Leery about Leveson
Thursday, November 29, 2012
It's too soon to react properly to the Leveson Report, as has been graphically illustrated by the meanderings of people trying to do so on TV in the past hour. Two thousand pages of judicial prose are hard to digest. He has played a canny political game. By declaring he will take no further part in the debate to come he has cleverly ensured his reputation for posterity. Any bad things that happen in his wake will be the fault of others. As he said, the ball is back in the politicians' court.
As he was only asked to review the dying, if not yet quite dead, duck of the mainstream media, the main effect of his efforts will be to widen the already hilarious gap between what newspapers publish and what is available on the internet. That will weaken the credibility of the print media, and its demise will be accelerated in consequence. That worries me. The idea that the only professional news-gatherers in the world of journalism will be those in the broadcast media is a dire prospect. Newsnight, anyone?
The BBC is already the most influential news medium in Britain. If its undue influence is further bolstered, then let's at least drop the myth of its impartiality. Let it be set free to be openly the Pravda of British broadcasting and let Murdoch launch Fox News UK. Let a hundred schools of thought contend and let the public be the judge.
The idea that a press Code should be enforced by a regulator independent of both the industry and the state sounds great, but OfCom - the body Leveson suggests should "validate" the regulatory regime is a state agency staffed by well-paid and self-interested bureaucrats. People will angle for such jobs and obtaining the favour of politicians will be far more relevant to them than that of editors. Corruption will creep in, as it must in all bodies funded by force. The "great and the good" will dominate. If OfCom has any scope to "de-validate" the regulator or veto individual appointments to its review panel, directly or indirectly, then it will pretty soon be pulling strings behind the scenes. In a very British way, of course - with a nod and a wink over a G&T.
My only immediate criticism of the specifics of Leveson's report is that I am alarmed by his idea of what might be a meaningful incentive to newspaper owners to sign up for "voluntary" regulation. The only suggestion I have heard from him in this respect is for aggravated or punitive damages in libel cases where the relevant publication had not submitted to the Code. That's a frighteningly subtle suggestion. After all, most of us will be outside the Code. I heard someone from the Huffington Post (I think) on Sky News express total confidence that blogging is safe from all this, because internet publication is, or can be, extra-territorial (like this blog, hosted in the US and protected by the First Amendment). But our defamation law has extra-territorial reach, as witness those men of power who visit our courts specifically to use it to silence their critics. Guido Fawkes' blog is offshore but Paul Staines can be sued for libel in England so long as it can be read here. Foreign courts (including those in the US) will enforce any judgements against him under international treaties, without question.
If aggravated damages for libel by "outlaw" publications become the norm, can anyone seriously imagine that the social media will long remain aloof? Guido's readership, after all, is already far greater than that of all the political journals in Britain combined. It's likely to grow far more as the chilling effect of the new code takes effect. Indeed, I suspect he will be the only real winner from Leveson as fear of big fines further emblandens the mainstream press and as politicians obliged to disclose their every contact with journalists turn to him (as some already do) to publish the leaks and smears that are the tools of their revolting trade.
How politicians act on Leveson's recommendations, given that he has trodden such a delicate political line, is now far more important than the detail of his report. We must be alert to their games. Leveson hasn't killed free speech in Britain, but that's not to say they won't use his magnum opus as cover to do so.
Even were he naively optimistic and only trying to help, it's people like Bell and his CP who are the wolves waiting in the shadows.
Posted by: james higham | Wednesday, December 05, 2012 at 11:17 AM
Why do the Government have to be involved with regulating the press? What business is it of the state, I know it would _like_ to make _everything) it’s business, legitimate or not and there is the obvious reason of wanting to control what the press says and the citizen thinks.
That all states seem to want to do, obviously UK politicians can't be quite as open as the Chinese or North Vietnamese states... yet.
Also they can't just _kill_ whistle blowers like has happened to some .. er former soviet block whistle blowers.
I do think there should be something to hold back the worst the British press seem to do to sell papers, after all they aren’t _just_ selfless defenders of free speech. Like seems to have happened to the McCanns when what looked like corrupt incompetent police fed the press a line to get them off _their_ back.
But I am thinking who do I trust less than the press? Well politicians maybe? Would you really fall for “trust me with your free speech, I am a politician, I’ll look after it for you…. Oh look.. Pretty… Shiney ”
Wouldn’t it work just as well if the press (any organisation over a set size or income) were to form an association and have to sign up to a contract? Pay membership? Then couldn’t contract law provide penalties. Maybe with an independent arm to investigate abuses and with financial help at law for ordinary people who can’t afford to sue a big news organisation?
But wasn’t lots of what people complained about members of the press breaking actual laws that already exist and a newspaper has been closed down and people are being charged and tried. You don’t need new laws for that obviously the old ones were fine for most of it… worked in the end, they just needed to actually be acted on by those who’s jobs it is, instead of ignored.
Antisthenes is seeing the bread and circuses and western democracy’s “sell by” date and it worries me I can’t show he is wrong.
Posted by: Moggsy | Monday, December 03, 2012 at 03:22 PM
"fear of big fines further emblandens the mainstream press"
I like the new word.
"The BBC an institution that was set up to be impartial and factual is now in fact not."
It's always been part of the state, loosely speaking, and has always peddled the establishment line, which, since its origins in the 1920s, has been in favour of a large, interventionist, if not outright socialist, state.
Posted by: Richard Carey | Sunday, December 02, 2012 at 02:09 AM
And now a petition from the "victims" of the press.
Yes, some were treated very badly-and so far as I know have received compensation.
It is one of the "difficulties" with freedom-the alternative has many more difficulties.
Posted by: MickC | Friday, November 30, 2012 at 06:54 PM
The main stream press is staffed with lazy, incompetent and corrupt people who more often than not dress up opinion as news. The BBC an institution that was set up to be impartial and factual is now in fact not. So a very good reason for statutory regulation? Indeed not we have got the press dead tree and digital that we deserve and we have got it because we have allowed the debauching of our democracy that we struggled for centuries to achieve and the devaluation of our standards and values. So incorporating in law regulation of the press would be just one more nail in the coffin of democracy and would do nothing to improve standards. We in the West with a few exceptions have passed our shelf life and our societies are at that point in the rise and fall cycle where they are due to collapse. Evidence of this can be seen in a number of ways as history tells us what to look for. We see it in inept leadership, breakdown of family units, lowering of standards and values, illiberal policies and practices coupled with increasing amounts of laws, regulations and state interference and of course large movements of peoples across our borders.
Posted by: Antisthenes | Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 04:37 PM