I wasn’t going to get drawn into the whole “freedom of the press, post-Leveson regulation, what the Mail said about Miliband-senior” debate; not because there wasn’t a lot that I wanted to say, but mainly because I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to write anything coherent, such was my deep anger and dismay at so much of what’s been published in the name of ‘journalism’ in the past couple of weeks. That changed this morning when I casually happened upon this tweet from Rupert Murdoch’s account :
Certain sections of the press have been running with a line which can be effectively summarised as “we need a free and relatively unregulated print and broadcast media as part of the essential checks and balances in a democratic society”. Occasionally, this will mean that things will be published that are offensive or damaging to some people, but this is justifiable in the context of the greater good that is served by holding politicians and officials to account for their actions in “our” name. This was the general conclusion of the panellists on yesterday’s Andrew Marr programme. It is a position that has some merit
The problem is that it only works in practice if the editors and publishers of our press and media act in a way that is honourable, decent and in the best traditions of investigative journalism, where truth and the exposure of corruption, hypocrisy and duplicitousness are the principal motivations for publication
The Mail ‘investigation’ that sought to besmirch Ralph Miliband as a Communist hater of Britain on the basis of a few carefully edited extracts from a 17 year old’s diaries written over 70 years’ ago, is neither investigative journalism nor even news. It is a pathetic attempt to discredit the son through the partial use of the youthful writings of the father. It is an abuse of the freedom of the press that calls into question the whole basis of the current ‘contract’ within which newspapers and the media operate in the UK
But it is not something that is restricted to the Mail. The Murdoch tweet reveals a contempt for public opinion (and more than that, wider public intelligence) that would be shameful in anyone, but which is alarming in the context of somebody who (despite all his protestations to the contrary) continues to wield an oppressive influence over the editorial policy of large swathes of the print and broadcast media in the UK. The vast majority of those whose privacy was invaded by illegal ‘phone-hacking and other dubious practice (as detailed at the Leveson enquiry) were neither Toffs nor even people who had sought fame or publicity
MPs will discuss proposals to take press regulation out of the hands of editors and publishers later this week. On balance, I hope that they stick to their guns and make clear to Murdoch, Dacre and the like that with freedom must come responsibility. It’s not something that will be knew to them – they’ve been preaching it to the rest of us for years!