The Leveson Report tries to deal head on with the current problems with the press as it sees them. However, on this occasion, I would give full marks to Prime Minister David Cameron who homed in directly on the flaw in Leveson - the introduction of state control into press affairs. To their deep discredit Milliband and Clegg did not support him. The Guardian reports:
Cameron said he had "serious concerns and misgivings" in principle to any statutory interference in the media. He warned: "It would mean for the first time we have crossed the Rubicon of writing elements of press regulation into law of the land."
Amongst the wider reaction to Cameron's view, Mark Lewis, the lawyer for the parents of Milly Dowler, accused Cameron of betrayal, reminding him he had promised his response would satisfy the victims of phone hacking and intrusion.
But phone hacking is already against the law and so a matter for the police, not a regulator. And journalists camping out outside victims' houses could be dealt with under existing harassment laws.
Leveson said it was necessary for a body like Ofcom (ie a government appointed quango) to monitor a revamped PCC to "reassure the public of its independence". The purpose of his proposed legislation is "not to establish a body to regulate the press", he insisted.
Leveson attempts to make light of this role of government in regulating the press but the fact is that ANY intervention by the government in press reporting is going to be a slippery slope.
And as many have pointed out this legislation would suffer from the inbuilt fault that it would apply only to the old-fashioned print media. The new social media would remain free to publish whatever they wished.
This is a vital point, for newspapers are able to be an independent voice with due authority and resources that no other media has.
No blogger or social media operator would ever have exposed the MP expenses scandal as the Telegraph did and none would have ever been able to truly challenge and expose the criminal activities of the Murdock press as the Guardian did. A world deprived of old-fashioned print media would be world with far fewer teeth to tackle abuses of power.
Cameron has defended the press in this instance, but his predecessor had no power to prevent a previous serious assault on press freedom in 2008 when Max Mosley, formula one supremo, won a court case against the News of the World on the grounds that it had breached his privacy. The newspaper which had reported his involvement in a dominatrice sex act involving some female prostitutes. Gordon Brown had no power to act for he could not challenge a judgment by the courts.
British Justice, David Eady, said at the time of the UK court decision: "The law now affords protection to information in respect of which there is a reasonable expectation of privacy...´
This judgement all hinges around how you define "privacy". I would argue that what is made public in fact cannot be private under the law. Another recent case concerned that of the Duke and Duchess and Cambridge. The Duchess cavorted topless in a garden visible from the public road and then complained for invasion of privacy when a local reported took a series of snaps.
In the Mosley case. Mosley hired prostitutes to participate in a sex party but this was filmed by one of the prostitutes who then sold the results to the News of the World. Although this event took place behind closed doors, Mosley was careless with protecting his privacy and so surely had no right to expect to be able to appeal to the law. The point is he used professionals for his pleasure seeking and if he used ones he could not trust then that is his own fault.
The judgement on the Mosley case understandably provoked howls of pain from the print media. It truly was a blow to press freedom. Now this has been followed up by Leveson. But Leveson is down to Parliament to enact. The Mosley case was decided by the courts.
However, there is clearly something radically wrong with the way the press operates. So what is to be done - if anything?
The reason why the press feels able to transgress the law so terribly is down to their overweening power. The same people who hacked phone of murder victims also bribed police offices and hobnobbed with senior politicians who were keen to secure their political support. This problem was and is most acute in the Murdock press which owns several British newspapers. We could address this by preventing by law any one company from owning more than one national newspaper.
If we lay all faults at the door of the print newspapers we are in grave danger of despoiling a priceless if imperfect asset. Without them we would lose one of the bastions of liberty which no amount of Facebooking or Twittering, or even TV channels like the BBC, will ever replace.
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