Brian Cathcart is a co-founder of Hacked Off, the campaign for free and accountable media, and professor of journalism at Kingston University London. He was a journalist for Reuters, the Independent, the Independent on Sunday (where he was deputy editor) and the News Statesman (assistant editor), and is the author of seven books, including the award-winning The Case of Stephen Lawrence (Viking, 1999) and recently Everybody's Hacked Off (Penguin, 2012). His engagement with Hacked Off, of which he was one of the founders, has its roots in his journalism teaching and also in his work as a media columnist for the New Statesman, when he wrote about the Madeleine McCann affair. In 2008-10 he was specialist adviser to the House of Commons select committee on culture, media and sport for its inquiry into press standards and phone hacking. He gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry and to other parliamentary inquiries and has written, spoken and broadcast on many occasions on press regulation and related matters.
How good is your memory? Does it stretch back to 2013? Or perhaps 2011? Right now, David Cameron is hoping it doesn't. In those years he made a lot of promises that are no longer convenient for him, so he would prefer you forgot them.
How do we know when is press regulation good enough? The question is topical because IPSO, the self-regulator established by the big corporate newspapers, has been trying lately to persuade us it can be trusted to do its job.
The big corporate papers are encouraging the idea that the result of the general election means the end of the Leveson process. Although this claim is hardly surprising given their wild-eyed desperation to avoid any form of meaningful accountability, it is wrong. Here are five reasons to be confident that independent, effective press self-regulation along the lines recommended by the Leveson Inquiry is on its way.
MYTH 5. The CPS is engaged in a witch-hunt against journalists.
<strong>The facts</strong>. Normal procedures were followed and those procedures are designed to protect defendants from unfair prosecution. The CPS, an independent body, followed published guidelines in deciding that the evidence was sufficient to put before a jury.
It is no exaggeration to say that one of the most important choices we face on 7 May is between a freer, better press, fit for a modern democracy, and one that continues to be dragged down by corruption and dishonesty.
The coverage of Robin Williams's death in UK national newspapers reveals not only that some editors treat their own industry Code of Practice with contempt - there is nothing new about that - but also that they seem unable to learn responsible practice no matter how often they are told and no matter what is at stake. No British editor can claim to be unaware that human lives are at risk here. Again and again in the past decade they have been told by leading charities and campaigns in this field, including the Samaritans and MIND, that suicides can prompt copycat events and that the suicide of a celebrity is especially likely to do this.
Now the hacking trial verdicts have confirmed that the country's biggest newspaper company suffered a catastrophic collapse in standards, the question must be: has Rupert Murdoch done what is necessary to ensure it won't happen again? And the answer is no, he has not. In fact Murdoch has done the reverse. He has joined a conspiracy with other press bosses to prevent the changes that were demanded by the Leveson Inquiry - changes endorsed by all parties in Parliament, by victims of press abuse and by the public.
It's not an oversight or an accident that the PCC fails to spell out to the public which newspapers attract the most complaints and which papers breach the code most often. Look at this table of complaints about UK national daily and Sunday newspapers for 2013, compiled by Hacked Off from the PCC Monthly Complaint Summaries, and you will soon get an idea of who benefits if the public doesn't see these figures...
This country is now very close to settling a problem that has plagued it for generations. The problem was this: how to protect ordinary citizens from lying, bullying and unjustified intrusion carried out in the name of journalism, while at the same time ensuring that journalists were free to do the job they need to do to sustain our democracy. The solution is the Royal Charter on press self-regulation.
Deaf to everyone else and in denial about their own disgraceful record, the people who run Britain's biggest newspaper groups are forging ahead with their 'IPSO' scheme to regulate their affairs on their own terms. It can't be said often or plainly enough: hardly a soul outside their immediate circle agrees that this is the right way forward.
In 2009 newspapers were arguing to MPs that the existence of a no-win-no-fee system giving some ordinary people the ability to sue papers for breaching their rights was an unacceptable constraint on press freedom. The talk of 300 years of press freedom is not based on the facts but is an argument of convenience. Today these papers declare that the press has been free for centuries, but tomorrow, if it suits them, the same papers will insist with equal ardour that the press has never been free.
Much of the press has wildly misread the public mood on press reform. After a weekend of Leveson-bashing and breathless attacks on the Royal Charter agreed by parliament, a new poll conducted by YouGov for the Media Standards Trust and reported in the Guardian shows public backing for the judge's reform to be as strong as ever.
Parliament's Royal Charter, which implements the Leveson recommendations and is endorsed by all parties in Parliament, will benefit everyone and will enhance freedom of expression. These are the top 20 benefits. One: If a news publisher has harmed you in a way that breaches the industry standards code, for example by getting facts wrong or intruding unjustifiably in private grief, you can take your complaint to a new, genuinely independent and impartial complaints service - free.
Editors, we hear, are filing one by one through the door of Downing Street, bending the prime minister's ear about royal charters and press regulators. You must do something, they warn him, or there will be an impasse, a stalemate. They are wrong. There is no impasse; there is a process.
Lord Justice Leveson foresaw that some editors and proprietors would stubbornly resist change and he made provision for this.
We are asked to believe that while the poor newspapers have been hounded over phone hacking, 'blue-chip companies' of all sorts are getting clean away with paying private investigators to break the law on a vast scale. What is striking about this claim is not the fragmentary evidence on which it is based nor the way it has been overblown in the newspapers (and we will return to those matters soon), but the breathtaking hypocrisy of it all.
The country simply does not trust the press to handle complaints fairly or uphold journalistic standards effectively, without the independent checks proposed by Lord Justice Leveson. It wants to see, at the very least, a future press self-regulator undergoing regular inspections by an external body to ensure it meets basic standards of independence and effectiveness.
Our choice is plain. Do we have the latest model, cosmetically-altered self-regulator designed to serve the interests of the industry that owns it, or do we have a truly independent body that meets standards proposed by an exhaustive public inquiry and protects citizens from abuse while also protecting free speech?
It is an ugly spectacle: a Cabinet minister being pushed around in public by a powerful and unscrupulous vested interest. But that seems to be what is happening to Maria Miller, and she is not putting up much of a fight. This week she announced that she would give precedence to the wishes of PressBoF, an organisation of newspaper bosses roundly condemned in the Leveson Report, over the wishes of every single party in our elected Parliament, as expressed in a formal motion on 18 March.
We have a Royal Charter that has been approved by every single party in Parliament. It is backed by the mass of public opinion. And it is based on the recommendations of a year-long, judge-led public inquiry of remarkable thoroughness. And now the people who run some of our big newspaper corporations - an industry condemned by that inquiry for 'wreaking havoc in the lives of innocent people' - say they have made a concession towards it.
The Royal Charter on the press that was approved by all parties in Parliament on 18 March will benefit the public in many ways. The Charter, which is based on the recommendations of the year-long Leveson Inquiry and has the support of many victims of press abuses, creates a framework for press self-regulation that meets basic regulatory standards.
30/04/2013 17:21 BST
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