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.


  • Featured News Labour figures react to death of Denis Healey

    Labour figures react to death of Denis Healey

    Labour figures are today reacting to the news that former Chancellor Denis Healey has died at the age of 98. We’ll keep this post updated as more come in. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn: “Denis Healey was a giant of the Labour Party whose record of service to his party and his country stands as his testament. “He distinguished himself with his military service during the Second World War and continued that commitment to the British people as a Labour politician […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News 10 of the best Denis Healey quotes

    10 of the best Denis Healey quotes

    Denis Healey passed away today, aged 98. He was a giant of Labour politics, sitting in Parliament for 62 years until his death, having become a peer in 1992. He once told a reporter: “A statesman is a dead politician. I am in the home of the living dead which is betwixt and between: The House of Lords.” He will be remembered as an eloquent and quotable politician – here’s another 10 of his best lines. “First law on holes. […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Denis Healey passes away aged 98

    Denis Healey passes away aged 98

    Denis Healey, who served the Labour Party as both Chancellor and deputy leader, has died at the age of 98. He was an MP for forty years, having being elected as the member for Leeds South East in 1952 and Leeds East in 1955, and standing down in 1992. He then became a peer later that year. Throughout his forty-year career as an MP, Healey served as Secretary of State for Defence (1964-1970) under Harold Wilson, Chancellor of the Exchequer (1974-79) […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Tory ministers have failed to act on the emissions test scandal

    Tory ministers have failed to act on the emissions test scandal

    When the VW emissions scandal began to unfold last week, I said that the problem might well end up being far wider than the 11 million vehicles we had been told about. Sadly, this has turned out to be the case. As the scandal gathers pace, many more diesel cars within the VW brand, including Audi, Seat and Skoda have been found with the defeat device that cheats emissions tests. What’s more, cars built by Renault, Nissan, Hyundai, Citroen, Fiat, […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Why Corbyn’s Labour should support the Cities Bill

    Why Corbyn’s Labour should support the Cities Bill

    Anyone looking for definitive policy commitments at Labour Party Conference this week would have left Brighton feeling disappointed. The new Labour leadership deliberately eschewed any attempt to pin the party down on a whole range of specifics, announcing instead a series of major reviews into big institutions like the Treasury and the Bank of England, and into particular policy areas, like housing and devolution. But when Parliament resumes in two weeks’ time policy decisions will be required, not least on […]

    Read more →
Share with your friends