Straight Talk - Leveson must reject statutory shackling of the British press
In the list of things that rank as important with most people, the campaign against the imposition of statutory controls of the press must rank right down there with the protection of bankers’ bonuses and the reimposition of Home Information Packs.
The great British public are fed up with a press that simultaneously manages to combine high-handed, yet sleazy, conduct.
Frankly, anything opposed by proprietors and journalists is automatically something to be supported.
If new laws will stop helpless and tragic victims of crime such as Millie Dowler’s parents being harassed then bring them on.
This week Lord Leveson will report back on the findings of his inquiry and he is widely expected to back much tougher controls of the press, including statutory interventionwhen people feel they have been wronged.
Henry Bellingham, North West Norfolk MP, has put his name to a letter that appeared in the Guardian backing statutory control of the press. His party leader David Cameron has said he is “open minded” about the need for such a move. Foreign Secretary William Hague was on the sofa on Sunday morning TV saying he was against it.
Strangely, the National Union of Journalists seems to be in favour of statutory control of its own membership.
Let me set out here why it would be completely wrong for there to be any form of statutory control.
Britain has some of the most stringent libel laws in the world. In fact, rich foreigners are lining up to sue in the British courts for articles published in papers with virtually no readership in this country, even online, because of the way it is weighted in favour of the plaintiff.
But that has not stopped some papers acting badly.
Laws are no guarantee of good behaviour. It was illegal to hack into phones.
Laws are only a guarantee that lawyers will get involved and that is usually the last thing that is needed when people want to come to a quick, sensible resolution of what they see as a wrong in a newspaper.
All are agreed that the Press Complaints Commission must be reformed into something more effective. We have had various PCC rulings in the past few years on the Lynn News and all have found we have done nothing wrong. Perhaps it makes us biased, but the impression is that for the local press, the PCC works well (although it seems rather too keen for papers to print an apology as a way of resolving a case - not a thing we would do unless we felt the apology was due).
But in the national press, and perhaps increasingly online, there has been an irresponsible attitude taken to the truth. I do not believe that laws will change that. Only a change in culture among editors and proprietors will change that.
We have seen some very good examples of investigative journalism recently. The Jimmy Savile expose on ITV (and indeed its non-exposure on BBC’s Newsnight), the Telegraph probe into MPs’ expenses, should be very much to the fore of our minds.
Anything that dampens the opportunity to do that sort of important work must be resisted .
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Thursday 23 May 2013
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