I hate to inconvenience you, far less drag your good self away from your Government-funded sinecure, er, sorry, key role telling a sceptical public how wonderful Free Schools are, but we need to talk about your latest attempt to tell the world how knowledgeable you are on the subject of press freedom, and that dreaded L-word, as in Leveson.
Having read your Spectator propaganda piece - one draws the line at calling it journalism - titled “A vote for the Tories is now a vote for a free press”, I do have to take issue with your impressionistic grasp of facts, lack of the most basic research, and blinkered attitude towards all those little people the press loves to smear, who I get the impression you would rather didn’t talk back and know their place.
Let’s start at the very beginning, as it’s a very good place to start. Here’s your opening gambit: “I have long campaigned against the activation of section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act, as well as a second Leveson inquiry which would have examined the culture, practices and ethics of the press”.
Tobes, you really ought to have figured out the mystical art known as “five minutes’ Googling” by now. Had you bothered to do this, you would know that there was never anything called “a second Leveson Inquiry”. The Leveson Inquiry was always intended to be in two parts, the second having been delayed due to outstanding court cases.
And Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry would not have “examined the culture, practices and ethics of the press”. The terms of reference - I’ve added this to the post so all can see the distinction between the two parts - are totally different. They have mainly to do with the relationship between the press, especially the Murdoch press, and the Police.
One might have expected a member of the press establishment, and indeed the pundit establishment, such as yourself to know this. But let’s move on.
Sadly, Tobes, things do not improve with the next paragraph: “If section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act was activated it would have meant that any publication not a member of Impress, the press regulator largely funded by Max Mosley, would have had to pay all the costs in a libel case even if it successfully defended a claim”.
That’s totally untrue. Section 40 does not specify Impress, because any press regulator can apply for recognition under the terms of the Royal Charter. You know, Tobes, the Royal Charter that Parliament overwhelmingly voted for - including Theresa May.
Leveson Inquiry terms of reference - spot the difference
Who funds a recognised regulator is irrelevant, providing that regulator demonstrates its independence. Were it not to do so, it would not be recognised. Max Mosley’s presence is therefore irrelevant. Worse, Tobes, you have managed to miss that mildly inconvenient matter called Low Cost Arbitration. That would be the first port of call for any claimant. Only those publications that refuse to take part in that process - thus forcing claimants to bet the house on a libel action - would face Section 40 provisions.
Sadly, Tobes, not only have you failed to tell your readers this, but have repeated the untruth: “But if section 40 had been activated, publishers outside Impress would have had to pay their costs and their opponents’ costs even if they won”. Once again, Impress need not be the only recognised regulator. And it doesn’t get any better.
“Section 40 was a stick inserted into the Crime and Courts Act by the enemies of press freedom in the Lords to try and force newspapers and magazines to agree to be regulated by an official, state-approved body”. Who are these enemies of press freedom? Would you care to name one? I’d hate to think that the great Toby Young was of less than perfect courage. Oh, and neither Impress, nor any other recognised regulator, is an official body. Nor is it “state approved”. Research, Tobes, research.
On to the next less than factually accurate morsel. “It’s worth pausing for a second to reflect on the nature of Impress and its attitude to the press. Not only is it largely funded by Max Mosley, who has made it his life’s mission to destroy the tabloids, but Impress is largely composed of metropolitan liberal types who loathe the red tops”.
Impress does not have a pre-ordained attitude to the press, and once again, Tobes, you retreat into characterising it as being all about Max Mosley, which it is not. Nor has Mosley “made it his life’s mission to destroy the tabloids”. And do we have to have the sneering “metropolitan liberal types” smear again? After all, if there is one person in this conversation that matches the description, Tobes, it’s you.
But it seems the smears are, indeed, to be liberally applied: “For instance, Impress’s CEO Jonathan Heawood has shared social media posts comparing Daily Mail journalists to Nazis”. Three things here. One, Retweets are not endorsements, as you well know. Two, the Mail’s back catalogue of shame is well known. And three, the Mail is not a red top.
And I’m afraid you do no better by smearing the whole of Impress: “If the Sun or the Mail had been forced to sign up, all complaints brought by aggrieved parties - and Impress’s definition of who is entitled to complain is very broad - would have been adjudicated by finger-wagging scolds who would like nothing more than to see them go out of business”.
Let’s take this nice and slowly, Tobes. You’re unhappy that Impress allows complaints where the press’ own sham regulator IPSO does not. Why is that such a bad thing? You wouldn’t have a problem if, for example, third parties were able to complain about what they just saw on the BBC, so why the reticence to have the press held to the same standard? And save us the “finger-wagging scolds”. This is just another cheap smear.
What do we have next? “These same scolds will be up in arms about the Conservatives’ decision to repeal section 40, but it is perfectly consistent with the findings of the Leveson inquiry”. Two things here, Tobes. One, point me at one comment from anyone at Impress who might be involved in adjudicating complaints. And two, I look forward to reading your in-depth interview with Brian Leveson.
Then Tobes actually gets on to IPSO. But oh dear, Tobes, this is great unintentional humour, but it just will not do: “As it turns out, the independent regulator set up by the press - IPSO - complies with almost all of Leveson’s recommendations and, to date, has been doing a good job”. Let’s do more of that “five minutes’ Googling”, shall we?
Here’s the conclusions reached by the Media Standards Trust report on IPSO (you don’t like that the MST did this, Tobes? Fine - nominate someone else’s report. If there is one).
“Lord Justice Leveson made 47 recommendations for press regulation in his Report of November 29th 2012. Of these 47, 38 relate to self - regulators … According to this analysis, of these 38 Leveson recommendations, IPSO satisfies 12, and fails to satisfy 20 … of the 20 recommendations that IPSO fails, many are key elements of the Leveson system, including independence from industry, access to justice, and complaints”.
Toby Young's real target. With whom he is unwilling to debate
IPSO, Tobes, is not independent. Your claims of Leveson compliance are little short of a pack of lies. And, as to whether it’s doing a good job, that all depends whether you’re one of the little people who the press routinely dumps on.
We’re not quite done, Tobes, though - your last slice of deception is not going to escape scrutiny: “the decision not to activate section 40 is a victory, not just for the press, but for Brian Leveson too. I daresay he’s not too unhappy about the fact that he won’t be holding the ring in another three-ring circus, either”. Oh dear, Tobes!
As any fule kno, Leveson Part 2 need not involve Leveson.
Now I’m sure, Tobes, that you think this press establishment propaganda piece is an example of good journalism, and your editor Fraser Nelson clearly agrees with you, otherwise it would not still be live at the Spectator website. But we both know that it is, in reality, a shoddily-researched, fact-free, poorly-argued pile of tosh which should have been put on the spike.
In any case, as I’m sure you feel strongly about this issue, and are prepared to argue your corner, you’d be more than happy to show willing and debate the subject or press regulation with someone of opposing view. How about that, Tobes?
Who might that other party be? Why, I’m sure any of those in and around campaigning group Hacked Off would be pleased to debate you. Perhaps I should get word to Evan Harris - he would be happy to nominate someone. Then we could get all those contentious arguments out in the open and see just how well you know your subject.
Perhaps we could sell tickets, Tobes. I dare say there could be a competitive market in popcorn, too. You free marketeers would be in your element!