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

  • News Burnham asks Government to release A&E figures

    Burnham asks Government to release A&E figures

    Andy Burnham, Shadow Health Secretary is asking Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to release data that will allow the public to see how A&E departments cope over the Christmas and New Year period. This comes after news that from this Friday NHS England will stop publishing weekly performance figures for three weeks (although they can still be obtained from hospital trusts). The data usually published includes the number of patients attending A&E departments, the numbers waiting too long to be seen; […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Goodwill to all – in all the ways we can

    Goodwill to all – in all the ways we can

    Tis the season… I was really pleased to go to the launch of LabourList’s new pamphlet written by an inspiring group of candidates. Having read it, I feel the future is in good hands. I have hope – something I have been struggling with lately. I strongly recommend you all read it. At the launch event, one of the speakers – forgive me I can’t remember who – said something that seems so obvious and uncontroversial I was surprised at what […]

    Read more →
  • Featured The campaign victories of 2014

    The campaign victories of 2014

    As we start looking to the new year (or at least the bit before May), I thought it was time for a reminder of the campaign victories of 2014. It’s been a bleak year in a lot of ways: a housing crisis, more eye-watering cuts, the rise of UKIP and human rights atrocities abroad. But there have been significant wins too, none of which would have been possible without the hard work and determination of campaigners. Although Class is a […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Labour is the real party of the family

    Labour is the real party of the family

    It has been a pleasure to guest edit LabourList today on the hugely important issue of families. We’ve had fantastic contributions from a wide range of people. All of the pieces send a clear message: Labour is the real party of the family. We understand that many families are struggling under this government. We know they want to support and care for one another, and to build a better life, but they need a government that will back their efforts […]

    Read more →
  • Comment PMQs Verdict: Think of those who will have a distinctly un-Merry Christmas, thanks to Cameron

    PMQs Verdict: Think of those who will have a distinctly un-Merry Christmas, thanks to Cameron

    There’s a risk at Christmas time of going through the motions at work in the run up to Christmas. It’s dark and cold outside, and all you really want to be doing is sorting out the Christmas tree, finishing your shopping and eating mince pies. (Obviously that’s not the case at LabourList – and certainly not the reason why this PMQs verdict is arriving three hours after Cameron and Miliband sat down. Ahem…). There was an element of pre-Christmas about […]

    Read more →