The dogs on the street know that the Murdoch’s were either knee deep in these phone hacking shenanigans or criminally incompetent and inept in their inability to do anything to detect it or stop it, as I’ve discussed previously in this blog. Yet they will it seems get away scot free. A few of their minions, notably Sideshow Brooks and Grimey Coulson, will get taken to the cleaners. But the Murdoch’s look like emerging unscathed as too rather incredibly does Jeremy Hunt….sorry! typo I meant Cun… 😀
In short, one could draw an analogy. Let us suppose that a load of chickens were killed by a break in to the chicken house. The Farmer conducts a long detailed report into the matter, one that clearly implicates the Foxes in the break in….then responds by putting the foxes in charge of implementing a plan, intended to keep them out…how likely is it to succeed?
There is indeed a genuine debate in the wake of this enquiry as to how free should the press be? On the one hand Leevson details a system of corrupt influence and selective reporting, that would put many tin-pot dictatorships to shame. We have stories of police chief’s and senior politicians bending over and perverting the course of justice and democracy, just to satisfy the whims of the Murdoch’s. We have stories such as those of the Dowlers, or Christopher Jefferies (whom the media vilified just because he told a few tabloids hacks to get lost). The mother of another murder victim has talked to the Beeb this week (Patricia Bernal video of that here) of being hounded by a pack of wolves, with the press pack threatening to just make stories up about here, or even pushing money through the letterbox to get their exclusive.
The quest for truth or the common good seems to be a thought that doesn’t even occur to many tabloid news outlets, notably those controlled by the Murdoch’s or the Barclay brothers (remember their little sting on Vince Cable to help out their chum Murdoch).
However, a system of tight regulation could create serious issues for the press, as it would leave nervous editors under pressure to bury an embarrassing or controversial story. And not just the usual drunken celeb with her tits out tittle-tattle, but stories that are a lot more serious. If there is a law that restricts press freedom, you can be guaranteed that the lawyers of the rich and powerful, anxious to muzzle the press when embarrassing secrets get out (possibility of involving criminal wrong doing) will drive a bus thought such laws. Just look at the whole super injunction business.
Elephant number one
Ultimately the problem at News International wasn’t a lack of regulation, no it was because the Murdoch’s assumed that they could get away with anything (and to date it would seem they were correct in that assertion!). The issue isn’t a press that’s too free. Its that some elements of the press are owned by monopolistic tycoons determined to use the media as an instrument of propaganda and gaining politician influence (just look at the mess otherwise known as American democracy as a prime example). It is this control over the media the Murdoch’s exert, where Blair, Cameron, Romney and even Obama have had to come before Murdoch and knell before Zod that is the problem.
I didn’t notice the Guardian or Private Eye (the latter not afraid to push too close or beyond the libel line) getting involved in phone hacking…possibly because the owners of both papers know that the consequences of being caught doing what the Murdoch’s got away with (on an industrial scale!) would be the destruction of their company, personal bankruptcy and a spell in prison.
Therefore there is a simple solution to these problems, tighten the existing rules as to who constitutes a fit and proper person to run a media outlet (hint, the Murdoch’s should be the benchmark for should not be given a paper round) and also restrict the ability of one individual or company to control multiple media outlets. In short break up the media empires of the Murdoch’s and Barclay’s.
Elephant number two the internet
Of course there is another elephant we can’t ignore the internet. Increasingly many get their news and information not from the media, but from the internet, be it blogs like this or wikipedia. Muzzling the internet is a tricky business, notably as you need to go to court in the country where the site is based (I’m not sure if for blog.co.uk operates out of the UK, I believe its actually based out of servers in Germany…at least that’s what the IP address suggests!). And even if you can get that court to agree, two clicks and the same content is up on another site somewhere else. And as the Cheating-footballer-otherwise-known-as-a-GIT found out last year, you can’t easily muzzle 75,000 twit’s on Twitter. Even single party states such as China have struggled in this regard.
Of course this is healthy as the Internet is one of the few remaining bastions of what we could remotely call “free speech” on this planet. But sometimes, things can be taken a little too far. The danger is, that once a rumour is out in the internet, it can take on a life of its own, and the press regardless of any regulations can start reporting on the “controversy” over that which cannot speak off (a quick internet search filling in the gaps), regardless of whether it is true or not, as the whole Lord McAlpine saga a few weeks ago proved.
So any talk of press regulation is little short of political street theatre without taking into account these two elephants. And the less than competent government currently in power have got to be the last people we wish to entrust with this authority!