All those loyal Daily Mail readers may have wondered what their paper was on about yesterday, as it regaled them with the doom-laden headline “New threat to Britain's free Press: Decision that could rubber stamp watchdog set for meeting when many key figures are away on holiday”. A “threat to Britain’s free press”? What might that be? And what secretive machinations are being undertaken when so many are on holiday?
But then the sub-headings give the game away: “Organisers of the Press Recognition Panel accused of ‘burying bad news’ … Comes after they slipped out announcement with just two weeks’ notice … Would-be Press watchdog almost entirely funded by Max Mosley, who has been a key figure in calls for tougher Press regulation”. Yes, we have returned to the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre’s paranoia over press regulation.
Dacre, still in the editor’s chair at the Mail, is not frightened by much, but the idea of a press regulator that he cannot bend to his will, and which might at some future time instruct him to place a correction, or even an apology, on the front page of His Paper, is enough to cause what is known as a Brown Trouser Moment. A press regulator that actually does what it says on the tin? The effrontery of the idea!
Hence the spin: “A decision seen by many as a major threat to the future of Britain’s free Press will be made at a public meeting on August 23 – when many people will be away on holiday … Organisers of the Press Recognition Panel were accused of cynically preparing to ‘bury bad news’ after they slipped out the announcement with just two weeks’ notice … Campaigners fear that the meeting will see approval for the would-be Press watchdog Impress rubber stamped”. And what “Campaigners” would those be?
“Last night Mike Harris, from free speech campaign group 89up, said: ‘This smacks of the PRP preparing to bury bad news’ … Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, said: ‘It does seem strange that the PRP should choose to make its decision when most people with an interest are likely to be on holiday’”. So who is 89up?
This is the body responsible for “Leveson’s Illiberal Legacy”, a hatchet job on the Leveson Inquiry sponsored by DMG Media [ie the Mail], News UK [Murdoch] and Telegraph Media Group, and published by the Free Speech Network, headed by Tim Luckhurst, who claims to be a “Democrat”, but is steadfastly opposed to the measures that passed through the House of Commons by acclamation (ie an overwhelming majority).
IMPRESS, whose application for recognition under the terms of the Royal Charter on Press Regulation will be heard later this month, is not influenced by Max Mosley, and its funding structure is designed to prevent any such influence, unlike the press’ puppet regulator IPSO, which they keep on a tight financial leash. The recognition process has been completely transparent. The press establishment is clutching at straws.
What we have here is the larger part of the Fourth Estate using its stooges - 89up and the “Free Speech Network” - to keep on marking its own homework and sticking two fingers up at victims of press misbehaviour - all the while wrapping itself in a cloak of righteousness.
[Full Disclosure: I have donated to IMPRESS during its initial crowdfunding phase]