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Max Mosley

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Why the Press Has Been Dishonest Over Leveson

Posted: 22/03/2013 23:00

The debate about Leveson and press regulation in the UK has been extraordinary. As the parliamentary vote approached, some tabloids were resurrecting the rhetoric of the darkest days of the second world war. Others were saying it was the end of 300 years of press freedom. This was not just nonsense, it was obvious nonsense. It's impossible to find a genuine threat to press freedom anywhere in the 2,000 pages of Lord Justice Leveson's report.

Most of the mainstream press were campaigning to stop a regulatory system backed by law. They were vehemently against any form of statutory 'underpinning'. Why? Because, as they explained in numerous articles and repeatedly on television, if the rules were law, parliament could amend them.

But hang on a minute - any Royal Charter can be amended at any moment by the Privy Council, in other words by the government of the day. No debate is needed, just a ministerial decision. So the press were worried by the possibility of an amendment in parliament in the full glare of democratic procedure but were happy to allow the government to amend the press rules at will without discussion.

Anyone could see the tabloids were either being blindingly stupid or there was something sinister behind this. It was soon obvious that they wanted the government to have the power to amend the charter without parliamentary scrutiny because they were confident that once things had calmed down, they could exert their power over government in exactly the same way as they had for the last 60 years. They would quietly instruct ministers to amend the charter and it would be back to business as usual including their appalling abuse of people like the Dowlers and the McCanns

This is just one example of the dishonest way in which much of the British press have reported the Leveson Inquiry. As soon as its conclusions became known, the attacks started. They loathed the idea of independent oversight of their rules and hated the proposal for an arbitral system giving ordinary people access to justice at no cost for the first time ever. They were used to ignoring rules they themselves had drafted under the old Press Complaints Commission and relying on the massive costs of the English legal system to stop most people suing them. They didn't want any of this to change.

So they published stories suggesting that Leveson's recommendations would be the end of press freedom. They made no attempt to back this nonsense up with fact or reasoned analysis. They simply maintained a hysterical chorus about freedom of the press supported where necessary by grossly misleading accounts of what Leveson had actually said.

But interestingly, the public weren't fooled. Despite a full-on campaign by the tabloids, public opinion was unmoved. Four opinion polls, one at the beginning of this process, two more as it continued and one more recently, showed public opinion steady at around 75% in favour of implementing Leveson.

When Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour opposition, came out against Murdoch in July 2011, his popularity shot up. Generations of British politicians have bowed to Murdoch. They sought favour with him and his employees in the UK because he controlled almost 40 per cent of the British press. It was considered political suicide to cross him and his minions threatened even the most senior politicians if they stepped out of line. But the popular reaction to Ed Miliband's stand showed things had changed.

The problem now for Murdoch, Dacre and the Barclay brothers, who between them control most of the British press, is that the British public have got their number. Most people now know what's been going on and they don't like it. Politicians sense this, hence Parliament's overwhelming vote on 18 March in favour of rules which cannot be changed without the consent of both houses of Parliament.

Until recently, Murdoch controlled the government and, disgracefully, sections of the police. At the same time, he and his UK employees repeatedly told us that phone hacking had involved only one rogue reporter. Newscorp, he said, had "zero tolerance" of wrongdoing. We now know that was untrue.

Meanwhile, the police were sitting on some 11,000 pages of notes made by Murdoch's investigator. We now know these contained evidence of serious wrongdoing. But the police refused to examine the evidence properly until finally forced to do so by the civil courts more than four years after the arrest of the "single rogue reporter".

With more than 100 arrests and dozens of civil settlements, with full exposure of Murdoch and the methods of the tabloid press by the Leveson Inquiry, the public have got the message. It could not be much clearer: an independent regulator guaranteed by law is essential.

 
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