We have the finest press in the world – but this week they haven’t shown it

29th November, 2012 12:30 pm

For the last few days the media has been engaged in one of its most cherished pastimes – talking about, and to, itself.

Undoubtedly freedom of the press is one of society’s most cherished principles (despite the decline in readership of the mainstream press) and should be defended by all those who believe in exposing the misdeeds of the powerful and the corrupt. Yet the argument over press regulation has become a repetitive media circle jerk.

Essentially, the problem is that a press regulator that isn’t statutory would risk being toothless (like the PCC), as organisations could simply opt out and print what they like. (Statutory regulation does not necessarily imply “state controlled media” – but many columnists and commentators have made a successful stab at claiming them as synonymous).

And yet such regulation is essentially pointless in the era of the Internet, as it would leave papers and magazines held to far higher standards than online publishers, a pressure which could exacerbate the speed of growth for online news and the decline of the print press.

Essentially, you can’t regulate the Internet. You can try, but you’d fail.

But that doesn’t mean that efforts to bring about a better – more responsible – print press should be abandoned. Whilst we’ve heard plenty about untrammelled press freedom (which we don’t have – libel anyone?), we should remember that there are two different and distinct types of liberty. There must also be freedom from malicious and inaccurate reporting, and freedom from having your privacy invaded, as well as freedom to publish the truth. The Leveson report deals with the often dull but entirely necessary task of balancing these two competing notions of freedom. Because the rights and freedoms of both the Dowlers and the Murdochs are important.

Yet all of this to-ing and fro-ing over press regulation (and the lack of necessary nuance) is showing the press in a dreadful, self regarding light. Because with a few honourable exceptions, the focus of the media – and therefore public conversation – has been on just one aspect (regulation) of Leveson. Yet his remit was far wider, and touches on issues that are at least as important as how/if papers are regulated in a free society.

On the day that Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson are making their latest court appearance, why is there so little discussion of Leveson’s remit to investigate the relationship between the police and the press?

Why, when political leaders of all stripes are bracing themselves for the backlash of an angry press against changing their cosy consensus, are we not talking about Leveson’s remit to investigate the relationship between the press and politicians?

And why, when we talk about press freedom, don’t we ask what impact the ownership of a huge proportion of our media by a few wealthy individuals is having on press freedom?

A modest kitchen table would be large enough to host a meeting at which Britain’s press barons could co-ordinate the majority of Britain’s press against the government, or Labour, or both – such is the small number of people involved. Indeed as Political Scrapbook suggested yesterday, those conversations already appear to be underway.

It is often said that the phone hacking scandal showed the best of British journalism (investigative journalism) as well as the worst (illegality). Whilst that may be true, the one dimensional and self-obsessed reaction of the media to the very idea of stricter regulation has shown them in a very dim light indeed.

Which is a great shame, as we have the finest press in the world. This week would have been a great time to show that.

  • Chrisso

    Excellent article!

  • Dave Postles

    ‘Which is a great shame, as we have the finest press in the world.’
    I don’t know what your comparators are.

  • Dave Postles

    What we have is a fine system of Select Committees, thanks to Tony Wright and others. We should pay tribute to the efforts of the members of these committees and their chairs, of all parties. Well done.

  • Democritus

    We have the worst press in the world.

Latest

  • Featured News The left are “in denial” over anti-Semitism, says Israeli ambassador

    The left are “in denial” over anti-Semitism, says Israeli ambassador

    The anti-Semitism row engulfing Labour took a new turn today when Israel’s ambassador to Britain said some elements of the left are “in denial” about prejudice against Jews. Mark Regev said the language used in the past two weeks had been “very concerning” and had some Labour figures had crossed from simply being critical of the Israeli government to “demonising and vilifying” the Jewish state, and perpetuating racist stereotypes, he said. “There’s a difference between legitimate criticism and hate speech”, he […]

    Read more →
  • News Campaign round-up: Five days to go

    Campaign round-up: Five days to go

    It’s five days until voters go to the polls – here’s a quick look at how the elections are shaping up across the country. Quote of the Day Sadiq Khan lays out how he will tackle anti-Semitism as Mayor in Jewish News: I will always protect communities whose beliefs and practices attract the inexplicable hostility of others, and I’ll get to grips with religious hate crimes. I’ll make tackling hate crimes a far higher priority for the Metropolitan police, and […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Corbyn launches anti-Semitism action plan – but Ken blames row on “embittered old Blairites”

    Corbyn launches anti-Semitism action plan – but Ken blames row on “embittered old Blairites”

    Jeremy Corbyn has revealed he is launching an action plan to deal with anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, while Ken Livingstone has attempted to play down allegations, accusing “embittered old Blairites” of whipping up the storm in an attempt to get rid of Corbyn. In further developments, the chairman of the Israeli Labour Party has written to Corbyn to say he is “appalled and outraged” by recent examples of anti-Semitism in Labour, while 80 Jewish party members have put their names to […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Defence review closes as Woodcock’s rival enquiry ramps up

    Defence review closes as Woodcock’s rival enquiry ramps up

    The deadline for member submissions to Labour’s defence review expires this weekend amid claims that an unofficial parallel party enquiry is gaining more traction with MPs. Emily Thornberry, shadow Defence Secretary, is leading the official review, which launched in January amid controversy that Ken Livingstone would be co-convenor. Livingstone was moved to co-convene the Labour foreign policy review, a role he is unlikely to continue in following this week’s suspension. The process has hit further snags, with MPs raising concerns […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Europe Featured Uncategorized Dear Jeremy… please speak up again and again for Britain’s place in Europe, a former British ambassador writes

    Dear Jeremy… please speak up again and again for Britain’s place in Europe, a former British ambassador writes

    Dear Mr Corbyn – or may I, a non-Corbynista, call you Jeremy? I am one of the many Labour party members and supporters, including your critics, who unreservedly applauded your big speech on 14 April setting out Labour’s powerful case for Britain remaining in the EU. You were right to draw a sharp distinction between the Labour and Tory arguments for staying in, including your striking health warning that following Brexit our right-wing government would make a bonfire of the EU’s hard-won protections for workers’ […]

    Read more →
Share with your friends










Submit