We are constantly told that freedom of the press is one of those things that makes Britain better than all those other places where they speak foreign, eat funny food and use suspiciously continental currencies like the Euro. But our free press is nothing of the sort: it is mostly controlled by a coterie of unelected billionaires who pay little or no tax in the UK and use their papers for the dissemination of right-wing propaganda.
The UK comes in at a miserable 40th place in this year’s Press Freedom Index, behind Jamaica, Costa Rica, Uguguay, Surinam, Samoa, Ghana, Namibia, South Africa, Cabo Verde, Chile and Trinidad and Tobago. Behind both Spain and Portugal, which within the living memory of many were both totalitarian dictatorships.
Why this should be is not hard to deduce: journalists can hardly be free to pursue their craft when storylines and editorial preferences are already laid down before they start work. The use of corrupt and otherwise unlawful methods to gather information makes matters worse. And the deal between the Government and the press makes it worse still.
And it is that deal which is under scrutiny as ever before: Theresa May and the Tories would scrap Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry in exchange for press support. Think about that: all the phone hacking, email hacking, computer hacking, corrupt relationships with the Police, harassment, surveillance, bin rifling, bank record blagging, medical record blagging, bribery and bullying would be swept under the carpet.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Next week, MPs have a chance to put Leveson back on track. On Wednesday, 9th May, the House of Commons will be voting on a series of amendments that aim to bring Leveson’s reforms into effect and complete the Leveson Inquiry. If they are passed, the Government will be forced to change course.
That is why sham press non-regulator IPSO is making what are claimed to be “concessions”, in order to pick off wavering Tories. There will, it is claimed, be a “compulsory” arbitration scheme for complaints. Except there won’t - IPSO’s own Scheme Membership Agreement (SMA) with publishers explicitly promises: “No [member publisher] shall be obliged to participate in the Arbitration Service”. That will not change.
And that is why the exercise is such a sham. You will also see local and national press protesting that any changes will drive them to the wall, bankrupt them. The figures pitched will be large, into the tens of millions. And they will be very round figures. Because these are yet more scare tactics, with the numbers merely invented.
Now all in the UK can let their elected representatives know that the Leveson process - including Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry - should go ahead. We should have the email and computer hacking investigated. And the corrupt behaviour of “Fake Sheikh” Mazher Mahmood. And the Daniel Morgan murder cover-ups. And the blagging of bank, phone, legal and medical records. And much, much more.
We can all make a difference. Help campaigning group Hacked Off by contacting your MP - it’s easy to do and the link is right HERE. Every email will help.
A free and accountable press is not only possible, but also desirable. That is all.