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 Naushabah Khan: We feel pride in our country so let’s use this to tackle Labour’s “Englishness problem”

    Naushabah Khan: We feel pride in our country so let’s use this to tackle Labour’s “Englishness problem”

    The reality of last year’s general election is that Labour’s failure to secure a victory in an England, suffering at the hands of UKIP, ultimately resulted in our defeat. As a parliamentary candidate in Rochester and Strood, for both the general election and by-election, caused by the defection of Mark Reckless to UKIP, I am all too aware of the public mood, that considered us out of touch with their lives and values. Both elections also revealed fascinating notions of nationalism, belonging and identity politics that as a […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Rachel Reeves: Queen’s Speech showed the typical Tory failure on pensions and infrastructure

    Rachel Reeves: Queen’s Speech showed the typical Tory failure on pensions and infrastructure

    Yesterday in Parliament we voted on the Government’s programme of legislation for the year ahead, as set out in the Queen’s Speech. The background to yesterday’s debate about its economic measures is the critical decision our country faces about its relationship with Europe. The evidence I have heard as a member of the Treasury Select Committee has left me more convinced than ever that a vote to leave would scupper any hopes and well-laid plans we might make for our […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Corbyn puts campaigns at heart of Labour staff reshuffle

    Corbyn puts campaigns at heart of Labour staff reshuffle

    Jeremy Corbyn has carried out a shake-up of the way the Labour Party operates with a review of the party’s internal structure and a reshuffle of his backroom staff. As the leader approaches nine months in the job, Simon Fletcher, chief of staff, will move to a new role of Director of Campaigns and Planning. While some have seen this as readying the party for a possible post-referendum snap election, it is seen internally as filling a more long-term brief – covering areas such […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Featured News Corbyn and Miliband team up to warn of dangers of Brexit on climate change

    Corbyn and Miliband team up to warn of dangers of Brexit on climate change

    Jeremy Corbyn and Ed Miliband will hit the campaign trail together today as they champion the leadership the EU has shown on tackling climate change – and warn that a vote to leave would put recent progress “at risk”. It is the first public appearance that former leader Miliband has made with his successor, and comes in a week in which rumours circulated that Corbyn was trying to coax him back into the Shadow Cabinet. During last year’s leadership contest, Corbyn praised Miliband’s […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Europe Featured Chuka Umunna: Don’t take the polls for granted – we must defeat every argument from the desperate Leave campaign

    Chuka Umunna: Don’t take the polls for granted – we must defeat every argument from the desperate Leave campaign

    “Take Control” – that is the slogan of the faltering Vote Leave campaign.  I say “faltering” because they are by no means beaten. Any Labour supporter lulled by the current polls into thinking the Remain camp is on course to win need only cast their minds back to 10pm on Thursday 7 May 2015 – then, after a string of polls suggesting we were on the cusp of winning the last general election, we suffered a body blow and found […]

    Read more →
Share with your friends










Submit