Those who had been hacked, blagged, tailed, monstered, bullied, threatened, victimised, harassed, defrauded, defamed and otherwise misused by the less principled part of the Fourth Estate had for so long one press player in their corner: the Guardian had blown the whistle on phone hacking and use of the “Dark Arts”. It was prepared to break with the mafioso imperative of Omertà. It was there for the little people no-one else cared about.
Kath Viner, editor, the Guardian
Not any more. After long-time editor Alan Rusbridger departed, along with distinguished journalists like Nick Davies and David Leigh, new broom Kath Viner did away with the inconvenience of standing apart. No longer would Guardian hacks and pundits run the gauntlet of being sneered at - and, on occasion, even spat on - by their contemporaries at less principled titles. They would, from now on, have a rather easier life.
Alan Rusbridger - gone but not forgotten
Awards ceremonies would be so much easier to negotiate. There would be fewer hatchet jobs in the Daily Mail. The Guardian would be welcomed back into the fold. But for the victims of press abuse, there would be no such luxury. They would be frozen out, to become, in this new totalitarian press world, un-persons.
Nick Davies - phone hacking whistleblower
So when new Minister for Murdoch Matt Hancock announced the abandonment of the second part of the Leveson Inquiry yesterday, it was no surprise that the Guardian, far from backing the victims of Mazher Mahmood’s dishonesty and criminality, those defamed for kicks by the Daily Mail, the family of Daniel Morgan, and all those whose personal information had been traded illegally, cheered him on.
Andy Coulson - guilty
In an editorial piece - which, if it was not written by Ms Viner, will at the very least enjoy her endorsement - the paper dishonestly asserts “Journalists must be responsible for standards and ethics but it is wrong to think a state body should hold the exercise of power by the press to account”. What “state body” might that be?
Neville Thurlbeck (with both hands on the table) - guilty
On Hancock’s decision, readers are told “This approach should be given a chance”. And on Leveson 2, a superbly meaningless soundbite is conjured up: “in interrogating all these issues, important as they are, Leveson 2 would ultimately end up like a driver learning to steer by looking in the rear-view mirror at the road behind rather than the one ahead”.
Did Ms Viner use Tony Blair’s old catchphrases when compiling this missive? “Forward, not back” … “freedom, not tyranny” … “democracy, not dictatorship” … “no reverse gear” … “sentences, without verbs”. That is how meaningless.
There is the pleading of poverty: “Their circulation has fallen by a third since the Leveson inquiry. In the last decade hundreds of newspapers have closed”. No poor person gets a free pass from the justice system. But a press pretending poverty should. Er, no.
The editorial contradicts itself: after assuring readers “The first part of Leveson had a substantial effect”, it is conceded “The intrusive reporting by some after the Manchester Arena bombing last year should be a cause for introspection, contrition and - if required - apology”. Translation: Leveson 1 without Leveson 2 changes nothing.
Then, at the very end, there is talk of “a free, fair press”, which Ms Viner and her pals know full well we do not have, and will not have, after Hancock’s deal with the devil.
All those traduced by the press establishment looked to the Guardian as the beacon of decency in a world of mafiosi corruption. The paper would fearlessly speak truth to power, and that included the Fourth Estate. And this marks the third betrayal from those at Kings Place. Three times that the Guardian has disowned those it once championed.
In January last year, abandonment of Leveson 2 was backed wholeheartedly as readers were told “What is missing here is an appreciation of the present. Investigations into past behaviour ignore what the media industry is today. Facebook is by far the most pervasive network for news. Google dwarfs others in terms of media distribution. Sparky websites and blogs vie with traditional newsprint for readers and advertising revenue. Yet there is silence on the means to regulate them”. Look over there at Google and Facebook.
The kind of stance that would find favour with the Murdoch, Rothermere and Barclay Brothers titles. Playing the victim and blaming someone else.
February last year brought the second betrayal, as the Commons Culture, Media and Sport committee recommended Leveson 2 should go ahead. The Guardian sat on its hands. The victims of press misbehaviour were passed by on the other side.
No regard paid to those who in days gone by the paper would have been more than happy to hear. Like Charlie Falconer telling “So no enquiry into the extent to which News International and other newspaper groups rode roughshod over innocent victims lives. Powerless dumped. Truth abandoned. Newspaper barons satisfied. Promises broken. Faith in the state further undermined”. Like former Labour leader Ed Miliband concluding “#Leveson2 ditched by government. Predictable, spineless and a total betrayal of every promise made to victims of phone-hacking”.
No regard for its own former writer James Ball’s conclusion “As a reminder, Leveson Part Two was going to be very specifically into phone hacking: who knew what, when, where. It wasn’t intro press regulation or broader culture. Given how much has been spent paying off victims confidentially, there will be some *very* relieved people today”.
And there will be no hearing for Mark Di Stefano’s words. “The Guardian, yes The Guardian, backs the government closing the Leveson inquiry: "Proceeding with Leveson 2 would raise the threat of press regulation while there is no sign of a regulatory framework for Silicon Valley firms…”. Nor those of Brian Cathcart of Kingston University. “Disappointing news: the @Guardian has changed sides on press reform and thrown in its lot with the Murdoch/Mail corporate wrongdoers it once – heroically – exposed. This barely coherent and error-strewn editorial on #Leveson2 is a betrayal and a disgrace”.
When Nick Davies broke the phone hacking story, he was one one occasion confronted by former Screws and Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan, now ITV’s insurance policy against bad press coverage, who hissed “Judas” at him. Those whose careers, reputations, families, hopes and dreams have been so gratuitously trashed by our free and fearless press will not lower themselves to hiss at Kath Viner and her team.
But the name of Judas Iscariot, and all the symbolism loaded into it, will be on their lips as the Guardian once again abandons them in order to have an easier life.
The former flame carrier for liberal journalism has sold its soul. It may never get it back.