Papers that hate human rights – except when it's their rights

One of the more remarkable features of the “war on Leveson” waged by leading British papers has been their willingness to appeal to the European Convention on Human Rights. In the cases of several newspaper groups this is the most flagrant hypocrisy. They have consistently accused the Court of Human Rights of ignoring the will of a democratically elected parliament, but this is precisely what they want the court to do now in relation to the Leveson recommendations.

Newspapers have, on many occasions, argued that the judge’s proposals are in breach of their human rights. At least four legal opinions on this have been commissioned and though none has been published some have leaked. One, obtained from three QCs, concerned the compatibility of exemplary damages with Article 10. Then there was an opinion on “apologies” and related matters. Most recently, there was an opinion from Antony White QC which, according to the Times, said that the costs incentives for joining a new self-regulator were “arguably incompatible” with Articles 6 and 10 of the Convention on Human Rights.

It is difficult to assess the merits of these arguments without seeing the full opinions. In general, however, the notion that statutory involvement in the regulation of the press is incompatible with the European Convention is a bizarre one. Many convention member states (with better records on press freedom than the UK) have some form of statutory underpinning or regulation. But what is most surprising is that Europhobic papers, usually implacably opposed to human rights and demanding the renunciation of the convention, are relying on these arguments at all.

When the Leveson proposals were debated in the House of Lords on 25 March 2013, Lord Black of Brentwood argued that the proposals on exemplary damages were “almost certainly contrary to European law” and so would “collapse or be struck down”. Lord Black is executive director of the Telegraph Media Group. Telegraph newspapers have a very low opinion of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Daily Mail was another of the newspapers which commissioned the “human rights opinions”. It does not approve of the Convention. For example, it said it was “great day for British justice” when Theresa May said she wanted to withdraw Britain from the convention. Another commissioning group was News International. The hatred of its newspapers for the convention is too well known to need illustration.

The reasons for the antipathy of these newspapers towards human rights are no doubt complex. Some associate the Council of Europe with the hated EU.  Some blame the Convention for the development of a law of privacy in England. Some blame the Convention for the inability of the government to deport suspected terrorists to countries where they may face torture. But the rationale which is usually given, sincerely or otherwise, is a democratic one: human rights arguments allow judges to overcome the will of Parliament.

For example, in an editorial last year, the Daily Telegraph told its readers that “The human rights act … does not pass the test of popular legitimacy” and complained that Britain was “unable to maintain a ban on prisoner voting despite the will of Parliament”.  A few days ago, the Daily Mail published, and commented favourably on, an article by justice secretary, Christopher Grayling in which he complained that the Court of Human Rights “is demanding that countries including Britain override the will of their Parliaments, and make changes like giving votes to prisoners”.

If you endorse this line of argument there can be no doubt where you must stand in the Leveson debate. The will of Parliament in relation to regulation of the press is crystal clear. The amendments to the Crime and Courts Bill bringing in exemplary damages and costs incentives for joining a self-regulator were passed by the House of Commons by a majority of 530 to 13 on 18 March.

Yet it appears that, in this case, the Mail, the Telegraph, the Sun and all the other principled opponents of the tyranny of human rights are prepared to make an exception. So far as Leveson is concerned, they want the European Convention on Human Rights to trump the will of the UK Parliament. These papers can’t have it both ways: if they have human rights which can override the will of Parliament then so do prisoners and foreign criminals.

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David Henryreply
April 5, 2013 at 10:43 am

The hypocrisy of the any Human Rights papers has been incredible. However its not just the papers themselves. Many of the arrested and bailed News International journalists have publicly complained about their rights being infringed. It’s funny when you consider how have been happy to infringe others rights just to make a good story.

I think its more important that non EU citizens should be banned from owning any media in the UK and the Competition Commission should start enforcement of Significant Market Power (SMP) limits.

Evan Harrisreply
April 23, 2013 at 10:00 am
– In reply to: David Henry

Thanks David for your support.

You raise an importnat issue about media ownership, competition and plurality.

The Leveson Report did not go into this in great detail but it is important that something happens on this. There is interest from across society, including from our friends at the Media Reform Coalition ( and this will be a matter before the House during the Communications Bill or White Paper – which is expected soon.

Hacked Off will be working in this area.

