Posts Tagged ‘Leveson’

Government decides on media controls in the UK – but they won’t work

March 23, 2013

In blogs I posted on 23.11.2011and 4.12.1012, I forecast that nothing much would change in the UK media as a result of the Leveson inquiry into journalistic malpractices, triggered by a scandal over popular newspapers hacking mobile telephones.

Leveson has since reported, and the government, backed by the two other major political parties, has decided to set up a supervisory body acting according to criteria set by the politicians. However in practice, much will still continue as before.

The Economist, The Spectator and Private Eye have declared they will not submit themselves to the new body, even though refusal is supposed to expose them to extra-harsh legal penalties if they step out of line. The newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch, as well as the Telegraph and the Daily Mail, have reserved their positions but all likewise indicated opposition.

The new arrangement will be enacted not by legislation, but by Royal Charter. Not having lived in the UK for some time, I’m not sure what a Royal Charter is. However it’s seems obvious that it is weaker than a law, even if the parties insist it will have “statutory underpinning,” another phrase I don’t really understand.

If The Economist will remain outside, that means nothing essential changes for me, since I only actually read The Economist. It earns most of its income outside the UK, so should have no trouble staying out of range of UK controls.

I once lived as a foreign correspondent in Eastern Europe, where the Communist hold over the local media was absolute. People nevertheless found out what was going on through listening to foreign radios. In the UK today, consumers looking for unregulated news can find it on a host of foreign web sites. No need even for a radio set.

In Portugal, during the 1970s revolution, the radical left nationalised nearly all the media, with the result that they all reported the same versions of partial truth. However one newspaper, Espresso, remained independent. So anything that was not favourable to the regime got published there, and we all knew about it. Espresso became the newspaper to read. Controls which are not absolute have no effect.

So does that mean no joy for the victims of mobile phone hackers? Under existing legislation, hacking phones is illegal anyway, so the police could and should do a better job of enforcement.

Some of the media will doubtless remain rascally, but we have got on with that ever since newspapers first appeared. Even if much journalism is rotten, the world can still roll along.

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Leveson media inquiry: the offenders are against legislation. How surprising!

December 4, 2012

The Leveson inquiry into UK media malpractices has recommended legislation to curb excesses. One of the objections raised was that government and media cosy up too much together. So it is hardly surprising that neither of these accused now want a new law.

But surreptitious connivance between government and media does no good to anyone. In particular, it is cold comfort to the many victims of media malpractice who testified at the inquiry.

I used to be a journalist myself, so I ought to be against laws restricting the press. But the perpetrators now sound insincere in pleading the age-old principle of freedom of press (which is in any case rightly confined by all sorts of other laws).

The UK press should take this on the chin and pay a price. Having reported as a foreign correspondent in countries with repressive regimes, I doubt whether the mild restrictions called for by Leveson would suppress inconvenient news. Truth will out.

Most likely, however, nothing much will change. That’s what I predicted in my blog of 23rd November 2011 and I stand by it. Not great, but journalism has never been a totally clean business. If journalists would at least obey existing laws, that would be a start – and perhaps all we can hope for.

Guardian phone-hacking exposure: a lonely road against latent menace

March 4, 2012

The Guardian led the way in exposing phone-hacking by journalists of News International. Other papers now cover it too, including The Times, a News International title, but for many months they looked the other way.

Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger spoke for an hour at the Philips Geddes lecture in Oxford last Friday about the lonely place his newspaper found itself in when it broke the story and followed up over a period of months.

The Head of the Metropolitan Police came to his office trying to persuade him to lay off. Another senior police officer turned up a few days later to exert more pressure. Subsequently it emerged some police and other officials were being corrupted by News International with regular payments for salacious gossip.

News International at first denied practically everything. Over the following months they admitted quite a lot.

Other newspapers kept away from the story, which leads Rusbridger to conclude they had an unspoken understanding not to attack Murdoch’s newspapers. Prime Minister David Cameron continued friendly contacts with News International executives.

Rusbridger can quietly count his triumphs. The two senior policemen have had to resign. Cameron has had to rid himself of the former News International editor who was his communication director.

James Murdoch and Rebekah Wade have lost their top jobs at News International’s UK newspapers. The group’s best-selling UK newspaper has had to close. A number of News International journalists have been arrested.

The newspaper rivals to the Guardian have had to follow a story they originally spurned.

And the independent Leveson inquiry into the media has been lifting the lid on malpractices and corruption of an extent nobody imagined.

When I was a journalist, I too can remember the hot breath of powerful figures occasionally leaning over my shoulder with latent menace, if not on the scale that Rusbridger must have felt.

He has an understated style and does not crow. All credit to him for walking a path others dared not tread.

Will Leveson change the British media? Unlikely. But something can be done.

November 23, 2011

This year’s Reuters Memorial Lecture in Oxford earlier this week focused on the astonishing invasions of privacy by the UK media being revealed to the Leveson inquiry. A panel of leading academics and media people provided interesting and varied insights into the conflict between privacy and freedom of the press. ‘Something must change’ was the consensus, and in the direction of more control.

I doubt whether all that much will change in the long run, nor should it. Britain has laws protecting both privacy and free speech. The tension between the two has existed ever since people gathered round the village pump and chatted.

Hacking into telephones of victims of crime does seem outrageous. At the same time, a glance at popular media web sites shows some celebrities pretending to be enjoying private moments clearly pose for paparazzi to attract attention, adding sexual titillation to make it captivating. Likewise, media headlines every day reveal attempts by governments and corporations to manipulate and cover up. So we may regret more controls.

Can anything be done? Baroness Onora O’Neill, the lecturer, suggested journalists should have to reveal publicly the extent to which they use covert methods to collect information. No betraying of sources, just a cataloguing of their practices. I am not sure what benefits this would have brought when I was a foreign correspondent behind the Iron Curtain in the Cold War. But generally transparency is welcome.

I suggest mobile telephone companies should also be regulated to force them to make their phones more secure. In the digital age, this is unlikely to be absolute. But banks have generally been able to keep ahead of the criminals in e-banking, so why not mobile phone makers?

Lastly, people having a tough time with journalists could make more use of professional media coaching. This is not foolproof, but can allay fears and restore confidence. For people with few resources, perhaps the state could even provide this for free, in the same way as it offers psychological counselling to victims of crimes of violence.


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