The press ‘wreaked havoc in the lives of innocent people’. Are they sorry?

by Brian Cathcart

Look at the Sunday papers. A barrage of abuse about Lord Justice Leveson and all he proposes, more scaremongering about the shackling and stifling of journalism, and with these some political and occasionally personal attacks on the politicians who are supporting the judge. Is the press sorry? No.

Last Thursday, after more than a year of hearing and considering the evidence, Leveson concluded ‘beyond doubt‘ that the British press had repeatedly ignored its responsibilities and in doing so had ‘damaged the public interest, caused real hardship and, also on occasion, wreaked havoc in the lives of innocent people’.

You might expect humility. Imagine such a verdict on the police, on the big supermarkets, on hospitals or care homes, on members of parliament: what would the press be saying this Sunday? Would they be picking holes in the judge’s report? Would they be urging that the judge’s remedies be set aside? Would they be attacking the report’s advocates? Of course not.

When it comes to themselves and their vested interests, the editors and proprietors of most of our national papers know no shame. Watch them here, ducking and weaving before the Leveson inquiry.

No heads are rolling after Leveson’s verdict. There are no apologies. There is no soul-searching. Instead they just bitch, bully and complain.

And the complaints themselves are dishonest. The judge foresaw this as he laid out the basics of his plan for a new regulatory regime. Paragraph 73 of his executive summary said:

‘Despite what will be said about these recommendations by those who oppose them, this is not, and cannot be characterised as, statutory regulation of the press. What is proposed here is independent regulation of the press organised by the press, with a statutory verification process to ensure that the required levels of independence and effectiveness are met…’

The statutory ‘recognition body’ that he proposes (which could be but doesn’t have to be Ofcom) would have no direct relationship with the national press. Nor would it pass judgement on what appeared in the press in any way. Its sole function would be to ensure that the self-regulator established by the press was not another Press Complaints Commission but instead conformed to basic standards for an effective regulator.

It is to this modest proposal that David Cameron apparently has a principled objection. I say ‘apparently‘ because it is not clear where the objection sprang from. He did not articulate it when he set up the Leveson inquiry in July 2011, nor did he express it when he gave evidence under oath to the inquiry, nor did he mention it last month when he met a group of victims of press abuses including the Dowlers, Kate McCann, Christopher Jefferies and representatives of the Liverpool Hillsborough families.

If we are to believe the prime minister now, he set up an inquiry that ran for a year, cost perhaps £5m and induced dozens to relive their appalling experiences in public – without making clear that if it recommended meaningful change he would trash it.

What now? The prime minister about to do something very strange. Having taken a supposedly principled stand on excluding politicians from any influence over the press, he is off to meet all the editors to urge them to regulate themselves properly this time. Let’s hope he doesn’t try to use any influence over them, because of course that would be contrary to his principles. (You might think, on the other hand, that the influence in the relationship between the editors and the prime minister flows largely the other way.)

And whom is he meeting? Yes, those same editors who were found guilty by Leveson of damaging the public interest, causing hardship and wreaking havoc on the lives on innocent people. Against all the evidence of history, David Cameron wants us to believe that these disreputable people will now regulate themselves in the public interest. Of course they won’t.

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

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Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Sean Edwardsreply
December 2, 2012 at 2:25 pm

Are we seriously to believe that a High Court Judge would propose something this is or would be illegal as Shami Chakrabarti implies! Absolute Rubbish! As usual Shami Chakrabarti is courting personal publicity (she does so love being a talking head).whilst ignoring the real concerns of real people because she thinks that she knows better.

December 2, 2012 at 2:37 pm

God forbid they might be held to account when they do something wrong, like the broadcast media is.

I believe the public cares a damn sight more about this than these people would like to think, and their scaremongering and smearing is he manifestation of their intention to continue as before.

I am a member of the public who believes that nothing is worth placing limits on the ability of the press to hold those in power to account. I also believe that Leveson’s key recommendation presents no such risk.

December 2, 2012 at 3:03 pm

My husband ReginaldMcfall (same Email address} signed petition. I was prevented from signing in my own right because of the
shared E mail address Why?

December 2, 2012 at 3:21 pm

I tend to agree with Caroline. Too many editors and hacks have spent so long in the sewer of fleet street journalism that they just don’t notice the stench anymore. Apart from the gullible few and the lunatic fringe, Britain’s version of America’s tea party, most people would like to see a more serious, less sordid, accountable press. Then we may even start buying newspapers again.

Mister Socksreply
December 2, 2012 at 7:19 pm
– In reply to: Mark

Mark, you just don’t get it, do you? When you talk about ‘most people’, I assume you don’t mean the 15million or so who read the Sun every week? Your pompous view typifies the problem with Hacked Off: you hate ordinary working people and would dearly love to control what it is they read in the papers they choose to buy every day. Basically, you’re just snobs with a cause.

December 2, 2012 at 7:44 pm

The press are not scared of regulation, it’s accountability they’re worried about. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the UK has the press it deserves. If millions of people didn’t buy the very papers which so sickened them they would lose their power overnight.

December 2, 2012 at 9:09 pm

I agree with both these comments. In spite of the horrors which have been revealed over the past year or so, (and with the exception of the News of the World which really had no choice but to close and in any case has all but been replaced by the ‘Sun on Sunday’), as far as I am aware not a single journalist nor editor has been sanctioned in any way, nor seen fit to offer sincere apology for the damage they’ve caused. All they do is posture and scaremonger.

They have the breathtaking arrogance to peddle the myth that the public aren’t interested in this issue. How dare they? And David Cameron, whose political future (surprisingly enough) depends on the continued support of the predominantly Tory press, has the arrogance to assume we’ll all forget about it if enough time is allowed to pass and something else fills the print space.

We would all do well to remember that, given the wrong circumstances, any one of us could unexpectedly find ourselves victims of the media. How I feel for the Hillsborough families, for the Dowlers and the McCanns and so many others who never courted this kind of attention and who have conducted themselves with such courage and dignity. What agonies they must have gone through publicly reliving experiences we all count ourselves fortunate not to have had to face. Is it all to be for nothing, for the status quo? That would be the greatest injustice of all.

Richard Thomasreply
December 3, 2012 at 1:06 pm

Interesting isn’t it that Nick Clegg says implement Leveson and the Mail on Sunday finds a nasty and inaccurate smear against him and his wife in connection with a charity. Enough said really – legislate for Leveson’s findings in full.

Peter Robinsonreply
December 4, 2012 at 3:39 pm

Cameron and ‘principled’? An absolute contradiction in terms. As with most of our mealy mouthed politicians.

Let’s remember whose side he is firmly on! Sorry that he could not support Brooks more publicly I believe he texted! It is a joke that he has the gall to make any comment whatsoever. He and his mates like Hunt and Gove are so far up the bottoms of Murdoch et al that they smell of exactly the same ordure. Not that Blair etc were any better. We have a political class of little or no moral fibre. Will this change? Unlikely while we have a population that is happy to consume the garbage produced by our so called free press, and a veneer of a democracy.

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