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

November 29, 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

  • Comment Scotland When it comes to the referendum, let’s remember “in unity is strength”

    When it comes to the referendum, let’s remember “in unity is strength”

    In the coming days UK Labour leader Ed Miliband will be here in Scotland – making the case for shared solidarity across these islands.He’ll arrive in the wake of a difficult summer for David Cameron and a growing sense that we can secure a Labour Government in next May’s general election.This view that Labour can win in 9 months time finds no place in the Nationalists’ narrative. They had hoped to be able to tell voters that Tory victory was […]

    Read more →
  • News Miliband: I want my Cabinet to have 50% women

    Miliband: I want my Cabinet to have 50% women

    Ed Miliband has reaffirmed his commitment to ensuring his Cabinet would have 50% women – although stopped short of making it a promise, saying he wants to “let my actions speak for themselves”. In an interview with woman’s magazine Red, Miliband said he’s proud that women’s representation in the Shadow Cabinet has improved since he became leader, and that he would like to see women make up half of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP): What has changed under his leadership […]

    Read more →
  • News Labour struggle to convince on the economy because of Gordon Brown, says Umunna

    Labour struggle to convince on the economy because of Gordon Brown, says Umunna

    Labour are still struggling to convince the public on economic credibility because of Gordon Brown, according to Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna. While Labour left the country “in a far better state” when it left office, Brown’s final year as prime minister was marked by a failure to give the impression that he acknowledged the need to reduce the deficit and allowed George Osborne to frame the debate on the economy. In an interview with former Labour spin doctor Alastair […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Labour will hit back at the Bedroom Tax this Friday – will the Lib Dems?

    Labour will hit back at the Bedroom Tax this Friday – will the Lib Dems?

    Labour has been clear and consistent in its opposition to the Bedroom Tax. We said it was cruel and unfair, taking an average £700 a year from half a million low income households. The government has admitted that two thirds of those hit have disabilities, and another 60,000 are carers. All the evidence from housing and disability experts showed that most would have nowhere else to move to. We also said it was unworkable and could end up costing more […]

    Read more →
  • Featured Irreconcilable differences and unreasonable behaviour

    Irreconcilable differences and unreasonable behaviour

    I committed one of those Twitter no-nos last week when the news about Douglas Carswell quitting the Tories to join Ukip broke. Digging up a piece I’d written here on the day of the Cameron EU speech at Bloomberg in January 2013 , I reminded a grateful universe that, far from seeing that speech as a bold stroke of political genius – quite a widely held view at the time – I thought it had been a disaster that was bound […]

    Read more →