testimony to the Leveson Inquiry, does not make sense. Let us remember one part of that appearance.
Hislop told that there was one very good reason the Eye had not joined the PCC: his magazine dedicated a considerable amount of energy to calling out the press for its bad reporting, bad behaviour, and its tendency to sitting in righteous judgment on everyone else. The idea that the Eye would then volunteer to join a self-regulator run by those he’d just taken the piss out of would be ludicrous.
But the Leveson recommendations would make a self-regulator independent of press, proprietors and politicians. So there would be no chance of Private Eye being ganged up on by the papers. Moreover, a self-regulator seeking recognition under the terms of the Royal Charter would afford the Eye – and any other publication – opportunities to reduce the costs of resolving disputes over its content.
For the Eye, which has been pushed close to the edge by legal action more than once in its history, one might think its editor would jump at the chance of embracing the Charter proposals. But then, one might also think a publication known for its investigative journalism might gen up on Hacked Off before parroting the routinely dishonest industry conventional wisdom instead.
Hislop and Wheen appear appallingly ignorant. And they’ve made the wrong call.