The Mail's way with words

Posted: October 11, 2012 at 9:56 am

by Brian Cathcart

The Daily Mail wants you to ask yourself why Lord Justice Leveson is not reopening his media ethics and standards inquiry to deal with the BBC’s role in the Jimmy Savile scandal.

By all means ask yourself that, but please don’t dwell on it, because the answer is simple. Lord Justice Leveson’s terms of reference, written for him by the government, state clearly in the very first sentence that he should inquire into ‘the culture, practices and ethics of the press’.

It’s not his job to scrutinize the BBC, any more than it is the job of the Daily Mail to deliver milk to our doorsteps.

It is curious that the Mail, which kept a team of uncompromising lawyers at the inquiry every day partly to ensure that the judge didn’t stray one inch from his remit, should now want him to tear it up. And the paper isn’t just asking him to do it; it is implying that he is a hypocrite if he doesn’t.

To justify this nonsense the Mail wilfully misrepresents the text of the terms of reference. The editorial says: ‘The remit of Leveson was to investigate the media’s “ethics and standards”.’ No, not the media, the press.

This is a characteristic use by a paper of the argument of convenience. One day it is an outrage if the judge departs from his remit and the next day it’s hypocrisy if he doesn’t. One week it is a matter of high principle that what is on the internet (e.g. Harry pictures) should be available in newspapers and the next week it is an outrage if that happens (e.g. Kate pictures). Today it is absolutely vital that the BBC’s conduct over Savile is scrutinised independently, yet on every other day it would be an outrage if the conduct of the press, no matter how bad, was scrutinised independently.

The moral, as ever, is that we need an independent body – independent of both the editors and the government – that applies a clear code of practice consistently and rigorously to the papers and has the teeth to make them comply.

Would that reduce the freedom of the press? Well it is surely relevant that it was television journalists who were free to break the Savile story – ITV journalists who are subject to independent regulation by Ofcom, underpinned by a statute.

Brian Cathcart is director of Hacked Off. He tweets at @BrianCathcart.
Photo from Alex Muller.

5 comments

  1. Dominic Ponsford - reply

    It depends how you define ‘press’. My dictionary defines it as those who work in the news media. At Press Gazette we cover all journalists wherever they work and use the word “press” as a catch-all. Press cards are carried by broadcasters, as well as those who work in the print media and elsewhere. Press conferences are open to all journalists. Press officers don’t just deal with inquiries from the printed media. So I think the word “press” as applied in the Leveson terms of reference is at least open to interpretation.

  2. Ian Morris - reply

    Great article… Shame it won’t be read by enough people though as the ‘press’ would never carry such a confirmation of the hypocrisy of their ways.
    The Daily Mail must be one of the most poisonous, nasty, dishonest, dispicable papers in the world. Shame on them for their actions

  3. Steve Lowe - reply

    ‘It’s not his job to scrutinize the BBC, any more than it is the job of the Daily Mail to deliver milk to our doorsteps.’

    Many would suggest that it’s not the job of clapped out old hacks to live off the public expense as ‘media intellecuals’. I didn’t even realise that Kingston had a uni-ver-citee until reading this.

  4. rob - reply

    Isn’t it Ironic that the press (and more especially The Mail group) call for a full investigation into the BBC on Savile but are unhappy for full disclosure and analysis of the Operation Motorman Files. We could do with both.

  5. @AnonHypn0t1st - reply

    1. The BBC is the press too.
    2. This is proof of OMERTA in the BBC protecting their own. “It was 40 years ago and the girls weren’t that old” that type of spin of a story is what the media do.

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