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 The Living Wage has to be more than a photo op

    The Living Wage has to be more than a photo op

    The referendum on Scottish independence casts its shadow over every aspect of Scottish public life these days. This is understandable, the debate on whether Scotland should remain in Union with partners in England, Northern Ireland and Wales is a huge one, but the way it pervades every matter at Holyrood is doing a disservice to the people of Scotland. Yesterday I led a debate on behalf on Scottish Labour in support of the living wage, and specifically on extending it […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Who made my clothes?

    Who made my clothes?

    By Stella Creasy MP and Alison McGovern MP It’s been a long four years in opposition, and each year we’ve seen the country decline further for the lack of a Labour Government. But whether speaking up about legal loan sharks, the misuse of zero hours contracts or promoting the economic case for the living wage, we both believe that there are campaigns worth fighting, even if, from opposition, progress is many times harder, and very much slower. That’s why we […]

    Read more →
  • Featured 5 things Labour’s new rapid-rebuttal team need to get right

    5 things Labour’s new rapid-rebuttal team need to get right

    Yesterday’s story of a new Labour media management team, seemingly in the mould of Alastair Campbell’s famously effective rapid-response unit, and headed by Michael Dugher, should be welcome news to us all. A well-run operation can make a huge difference, and in an election as close as 2015 looks set to be, that difference could be Miliband or Cameron in Number 10. But for it to be truly helpful, it needs to get some things right. 1. Be rapid This may sound […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Should politicians do God?

    Should politicians do God?

    Easter is traditionally a time when Christians reflect on their faith, and there is no reason why politicians shouldn’t do so too. But this year David Cameron forsook his usual Easter message for a much stronger and more personal foray into the religious arena. He urged Britain to be more confident of its status as a Christian country; he spoke of the strength of his own faith; he said that we should be “frankly more evangelical about the faith that […]

    Read more →
  • News Iraq Inquiry report possibly delayed until after election

    Iraq Inquiry report possibly delayed until after election

    We reported recently that the Chilcot Report is now not due to be published until 2015, causing worries among Labour strategists that it could harm the Party’s chances at the general election. However, according to the Mail today, its release date could now be held back until after polling day next year. The article states: “Whitehall sources suggest that with an election due in May 2015, it will be deemed too politically difficult to publish it until after voters have […]

    Read more →