When journalists are smeared it’s politicians who win

Posted: February 27, 2015 in Uncategorized
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Picture this, the editor of a left-wing publication is dragged before a bench of politicians, having upset his government. He is asked: “Do you love this country?”

This is not a committee on un-American activities in the 1950s. This is Westminster interrogating Alan Rusbridger of The Guardian little more than a year ago.

Alan Rusbridger (Photo via www.flickr.com/photos/internaz)

Alan Rusbridger (Photo via http://www.flickr.com/photos/internaz)

To his credit, Mr Rusbridger’s (evidently exasperated) reply was to tell the prosecutorial panel that what he loved in his country was its free press, but it often appears that this is not something the nation itself values.

As if to illustrate the point, comic John Cleese compared journalists to murderers at a public meeting, but the only person called a cretin by those present was the hack who shared the remark on Twitter.

Ordered first to stand up, then to sit down and shut up, the beleaguered reporter was at a gathering held by Hacked Off, a pressure group campaigning for state regulation of the press.

Of the emails I got from this group before becoming disillusioned with it, precisely none called for action against the police over phone hacking, despite reports of officers knowingly failing to act on it and selling stories for profit.

Nor do I recall any politicians being arrested amid the Leveson hysteria, despite one of those convicted being on the staff of the Prime Minister.

When it comes to the media though, Hacked Off is tireless, never forgetting to mention the hacking scandal; a failing of the few used to justify unprecedented regulation for the many.

We are constantly reminded of the value of a free press. This past week alone has offered the example of the cash-for-access scandal, while even phone-hacking itself was first unearthed by The Guardian.

Still, as a nation we are scornful of journalists, especially since 2011. For the politicians, this is a blessing.

It’s telling that the one thing our squabbling MPs can agree on is the Royal Charter, cooked up by themselves, setting out the rules for any future press regulator.

Waved through by all parties in the small hours of the morning (and definitely not over pizza with Hacked Off) this charter means exemplary court damages for titles refusing regulation whilst making them liable, even in victory, for their accuser’s legal costs.

Had any publication gone along with it, this charter could have ended centuries of press freedom. Not that the Prime Minister was slow to encourage the sceptical media to bow to it, warning of “hideous” regulation should they not.

Of course, nothing in the charter was necessary to prevent horrors like phone hacking anyway. The acts which outraged us all are illegal and were at the time; they needed only to be punished.

Instead we are now faced with a government-approved system which chastises naughty and nice alike.

Pushed as a way to reign in tawdry tabloids, the charter actually puts the honest majority at risk, including the regional press, community-run newspapers, blogs, charities and magazines like Private Eye.

Sadder still, it does so with public approval.


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