An extraordinary article appeared in Press Gazette this week, telling readers “Mail staff urged to counter Hacked Off lobbying by contributing to Section 40 libel costs consultation”. The Mail titles’ editor emeritus Peter Wright is urging journalists to send in responses to the Government’s “consultation” on Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act in an effort to counter those who are in favour of its commencement.
As the article explains, “The email from Wright, who is also member of the Independent Press Standards Organisation’s (IPSO) complaints committee, gives staff step-by-step instructions on how to fill out the consultation, but is clear they can choose whether or not to do so”. So why the effort to get Mail hacks to take part?
Ah well. Wright’s email, which PG has helpfully reproduced in full, tells that for a publication to join a recognised press regulator means “submitting to state supervision”, and a number of other creatively reimagined concepts, mostly untrue, plus this revealing coda: “It won’t surprise you that Hacked Off are lobbying very hard for implementation of section 40 and encouraging their supporters to take part in the consultation”.
This is not a one-off: the Society of Editors, through its executive director Bob Satchwell, has been running a campaign since the beginning of the month called “Save your right to know”, details of which have arrived on Zelo Street. This is also creative to the point of dishonesty, telling that Section 40 “is part of scheme to force newspapers to join a regulator backed by a Royal Charter dreamed up by politicians at a late night meeting over beer and pizzas”, which it was not. But hey, details, eh?
There is further victimhood playing, including “Most newspapers and magazines are already regulated by IPSO - the new Independent Press Standards Organisation - but refuse to apply for recognition under the Royal Charter because that would be a loophole to state regulation and censorship”. A regulator recognised under the Royal Charter would not be either state regulation, or censorship. More flagrant dishonesty.
Then, taking out a king-sized onion, Satchwell pleads “Everyone, not just journalists and publishers, must respond to the consultation and write to their MPs to persuade politicians and the Government to step back from a draconian measure that would take us back to the dark ages of press censorship, stifle freedom of expression and the public’s right to know what is done in their name and with their money. It is a battle which goes back to the 1600s, a century in which a king lost his head for ignoring the interests of the people”.
And to that I call bullshit. Moreover, the question has to be asked as to why both the SoE, and the Mail titles’ editor emeritus, are so sure that they have to get as many responses to the Section 40 “consultation” as they can muster. Moreover, Peter Wright seems to know that supporters of Hacked Off are “lobbying very hard”. How would he know that?
Simples. Because someone is telling him. And the only people who know how many responses are coming in to the Section 40 “consultation” are those running it - in other words, the DCMS. As Control said to Jim Prideaux in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, “We have a mole, Jim”. Someone is leaking information to the press.
I would hate to think Craig Woodhouse is exceeding his brief. I’ll just leave that one there.