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Sunday 2 November 2014

Murdoch Censors Free Speech

[Update at end of post]

The proprietors and editors have been mostly of one voice: the recommendations coming out of the Leveson Inquiry would have grave consequences for our allegedly free and fearless press. There would be state control. There would be censorship. Journalists would be subject to all manner of restraint on their reporting, and, worst of all, it was all the fault of people who resort to takeaway pizza.
That's what I think of youse bladdy Leveson Report, ya bastard Pommie drongoes!

However, and here we encounter a significantly sized however, there was, as Captain Blackadder might have observed, only one thing wrong with this idea – it was bollocks. Leveson specifically excluded any form of censorship – or prior restraint, as it is more politely called – and sought to continue and protect press freedom. That wasn’t what the owners and editors were really about.

No, what they didn’t want to happen was to lose control of press regulation – their ability to mark their own homework, and backed up by turning to the lawyers to fend off attempts to wring apologies, or even corrections, out of them. And those lawyers are doubly useful: they allow the press to censor other media outlets. Free speech is, for the most powerful of the Fourth Estate, a moveable feast.

So how does this work? Happily – or maybe not – Creepy Uncle Rupe has today provided us with a text-book example. As Zelo Street noted a few days ago, the BBC had scheduled a Panorama expose of Mazher Mahmood, aka the Fake Sheikh, whose successful sting operations had recently been brought down by the discovery that he had been lying and manipulating evidence.
Update of this photo may have to wait

News has arrived on Zelo Street – sorry, no names, no packdrill – to tell that the attempt by the Murdoch empire to prevent the programme going out tomorrow evening has just proved successful. So, yes, that means censoring free speech is fine, providing the BBC is the target (see also under Channel 4). Most of Rupe’s pals in the press will keep schtum. What was that about “chilling effects”?

The only chance of getting anything like the whole story will be when the Guardian and Independent report on it. The justification used to gag Panorama will probably revolve around the possibility that Mahmood’s identity would be revealed, with the Murdoch press arguing that this would put him in danger – just like other members of the public, then – and it would be commercially damaging to them.

One could argue that it is a moot point: Mahmood’s commercial value has already been effectively expended by the discovery of his dishonesty, and there is bugger all public interest being served by entrapping a parade of slebs into arranging drug deals. But what it exposes is the rank hypocrisy of the press: free speech is, for them, the freedom to please themselves, and anyone else can go hang.

That’s something to think about next time they start blubbering about Leveson.

[UPDATE 1925 hours: Roy Greenslade at the Guardian has now confirmed what Zelo Street has already told you - that the lawyers have stopped the Fake Sheikh edition of Panorama being broadcast.

The good news is that the Beeb expects to broadcast anyway - but with John Sweeney's expose delayed by no more than a week. Remember folks, you read it here first]

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