Cameron and Press regulation

Earlier this week Cameron and the Tories tried to derail the outcome of the Leveson inquiry by walking out of negotiations of the future of the UK press. However, the cooperation of Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg appears to have forced them back to the table.

At the time of writing, pressure from Labour and the lib dems has ensured that some meaningful deal has been struck, but the major flaw in the proposed system is that it appears (at first reading) to be voluntary. Naturally that is a fairly obvious flaw. I would again argue the solution is more to simply break up the major press empires, as smaller newspaper outlets will not have the ability to weather such scandals as the Murdoch’s did and are thus unlikely to engage in such unethical practices.

Casing point, Private Eye, not the sort of publication afraid to push the boundaries of press freedom, has not been caught engaging in phone hacking or bribing police officers. No doubt because Ian Hislop (its editor) knows that he, unlike Murdoch, cannot afford to buy his way out of such a scandal.

At every turn the Tories have been showing themselves as Murdoch’s lap dogs. Firstly, Cameron hired Andy Coulson as his spin doctor. Next when it seemed Vince Cable would derail the merger of BSkyB, the Tories, with a little help from their allies the Barclay brothers, got him shuffled aside and the “tory minster for Murdoch arse licking” aka Jeremy Hunt…sorry Cu&t :)) in his place. Even when the phone hacking scandal broke, the attitude of the government has being sympathetic to the Murdoch’s. Inexplicably Rupert and his spawn were ruled “fit and proper”.

Take by contrast the consequences to the BBC of the David Kelly affair. The facts that the BBC presented were in fact entirely correct (it would seem the government’s 45 minute claim was based on 3rd hand hearsay, if not just plain made up). What got the BEEB in hot water was the fact that they may not have been able to verify these facts at the time they were reported. Many leading members of the BBC board paid for this failing with their jobs, while by contrast Murdoch got a slap on the wrist along with a wink from the head master to indicate he was only doing it because he had too.

The Tories and the press have tried to argue that any regulation of the press would be censorship and an attack on press freedom. Again, as always right wingers try to blur the lines between “freedom” and “regulation”. For example, the government allows us the freedom to drive on roads. But it is considered prudent to have some regulations on the road to protect everyone’s safety (speed limits, drive on the left, drink driving limits, etc.). so unless you believe that people should be allowed to drive drunk at speed down the wrong side of the road, one has to accept that some reasonable regulations are necessary and not necessarily an attack on freedom. as always the devil is in the detail.

Tory Vampire Killers
Similarly, there is nothing wrong with regulating an industry more closely, the devil is in the detail.

For example let us suppose that a Guardian journalist printed an article claiming that David Cameron was a blood sucking vampire who prayed on the poor of London. Would printing such a story be legal? Well if the journalist came up with the evidence through a careful process of investigation (e.g. catching Cameron in mirror) then, yes it would be legal (and Ed Milband would be around the next morning with a wooden stake!).

If the author simply made the story up, labeling it as fact rather than a polemic opinion piece, then that would be going too far. If he got the evidence by hacking phones or bribing a policeman to tell him what he wanted to hear (true or otherwise) then again that would be illegal.

Of course Cameron protection of the Murdoch’s is perhaps entirely rational, given that he will need the Murdoch’s to win the next election, as the key winner of this affair appears to be Ed Miliband, who will no doubt use this to great advantage in the next election.

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