An ugly stitch-up is taking place

Posted: December 5, 2012 at 4:59 pm

by Brian Cathcart

A poll for the Sunday Times last weekend asked people whether they thought David Cameron was opposing ‘new laws’ to underpin press regulation (a) as a matter of principle or (b) because ‘he does not wish to jeopardise his relationship with newspaper owners and editors’.

Unsurprisingly, 56 per cent chose the second option, against 24 per cent for the first – and equally unsurprisingly the Sunday Times did not find room in the paper to inform its readers of this fact.

Yesterday David Cameron continued to nurture his warm relationship with those editors at a ‘good meeting’ in number 10. There was talk afterwards of him being firm with them – that was certainly his posture for the cameras – and they came out saying how determined they are to set up a new, independent, tough regulator. They’ll report back within days.

This was not just a disgraceful spectacle. It is also a stitch-up in which – as on six previous occasions over 70 years – the British public will be the losers.

It is disgraceful because these editors and proprietors (with but a few honourable exceptions) are guilty parties. They stand convicted by Lord Justice Leveson of fostering and sustaining a culture of recklessness, of wholesale disregard for ethical standards, of violation of human rights, of casual disregard for accuracy, of wilful and self-serving mismanagement, of deafness to complaint and of ‘wreaking havoc’ in the lives of blameless, ordinary people.

The prime minister ought to have said he would not see them until they had apologised to the public, prominently, in print and online for all of this. This was the very least, he should have told them, that they owed to the British public. For remember, these are the same editors who, if such failings happened in any other walk of life, would be demanding that heads roll and surviving executives grovel. In their own case, it seems, they aren’t punished but rewarded with morning coffee in Downing Street.

Shameless and shocking as this is, the stitch-up is more important.

Mr Cameron, who is on record beyond all doubt as a bosom friend to News International, the chief offender, has not only handed over to these editors the sole responsibility for designing a new self-regulator, but he has stripped out the one and only element of the Leveson Report that would protect the public from them and their successors in future.

Bear in mind the judge had already been remarkably kind to them. His report does not recommend that they be compelled to join the new self-regulator: instead it uses carrots and sticks. So it’s voluntary, and their ludicrous squealing about ‘licensing‘ is silenced.

His report does not suggest a statutory right of reply for readers, which is the norm in the European Union.

So the papers got off extremely lightly. But we should never underestimate their greed. So far as they are concerned, nothing could be light enough.

Their new, voluntary self-regulator must be free from even the light-touch external inspection that Lord Justice Leveson proposes, and Cameron is determined to give them that as well. Because of a ‘principle’ he seems to have dreamt up while shaving last Thursday morning, he doesn’t feel it is right to legislate to protect the public.

So they will be spared the proposed three-yearly inspections by an independent body supported by law – inspections which are ‘essential’, as the judge put it, to ensure that their new regulator does not quickly slip into the disgraceful uselessness of the old Press Complaints Commission.

So sit back and watch as, for the seventh time in 70 years, the guilty men (and they are still almost all men) define the terms of their own regulation without any engagement with or role for the ordinary journalists represented by the National Union of Journalists, without engaging directly with any of the victims of their past cruelty and wrongdoing, and without any public consultation.

To whom are they answerable in all this? Only to David Cameron, the man who swapped intimate texts with Rebekah Brooks and gave a job to Andy Coulson. The man who claims to believe he believes it is wrong for politicians to have even the slightest role in regulating the press.

Before the Leveson Inquiry began I wrote that the hacking scandal made Britain look like Berlusconi’s Italy, albeit without the prostitutes. I never thought that at the end of the process it would look even more like that, but it does.

If you, like me, are angry about this, please sign the Hacked Off petition.

Brian Cathcart is director of Hacked Off. He tweets at @BrianCathcart.

9 comments

  1. DAVID BALDWIN - reply

    MAYBE – Cameron COULD BE – note COULD BE giving the newspapers all opportunities so if they fail again he can justify using the AXE
    You have a very important upcoming element that is the release of the Christmas single by Hillsborough
    You have J K Rowling saying ” David Cameron left her duped and angry ”
    You have won
    Dont forget that if Cameron allows the newspapers to proceed without law underpinning and there are more incidents in the future ( and there will be ) – ANY further incident will reflect on him
    J K Rowling ended Cameron’s popularity and has opened up the door for a coalition between Lib Dems and Labour in future elections
    You have 100,000 signatures so you can enforce the MPs debate on a decision
    You have Labour and Lib Dems
    You have the ” planetary monster ( in the sense of greatness ) J K Rowling saying Cameron left her duped and angry
    You underestimate what you have accomplished
    My question is – what comes next?
    And I advise an Association with the Hillsborough people and some real creative marketing

    • Jenny peters - reply

      Well done your pm should be ashamed of himself. Sorry seems a hard word to say for u poms!

  2. Edward Davies - reply

    “Cameron COULD BE giving the newspapers all opportunities so if they fail again he can justify using the AXE…”?
    Yes, and Rebekah and Charlie Brooks gave him the idea!

  3. Pingback: Hate | Edinburgh Eye

  4. Twm - reply

    It’s a shame the Hacked Off campaign is so focussed on accepting Leveson lock, stock and barrel – and you repeat that plea at the end of this piece.
    The National Union of Journalists, while backing some form of statutory regulation, is also opposed to some of Brian Leveson’s recommendations and concerned about their potential impact on investigative journalism.
    By focussing on total acceptance of Leveson you are contributing to the polarisation of views around the issue of press regulation and Hacked Off’s stance is preventing those concerned from finding common ground.

