Now that the arguments have – for the moment – finished, and a variety of votes in both Houses of Parliament is now in progress, it’s an opportune moment to pause and look at what is being proposed, and what will happen after the debates have concluded. While Young Dave is telling the Commons that he has a jolly good cross party agreement, the reality is that he caved in.
So the “no statutory underpinning” proclamation is so much guff. There will be a clause – in statute – to guarantee the independence of the new regulator. There will be statutory underpinning. This, though, is not the same as statutory regulation, not that you would know from the tantrums thrown by many in the press of late. There will also be a free arbitration service available to the public.
The regulatory body will be independent of press interference, and so there will be no veto on appointments just because those appointed do not find favour with editors or owners. But the code of conduct will come from the press, and this may well be similar to the PCC code. In any case, it was not the code that was the problem: the problem was that it was all too often flouted.
Corrections and apologies can be “directed”: papers can be told to publish them, and give them due prominence, including on the front page if necessary. And on that note, we move right along to what will happen when the press looks at what has been agreed. And the very obvious conclusion is that they are not going to like it one bit (clue: Hacked Off has welcomed the agreement).
A truly independent regulator that can dictate placement of corrections (and that the press cannot force to drop cases which it finds inconvenient) frightens the crap out of the Fourth Estate – hence rumblings from the Rothermeres, Barclays and Murdochs that they might not play ball. Already, press poodles Dan Hodges and the loathsome Toby Young have taken fright at the thought.
And looking at the pre-agreement ranting from Melanie “not just Barking but halfway to Upminster” Phillips and Dominic Sandbrook (the latter magnificently fraudulent) in the Mail, there will be a lot more. Some Tories, Douglas “Kamikaze” Carswell being an early entrant, will take exception to a law enshrining press freedom, because he is an unswerving champion of, er, press freedom.
But, with the Murdoch Sun having to pony up an estimated £50,000 after accessing information on the previously stolen mobile phone of Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh, and hundreds more Screws hacking cases coming down the track, the public will not be inclined to listen to the pleading and sob stories. They have had enough of being force-fed a diet of spin and lies.
Maybe the press could join the broadcasters in doing proper journalism instead.