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.

To report anything from the comment section, please e-mail [email protected]
  • 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 Featured Owen Smith: Three leadership hustings is not enough – let’s have one in every UK region

    Owen Smith: Three leadership hustings is not enough – let’s have one in every UK region

    Owen Smith has today written to Jeremy Corbyn asking him to back a plan to hold “at least one” leadership hustings in each UK region.   Dear Jeremy, In less than two months’ time, Labour Party members and supporters will be casting their votes for who should be the next Leader of our Party. It’s the most important decision our Party will have taken in a generation and will define our future as an effective opposition and party of government.   I […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News McDonnell in dramatic TV plea to warring factions to “stop this now”

    McDonnell in dramatic TV plea to warring factions to “stop this now”

    John McDonnell today claimed a small group of people are willing to “destroy” Labour simply to remove Jeremy Corbyn and made a dramatic appeal direct to MPs and members to bring an end to the in-fighting. The shadow Chancellor sounded emotional as he demanded “stop this now” as the Labour leadership faced questions over allegations one of their staff had made an “unauthorised” entry into the office of a former shadow Cabinet minister. McDonnell, who was appearing on the Andrew Marr […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Seema Malhotra accuses Corbyn aide over office entry

    Seema Malhotra accuses Corbyn aide over office entry

    A former shadow Cabinet minister has accused aides to Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell of violating her security by making an “unauthorised” entry into her office. Seema Malhotra has demanded Commons officials launch an investigation after accusing the leader’s staff of effectively breaking into her office and claimed her own researchers had suffered “harassment”. Malhotra, who resigned as shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury last month, has written to John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, saying the entry undermined the […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Corbyn condemns abuse as 40 female MPs demand action over “disgusting” incidents

    Corbyn condemns abuse as 40 female MPs demand action over “disgusting” incidents

    Jeremy Corbyn will today confront claims of abuse in the Labour Party as he uses a series of events around Britain to appeal to left-wing voters to help him retain the leadership and deliver a “social movement”. Corbyn, who has faced claims that he has done too little to tackle personal abuse in the party, will repeat his condemnation of harassment and threats after more than 40 female Labour MPs wrote to him demanding he take action to tackle an “extremely worrying […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Europe The EU referendum showed that UKIP is now the biggest threat to Labour

    The EU referendum showed that UKIP is now the biggest threat to Labour

    For a long time now commentators and Labour figures have regularly remarked on the growing cultural and political distance between the Labour Party and the core Labour vote, particularly outside London. This fact was clearly demonstrated in the EU referendum, where Labour heartlands overwhelmingly rejected Labour’s stance on EU membership and all things associated with it.  This should serve as an immediate and urgent wake up call to the Labour Party. During the referendum campaign I served as General Secretary of […]

    Read more →
x

LabourList Daily Email

Everything Labour. Every weekday morning

Share with your friends










Submit