Dr Evan Harris
Associate Director, Hacked Off

April 6, 2013 at 2:21 pm

This article is a bit of a concern because although it appears that its main thrust is that newspapers are false reporting, abusive, atrocious hypocrites ( which is well known and needed no extra article) it seems to relegate Human Rights law, article 10 in particular, to a feature in the dispute. Which God forbid. Hacked Off are far too ready to wade into that blunder. If you want to defeat the problem of criminally abusive newspapers claiming that the Human Right to Freedom of Speech is their supreme right and in the same punch, defeat the way they simultaneously relegate to history the fact that with that justly universal right they abuse the public and democracy, you must work more on how to use & develop Human Rights law to promote the smaller, honest individual publisher who contests the aggressive/abusive newspaper industry and its equivalent. Not on how to promote the aggressive individual who contents Parliament, since there is thankfully no extra need for that ( which – fingers crossed!- should humanely silence Guido Fawkes for five minutes). I include in that reference to ‘the newspaper industry and its equivalent’ the great oaf abusive blogger such as Guido Fawkes, and I remind the reader that he is not out there on his own where large packs of abusive bloggers are concerned. Protection for the genuine commenter/writer against abusive newspapers ( and abusive newspaper’s collaborators such as corrupt police and great oaf bloggers) should be paramount in Human Rights application. The fact of this deficit has been the cause of a great deal of British newspaper arrogance. If there has to be a “subclause” added to article 10 to protect the astute dissenter from the vested interests of a mob, so be it, surely. Why not? The ECHR can usually be persuaded to see historical reason.

Steve Jamesreply
August 28, 2013 at 12:40 am
– In reply to: Felicity

Felicity said…..

“Protection for the genuine commenter/writer against abusive newspapers ( and abusive newspaper’s collaborators such as corrupt police and great oaf bloggers) should be paramount in Human Rights application….”

So Felicity, whose going to decide who the “genuine commenter/writer” is?


Leveson: Papers that hate human rights – except when it’s their rights | Inforrm's Blogreply
April 7, 2013 at 5:03 pm

[…] post originally appeared on the Hacked Off blog and is reproduced with permission and […]

July 18, 2013 at 10:51 pm

Different standards for UK citizens and foreign criminals. Far left people like you are a problem though as well.

I’m ashamed that someone, who isn’t of the country, commits a serious crime, can’t be deported due to their “human rights.” This includes capital punishment. All because some scum think they’re so morally superior, put on a front for their peers, over the people who lost their loved ones (who are the REAL victims). The person who would be deported to Haiti or Jordan and may risk torture (which I would argue they should be deported to a country with torture) is NOT a victim.

I can only hope that “Human Rights” activist have someone that they hold dear taken and I can defend the “human rights” of the “oppressed victim of society (criminal is too classist because the trash only committed the crime due to racism, sexism, or poverty…never his or her fault)” and smile as these people get a taste of their own medicine.

But you’re right these people shouldn’t be listening to human rights courts with a double standard, they should be banning them completely, unless these human rights courts completely change their position. Human rights of course encompasses many things but this is too much, too far.

My heart goes out to those who lost someone precious and could not see justice due to some Human rights asshole.

October 3, 2014 at 9:47 pm
– In reply to: Sun

Human Rights are not person specific. Rather, they apply to all persons equally, and regardless of whether that person is a “foreign criminal” – or your self. Further, Human Rights is concerned exclusively with the relationship between State and individual – and not between criminal and victim. It is not a criminal court. Thus it does not consider matters of innocence or guilt. It’s sole task is to determine whether the State has conducted itself just and proportionately.

Human Rights does not state that a State cannot be deport a foreign criminal. Rather, that such deportation must be for fair and just reason – and that reason must be applied equally to all persons, regardless of innocence or guilt.

Few Human Rights are “absolute”. Rather, Human Rights judgements are about ‘drawing lines’ in the sand – identifying where the boundaries lie between the actions of a State / Public Body, and the individual . Each case considered by the European Court of HR considers a wholly new and unique point; this point must have a Public Interest, and be of importance to the general public at large (and not just foreign criminals’). Regrettably, it is often the ‘high profile’ cases concerning ‘foreign criminals’ or terrorists that seem to attract the attention of the popular press. However, it is not the job of the Human Right court to consider the guilt or innocence of the individual. Indeed, we already have criminal courts to punish the criminals. We don’t need another. The Human Rights court is there for a different purpose.–

‘Human Rights’ safeguards far more than is generally reported. Such safeguards include our own day to day liberties which we so readily take for granted – including our own right to liberty, our right to privacy from unreasonable state interferences – which includes everything from choice of health care or education – to our freedom to protest and speak our minds – to not having our telephones tapped without our consent …). These rights and freedoms are not absolute; these freedoms – which we think nothing of – are at risk of being eroded. Are you willing to allow your telephone to be tapped at will be a faceless government body – so that ‘maybe’ they can catch a ‘foreign criminal’?

Where would you draw the line between your freedom to make private telephone calls without interference, and the States desire to freely tap telephones in order to identify potential ‘troublemakers’ / ‘terrorists’? Are you right? And if I disagree with you? – do I have a say? – after all – I am neither foreign nor criminal nor an asshole! What if we disagree?

It seems we are at risk of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Are we really so naive and ill-informed that we would throw away our own rights and freedoms as safeguarded by the Human Rights legislation simply for the privilege of denying “foreign criminals” those same rights which we ourselves might one day wish to rely upon?

Of course, a guilty man should not go unpunished. But two wrongs do not make a right. Human Rights demands that we conduct ourselves as the civilised society we claim to be; otherwise, we are little better than those you judge.

It is a grim day when we deem ourselves to be above treating all people as equals in the eye of the law – and regardless of guilt or innocence. Further, when we fail to understand that these law applies equally to ourselves.

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