Who's independent?

Posted: December 3, 2012 at 3:42 pm

by Brian Cathcart

The national papers are desperately scratching around for the names of people who might be regarded as sufficiently independent to serve on their new regulator. Let’s give them some help.

First, editors and proprietors are anything but independent. They are not only wholly partisan, but most of them are tainted by their longtime advocacy of the discredited Press Complaints Commission and by their record of, as the Leveson report puts it, ‘wreaking havoc in the lives of ordinary people’. So the less they have to do with setting up an independent regulatory body that is supposed to put the interests of the public before those of the industry, the better.

Second, Lords Hunt and Black are not independent. They are both tainted by their advocacy of a plan for press self-regulation which was rejected as insufficient by victims of press abuses, and fell far short of what was required by Lord Justice Leveson. They promised something independent and offered another thinly-veiled figleaf for editorial whim. Their lordships both also happen to be active politicians, taking a party whip in the House of Lords, which is hardly a very independent thing to be.

Third, anyone suggested by these people is by definition not independent. It is simply not appropriate that editors, proprietors and their associates should lead the discussion about appointing independent regulators. Not just because of their record, but because they are among many stakeholders in the future of the press.

What about serving journalists? The NUJ should have a role. What about the public? What about the people who have suffered press abuses, who have campaigned on this for no other reason than that they want to prevent others experiencing the treatment they have endured?

And that only gets us half way. When the Paul Dacres, Dominic Mohans, Hugh Whittows, John Witherows and others have had their say, who will check that they have come up with something credible?

Will it be the Culture Secretary or the Prime Minister? Surely not. That would be direct political interference in the press, and nobody wants that. Will it be some other bunch of people hand-picked by the editors and proprietors? Never. That smacks just too much of the old PCC.

It’s all a bit complicated and difficult. So complicated and difficult, in fact, that it might be an idea to hand the problem over to a judge and see what he thinks. A judge like Sir Brian Leveson perhaps.

9 comments

  1. Chris - reply

    As I said in response to a previous post: http://hackinginquiry.org/debunking/the-question-that-stumps-the-free-speech-network/ (reply number 6) There surely must be a role for academics. I had this debate with a Conservative councillor on Twitter but the problem with raising it – when one is a media/journalism academic – is that it’s immediately written off as self interest. Not written off because we/they lack the necessary expertise, after all, many of us have devoted years to media scrutiny, but because, as the councillor Tweeted to me “looking for another paid gig at the taxpayers expense” But I mean it, surely academics in media, cultural studies, journalism, sociology etc should have some role to play. We can draw up a rigorous set of principles and/or a methodology, it is what we do for crying out loud. Finally, before the inevitable “self interest” meme develops. I do not mean me, the kind of thing required is not my area of expertise (broadcast current affairs journalism) but there are plenty of media academics out there….but we remain on the edges, and not included in the debate.

  2. David - reply

    Buckingham Palace as just announced Duchess of Cambridge is pregnant. Lets hope the newspapers respect their privacy, and don’t do what they did to the late Lady Diana Spencer.

  3. Derek Hipkins - reply

    Agreed, Lord Leveson or someone of his ilk

  4. Derek Hipkins - reply

    Agreed, suggest Lord Leveson or someone of his repute

  5. Dr. Rupert Weir - reply

    I’d like to volunteer! It should be composed entirely of volunteers. If people are proposed by others, one has to question the motives of those proposing?

    I am entirely independent, with no political or newspaper connections, now or at any time in the past. It is complex, but must be done as a matter of urgency.

  6. Josquine - reply

    How about Lord Leveson?

  7. Tim Costello - reply

    A single person is not appropriate as an appointor, if that person also compiles a shortlist. Indeed, a panel compiled from A listers on the usual buggin’s turn principle is unattractive. The posts should be advertised and a choice made from amongst the applicants perhaps by the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

  8. Dr. Rupert Weir - reply

    Why did you not allow my comment yesterday? Rather shot yourselves in the foot don’t you think? Yours, “Hacked Off.”

  9. RL Willott - reply

    Josquine’s suggestion of LJ Leveson is first class, but who should be appointed with him? I cannot believe that there are not thousands with the relevant impartial qualifications. Barristers, retired police (they can’t all be tarnished with same newspaper brush), Trade Union representatives, retired services officers. Advertise and see what happens.

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