Some who call themselves journalists get a hard time from this blog, but to imagine that this is an attack on the profession as a whole is to misunderstand where it is coming from. There is much good journalism out there, and moreover, there are many journalists who slave away at the coalface of news for a relatively modest return.
For them, work is a combination of more demands, fewer resources, even fewer pay rises, and the ever-present threat of being culled in the next round of staff cuts. The message, transmitted through the removal of staff canteens, ending of Christmas parties, reduction in perks, and yes, an ever-dwindling head count, is that the press is under financial pressure as never before. There just isn’t the money in the industry any more.
So one can only imagine the reaction of all those hard-pressed and poorly-paid hacks to the idea that the industry in which they work, and which is pleading poverty to the outside world, has no problem spraying significant sums of money up the wall on pointless legal actions. But that is exactly what the press is doing, while most of its number is declining to report this exhibition of largesse. So what’s the story?
Ah well. Ever since the proposals from Part 1 of the Leveson Inquiry, and the Royal Charter on press regulation, the press establishment has been reacting in the manner of a petulant child refusing to behave in a civilised manner. Not only will they not have anything to do with proposals that might make press regulation properly independent, they are also hell-bent on allowing anyone else from indulging in such practices.
This mindset, the iron law of old Fleet Street, is what brought the press establishment to court this week, to spray more of that scarce money up the wall as it battered its collective heads in Don Quixote-like manner against the reality of law. Worse, the lesson from its defeat has gone unlearned, with that same press establishment emerging from its bunker to tell the world that it fully intends to spray yet more money up the wall.
What on earth was going on? Here we encounter the News Media Association, a body which advocates and propagandises for the press establishment. So vulnerable do these poor dears imagine themselves to be that their assembled megaphones are not enough: they need a propaganda arm too, just as they need to maintain their grip on sham press regulator IPSO. The NMA is the group which lost in court this week.
Their beef was with the recognition by the Press Recognition Panel of truly independent press regulator IMPRESS. Not content with their members running a raft of knocking copy which smeared Impress as the poodle of Max Mosley, and sneering at the titles choosing to be regulated by it, the press establishment is now seeking to hobble its competitor by means of the law. And in this endeavour it was soundly beaten this week.
As the Guardian has reported (as so often, most of the press has declined to cover the story), the NMA “said the Press Recognition Panel (PRP), which was set up under a royal charter after the Leveson inquiry, should not have given Impress formal approval a year ago … The NMA said the PRP had misinterpreted and misapplied the charter, but Lady Justice Rafferty and Mr Justice Popplewell, sitting in London, rejected its case on Thursday”. The 86th, and final, paragraph of the judgment gives a hint why.
“We have not found it necessary, for the resolution of this application, to rehearse and announce a view on the arguments of IMPRESS, the interested party, save by one or two references. That economy should not be taken as conveying any view of the merits of its submissions, rather that our conclusions on all heads of complaint by NMA is dispositive of this application. We would reject it”.
The Guardian again: “Ben Jaffey QC, for the PRP, said the decision to grant recognition, which the judges refused to quash, was ‘unimpugnable’. It was taken after three rounds of open consultation during which NMA more than once advanced its views … Impress was an independent self-regulatory body and its funding was settled in agreement with the industry within the meaning of the charter, he added”.
The press establishment, through the NMA, has sought to hinder, if not halt, the process through which Impress was recognised under the Royal Charter. Their reasoning, which may be correct, is that if Impress’ place is secure, and proven so to be, then the pressure for Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act to be commenced would be ratcheted up to a level that same establishment might be hard pressed to dissipate.
Section 40 could trigger a domino effect, as increasingly hard pressed publishers decide that cold financial reality dictates they throw in the towel on IPSO and either join Impress, or set up their own Charter-compliant press regulator.
What the NMA is doing is to enforce the will of the wealthiest publishers - the Murdoch mafiosi and especially the Rothermere press, personified by the implacable defiance of the Daily Mail’s legendarily foul mouthed editor Paul Dacre.
That defiance has, whisper it quietly, led the NMA to the decision to go back to court, no matter how pointless the exercise. “IMPRESS is a state-sponsored regulator” states their press release dishonestly, before confirming that it is all about seeing off Section 40: “IMPRESS cannot and never will be a regulator for the UK newspaper industry which remains wholly opposed to Section 40”. And their next action?
“We will be seeking leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal”. Do you hear that, all you hacks toiling away for little reward in the service of NMA members? Your bosses say they have no money for pay rises, but are prepared to spray hundreds of thousands of pounds, if not millions, up the wall in one last desperate stand against the tide of public opinion, formed after observing the decades of misbehaviour and lawbreaking.
It is not just the refusal to recognise their own malpractice, not merely the hypocritical opposition to the Royal Charter (if it was such a bad idea, why go down the same road?), not only the attempts to stop Impress gaining recognition, not solely the barrage of dishonest and spiteful attacks on press reform campaigners, and rather more than the refusal to tell readers what they were up to. It is about more than all of those.
It is the sheer incredulity of a press establishment prepared to waste eye-watering amounts of money on a pointless cause, while simultaneously pleading poverty, that for many of their own employees and freelances will stick in the craw. If anyone needed to know what groups like Hacked Off were on about, here is the answer in spades.
Our free and fearless press, like the last of the wild west, is out of time in a world which is would rather not understand. It is morally bankrupt. And if it keeps on wilfully wasting its members’ money, some of them may be more than that very soon. Sad, really.