  5. Graham - reply

    Cameron’s idea to let the press moguls design their own regulation system is like asking a group of burglars to design home security. Like most things he puts his name to, Cameron will regret this shallow and stupid attempt to get out of doing what the majority of the public (ie VOTERS) want done. Voted for him in 2010… a one-off for which I feel used.

  6. Robert Reynolds - reply

    Prime Minister Cameron and Lord Justice Leveson committed themselves, we are informed, to the making of a Report “based firmly on the evidence”.

    Given the availability of legal expertise, the Prime Minister and the Judge knew, or ought to have known, that the privilege would fall to the Judge of deciding not just what was relevant in ‘the evidence’, but what would be ‘admitted as evidence’.

    From the words of Lord Justice Leveson, introducing his Executive Summary, the question is invited on the selection made even from ‘admitted evidence’, to reach “broad conclusions as to the narrative of events ‘sufficient to explain’ and justify… recommendations”.

    Given the likely relevance of our general culture in any scandal, as ‘permissive’ of the sub-cultures that in turn have permitted or compelled poor behaviour, difficulty was to be expected in ‘looking at ourselves’ to find a coherent analysis of context.

    Apparent difficulty was duly delivered, in the evidence of established philosophical academia; and the Judge might be forgiven his concentration first on “the narrative of events”, and then on recommendation within a narrowed context.

    Perhaps from presumptions of innocence, in the absence of collective confession, and faced with confusing evidence, Lord Justice Leveson has not addressed the possibility of collective or systemic fault in our society, leaving to parliament the challenge of defining and defending “the freedom of the press” and “the public interest”.

    Regrettably, echoing busy Commander Yates’ 2009 dismissal of ‘fifteen black bags’ of evidence on phone-hacking, the Inquiry Team somehow has failed to see ‘the message of extent’, and failed to publish ‘evidence’ of recognition amongst the public – ‘not immediately involved’ – of universalised material conflict of interest.

    Our ‘representatives’, embarrassed to the extent of their cognisance, are left as
    still prime victims (certainly not ‘representative’), to go perhaps ‘where a judge has feared to tread’, or – as likely as not – to decline or fudge the telling of ‘truth unto power’.

    Will the carpet be lifted and cleaned, or the press corner be carefully put back down? If the latter, another chance will have been missed for prevention. Though ‘scandals will out’, their impact – on individuals and economies and even on planet Earth – may make ‘a vibrant rumbustious sensationalist exploitative press’ but a poor consolation.

    For any with interest but not yet education, the logic of “the public interest” makes its definition “whatever is pursued in conscience in a free society”. It can in totality be ‘known’ only in abstract, for individuals its ups and downs – in fallible freedom – being experienced near-fully only in personal confidence as to universal equality of freedom, possible in turn only with understanding and agreement on income-share equality.

    Enduring shared freedom for pursuit of “the public interest with the personal”, is of course a pre-condition for viable meaningful democracy, sharply different from rule in unstable inequality, the rule of conscience replacing that by shifting mixes of fear and greed. To rely on ‘at times benign’ rules to be made, enforced and reported-on by ‘at times benign’ economic elites, is to gamble against ‘history’ repeating itself left unhindered.

    The case for equality is underlined by the absence of ‘the case for equality’, despite explicit communication, in the Lord Justice Leveson’s Inquiry Report. With such an omission, the claim of “conclusions based on objective appraisal of evidence, independence and political neutrality” is undermined.

    A provisional request for police investigation of the selection process for ‘evidence admission’ has yet to be acknowledged.

    • Ben Wren - reply

      Robert Reynolds – I’ve read and re-read your post, and I’m afraid I have no idea what you’re trying to say! From the elaborate obscurity of your language, I can only assume your response is in fact some kind of abstract poetry. I will ask my friend, an A-level English Lit teacher, to try and explain it to me. Or if that’s not the case, perhaps you could try making your point more straightforwardly?

  7. Mistletoe - reply

    Watching this Leveson inquiry quite closely I have made many observations as to how I think things are moving, I wouldn’t be so quick as to say there will be a collusion to cover up past mistakes of the press or politicians. I do think that they have a tough job to do in trying to reach an all round agreement to please different groups and campaigners, If there is collusion then it will be found out.
    My main concern is who they choose to define the rules, we don’t want anyone with any kind of influence to be part of this group ie ex journalists (or their associates) or any lawyers used by the aforementioned.

    We need a better press and when I say this I mean we need better material and less of the crap that we have been reading in past times, I don’t want to see news of celebs daily lives and dirt dishing which only benefits the editors and staff, if a celeb wants to have an affair or get drunk or sleep around, that is their personal business, it has no place in my life. Their behaviour sometimes just shows that they are as normal as…well…normal folk.

    All press are powerful and it is about time they used these tools wisely ie to educate and encourage and not to ill inform and stir up troubles or rehash the same old crap.

    Until we filter out all the corruption…… we will always be in the same position.

    What I find so annoying is how the press have been allowed to involve themselves in peoples private lives and make the business theirs and then splash it across the newspaper pages for financial gain. What an easy way to earn a living.

    I believe they are no better than drug dealers,pimps, and gambling promoters, could I include the descriptive terrorism?

    I think this is a fair evaluation.

    I also have to say, I don’t believe for one minute that Rupert Murdoch would have had any part in or encouraged the hacking scandals, he would never risk what he has for that, I think it was bad judgement within the journalists and they need to watch who they are using within their organisations.

    I’m watching……..

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