The Leveson Report, which has recommended statutory regulation of the British press, is remarkable in at least one respect: it has made politicians more popular than journalists.
Not that this will last very long; the British public will soon tire of knocking nine bells out of the press and return to their normal morbid preoccupation with the parlous state of the economy. This is only natural, because newspapers, even those deservedly in the doghouse, represent a far lesser threat to the country’s well-being than incompetent economic management by government.
I won’t bore you with yet another defence of press freedom (if you must, turn to my previous piece on the subject) except to reiterate that a regulatory body devised by politicians, under legislation enacted by politicians, and appointed by politicians, stands an excellent chance of becoming politicized, whatever claims may be put forward to demonstrate its independence.
Prime Minister David Cameron recognizes this, and by saying so, in the face of all-party opposition, he may have committed one of the more courageous acts of his tenure. He can’t for once be accused of looking for votes, as any form of War on the Press is always a potential vote-winner. The same probably can’t be said of the other party leaders, who have firmly aligned themselves with the alleged victims of press intrusion in what they see as a Popular Cause.
All parties agree that something ought to be done to restrain the press from crossing the line of respectability. It shouldn’t be beyond the wit of experts in the government, legal and industry agencies concerned to come up with a compromise between doing nothing and doing something dangerously excessive.
“Whatever is to be done, it should be done now,” cry many Members of Parliament, no doubt goaded by spokesmen for the outraged victims. That means going the statutory route – end of story. I’d rather see a little more discussion; press control is, after all, a thorny question and worth, if nothing else, a robust exchange of views, especially since the ink on Leveson’s report, all 2000 pages of it, is still wet.
For the time being, the newspapers are keeping heads below the parapet, and the laws governing illegal behaviour remain in place, meaning that further outbreaks of editorial irresponsibility are unlikely in the near term.
The agenda for the debate should not be set by Hugh Grant, or Charlotte Church, or the McCann family, or others, no matter how well-founded their collective indignation. (Incidentally, some of the alleged ‘victims’ didn’t exactly shy away from press publicity when it suited them.) In any event, they’ve had their say – largely, I should add, through the despised media of the printed press and television – and now it’s time for some genuine and informed bargaining among those who must devise a solution.
As Churchill said, “Jaw-jaw is always better than war-war”.